Australian babies most sleep-deprived: study

Sleeping soundly
Sleeping soundly 

A new study released this week reveals Australian babies are among the most sleep deprived in the western world, with nearly half of Australian babies aged between 12-24 months surviving on less than eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night (compared to a third of babies in Western Europe).

This is four hours less than the 12 hours of sleep recommended by child and family health professionals for optimum growth and development.

The ‘Golden Sleep Survey', sponsored by nappy brand Pampers in conjunction with Tresillian Family Care Centres, looked at the extent of Australia’s infant sleep deficit and its impact on baby development.

Conducted among 1,000 Australian mums, the survey found mums were unanimous in their belief that sleep is vital for baby’s happiness and ongoing development. The survey reveals infants who have eight or more hours of uninterrupted ‘golden’ sleep each night are significantly more sociable and eager to play, compared to infants who sleep for five or less hours per night, proving sleep is the key to emotional, physical and cognitive development in infants.

According to Professor Cathrine Fowler, Tresillian Chair in Child and Family Health, “Parents know the value of sleep. In fact the survey demonstrated 92% of mums believe sleep is one of the most important things their baby needs to grow and develop, and that their infant is likely to be more responsive throughout the day after a good period of uninterrupted sleep.

However, achieving uninterrupted sleep is not always easy.”

“From my experience, infants who benefit from uninterrupted ‘golden’ sleep embrace each day with a better temperament and mood, setting the tone for a much happier day for everyone” adds Professor Fowler.

Versus a study of over 50,000 mums in Western Europe conducted by Pampers, Australian babies are found to be significantly more sleep deprived. In Western Europe, nearly 75% of infants aged 12-24 months sleep for eight or more uninterrupted hours per night, compared to only 44% of infants in the same age bracket in Australia.

In addition, the survey found parents most often lack sleep because their baby is not sleeping. Seventy-five percent (75%) of mums said lack of sleep was one of the greatest challenges of parenthood, however this increased to 83% of mums whose baby has less than five hours of sleep per night.

Three quarters of Australian mums said having an uninterrupted ‘golden’ night of sleep would be priceless.

Tresillian advice for encouraging babies to sleep for longer uninterrupted periods

1. Have realistic expectations
In the early months of life babies are learning to adapt to their environment whilst developing sleep and feeding patterns. If parents respond sensitively and promptly to their baby’s need for reassurance in these early months, their baby tends to feel more  secure and good sleep patterns are more likely to be developed by 3-6 months.

2. Teach your baby how to settle
Learning how to self-settle and go to sleep is a skill babies usually gain during the first year of their life. Like most skills, it takes time and occurs at an individual rate. In the early months of life a baby has a need to be physically connected to their parents. This is a normal state of adjustment, where erratic feeding and sleeping patterns, periods of crying and unsettled behaviour, are common.

3. Look out for the tired signs (or cues)
Tired signs are the individual signals or cues your baby gives to let you know they are getting tired and need to sleep. Responding to your baby’s tired signs (or cues for sleep) promptly prevents your baby becoming overtired or distressed that will requires lots of effort to calm.

4. Understand how much sleep your baby needs
All babies are different which means that some babies will sleep more and some will sleep less. By the end of the first month you can expect your baby to sleep approximately 13-14 hours per day,  spread across day and night. Then, as your baby matures the sleep requirement of 13-14 hours remains much the same with the length of time your baby sleeps at night, increasing.

5. Understand that your baby’s sleep cycle is different to adults

Babies are not born with a day/night rhythm. It takes time to develop their 24 hour internal clock that controls the sleep-wake cycle.

From birth, a sleep cycle is about 40 – 60 minutes, with 20 - 30 minutes deep sleep within the cycle. The periods of deep sleep in each cycle and the time to move into deep sleep, increases with age.

6. Set a routine for your baby
Routines are generally structured around three main activities: feed, play and sleep. These are regular events that occur throughout the day. After a feed and/or play (depending on day or night) you may use a range of activities that signal to your baby that bedtime is approaching, helping your baby move to a calm state in preparation for sleep.

7. Wrap your baby
For thousands of years, mothers have swaddled or wrapped their newborns. For some babies the use of a wrap may be helpful. A wrap lessens the baby’s involuntary movements giving a sense of security and promoting a state of calm in preparation for sleep.

8. Settle in arms in the early weeks
Most babies will take time to learn to settle and consistency with your choice of options is important in helping your baby establish good sleep patterns. Prior to any settling option ensure your baby is not hungry and is comfortable (dry nappy, not over or under dressed). Suggestions include:
1. Hold your baby in your arms until they fall asleep
2. Use gentle rhythmic patting, rocking, stroking, talking, or softly singing prior to putting your baby into the cot asleep

9. Use hands-on settling for babies under 6 months
As your baby grows you can progress to hands on settling in a cot.
The length of time it takes to calm your baby will lessen over time.

10. Use comfort settling for babies over 6 months
Comfort settling provides your older baby with reassurance and support while also providing an opportunity for your baby to discover their own way of going to sleep.
Help is also available at Tresillian’s Family Care Centres. Parents can call Tresillian’s 24 Hour Parent’s Help Line on 02 9787 0855 or 1800 637 357 (freecall outside Sydney).

12. Crying is part of normal behaviour
Crying is a part of normal behaviour, it’s your babies way of communicating.