Sleep – or rather a lack of it – is one of the biggest issues for parents. It’s no wonder that if the child sleeps badly, the parents also lack a restful recovery phase at night. The problems can be far-reaching, and sleep deprivation can eventually even lead to depression. At what point do babies and toddlers start to suffer from sleep disorders? And what can you do about it?
During the first month after birth, the sleep pattern of newborn babies is usually the same as it was in the womb. Only with time will an infant switch to a day-night pattern. This means that the sleep periods are short at the beginning, alternate with equally short waking phases, and are distributed throughout the day.
The sleeping behavior of babies changes greatly over the first two years of life and slowly levels off at around 12 hours of sleep per day. But there are also major individual differences.
Many toddlers have problems sleeping. Even at 3 to 4 years of age, problems with falling asleep can still occur. In addition, night terrors, nightmares, and talking in their sleep keep some little ones awake and, depending on their nature, can be challenging for the whole family.
However, we only speak of sleep disorders when a specific problem is apparent over a longer period of time.
A distinction is made here depending on the sleep phase affected:
1. Difficulty falling asleep:
a. Major efforts are usually required to help the child to fall asleep, e.g., carrying it around for a long time
b. At the age of 8 months and more, the child needs over 40 minutes to fall asleep
2. Trouble sleeping through the night:
a. The child wakes up often: at the age of 8 months and over, more than 3 times a night.
b. The child is awake at night for more than 60 minutes at the age of 8 months, and more than 45 minutes at the age of 12 months.
c. The child always needs its parents to fall asleep.
When talking about sleep and the sleeping environment, always consider the recommendations for the prevention of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
If you feel overwhelmed by the sleep problem, it is best to consult a pediatrician. Some cities also have their own sleep clinics, which offer help to exhausted parents.
Remo H. Largo, Babyjahre: Entwicklung und Erziehung in den ersten 4 Jahren, Piper Verlag GmbH, Munich/Berlin, 2017, p.203