05:13pm Sunday 05 July 2020

UC study gives new insight into babies' sleep patterns

But when can they realistically expect this to happen? A new study by University of Canterbury researchers reveals that about half of babies sleep through the night for five to eight hours after two or three months.

Dr Jacki Henderson
Dr Jacki Henderson

The study, “Sleeping Through the Night: The Consolidation of Self-Regulated Sleep Across the First Year of Life”, has just been published in the November issue of Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Postdoctoral fellow Dr Jacki Henderson (Psychology), the study’s lead researcher, said there had been intense interest from health journalists from around the globe since the journal’s release.

In the study, parents of 75 typically developing infants completed sleep diaries for six days each month for 12 months, with the accuracy of these reports verified by a time-lapse video recorder.

The research team involved in the study, which included Dr Karyn France (Health Sciences Centre), Associate Professor Neville Blampied (Psychology) and contract researcher Dr Larry Owens, believe it is the first study to examine consolidation in infants’ self-regulated nocturnal sleep as judged by three different criteria for sleeping through the night  (midnight to 5am, an unspecified eight hours, and the “family-congruent” period of 10pm to 6am), while also documenting changes in the mean onset time and duration of the longest self-regulated sleep period.

The fastest consolidation in infant sleep regulation occurred in the first four months of life. During this time, infants were most likely to meet the three different criteria for sleeping through the night and to have an average longest self-regulated sleep period that exceeded eight hours.

The researchers advocated that efforts to improve infants’ sleep patterns be focused in the first three months, possibly beginning as early as one month for intervention to be in sync with the onset of sleeping through the night. They stressed that preventive efforts to help babies develop healthy sleep habits did not involve “controlled crying” or leaving a young infant alone and distressed.

At five months, more than half of infants were sleeping concurrently with their parents during the family-friendly 10pm-6am period, which the researchers believe should be adopted as the standard criterion for defining what sleeping through the night means for infants in their first year because of its “developmental and social validity”.

“From five months on, and earlier for some families, parents can realistically expect to experience an uninterrupted and substantial period of sleep,” Dr Henderson said.

She said the study provided a reliable empirical foundation for advice about infant sleep development and provided a context for clinicians to discuss sleep issues with parents.

“It gives a guideline of what infants are behaviourally capable of at various ages,” she said.

The journal article stressed the need for additional research to establish the factors that precede and predict infant sleep issues, research that is being undertaken within the Canterbury Sleep Programme and aspects of which Dr Henderson will present at a conference in Rome this month.

Dr Henderson will present two papers at the Congress of the International Pediatric Sleep Association joint meeting withPediatric Sleep Medicine Conference — one on factors that influence sleep outcomes during the first year and the other sharing the results of a pilot study looking at preventative intervention effects on infant sleep.

For further information please contact:
Dr Jacki Henderson
Department of Psychology
University of Canterbury
Ph: +64 3 364 2987 ext 7993
[email protected]

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