How long should a baby sleep for? How long is a piece of string? A lucky few parents are blessed with those mythical babies which sleep through the night the minute they come home from the hospital and almost never cry. For the rest of us new parents, sleep becomes an obsession and a quest to find answers to regain a little rest and sanity in our lives.
There are plenty of theories out there and no shortage of people and organisations who want to give you advice and tell you the “right” way to get your child to sleep, from attachment parenting, which is all about going with the flow and often “wearing” your baby (think slings, baby carriers and co-sleeping) to strict routines, such as Tizzie Hall’s Save Our Sleep methodology, which involves encouraging your baby to sleep for set periods of time and set times of the day and letting him cry for a specified amount of time before offering him some assistance to learn to sleep.
Then, of course, there is the informal Mother’s Group Survey Method, which involves asking every mother you know the same questions: “How many times does your baby wake up each night? And how many hours do they sleep? And what about day sleeps?”, then averaging them out and trying to decide if your own baby is “normal” or not.
Thankfully, for the first time, the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne has started to formalise the Mother’s Group Survey Method by studying 10,000 children from the ages of 4 months to 9 years and recording what times they go to sleep and wake up, how many hours they sleep, how many times they wake each night and how long they wake for.
They have even published the averages for each age group so you can now go to their website and check how your child compares to others.
Possibly the most important thing to note in this study, however, is that “normal” has a very wide range. As lead researcher, Dr Anna Price, noted, “”Whether a child is getting enough sleep or how much sleep a child needs is a major concern to many parents. In this study we found there is a wide range in ‘normal’ child sleep from four months to nine years old.”
The next job for researchers will be to look at whether there is an ideal sleep pattern for each age group, or whether each child really is unique in their sleep behaviour and needs.
For more information about child sleep and getting help with sleep problems try these websites or talk to your local maternal and child health nurse:
- QEC (day stay and residential sleep school, they have some great audio and video resources available freely on their website)
- Better Health Channel (a Victorian Government website)
- Raising Children Network (Australian Parenting website)
- Early Childhood Australia