External effects on infant sleep patterns

Latest update: September 21, 2018

Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Infant sleep patterns are not only what baby is born with and develops naturally, but from research we know that also personality, cultural differences and circumstances at home influence sleep patterns:

  • Baby's temperament: easy-going babies who are happy overall, usually in a good mood and sociable often sleep more and better than their moodier peers.

    Of course, sleeping sufficiently also has a positive effect on baby's mood, so there is a bit of chicken-and-egg here too.
  • Baby's parents: Parents with a natural calm, who live rather regularly and restfully, have a positive effect on their baby's sleep patterns.

    If you are a busy person, or often nervous by nature, you can help your baby with a regular routine and trying to include restful moments where possible.

    I know it's easier said than done, but if at all possible, try relaxing - maybe with some simple relaxation techniques. The effect on your baby's sleep patterns can be huge.
  • How stimulating or busy baby's day is: Babies who have very active days, with a lot of activities, noise and people around, tend to sleep less and for shorter stretches. Of course no need to ban all activity from baby's life: activities are also good for her development and above all for fun!

    Ideally, baby's environment will be peaceful and restful, but with several fun activities specked throughout the day.
  • Breastfeeding Baby Sleeping

  • Baby's culture: Cultural differences also affect baby sleep patterns, as many studies have shown.

    Differences range from where baby sleeps (in parents room/bed or not), when she goes to sleep (early or late nights), is being carried (from all day in a baby sling to never) to how much parents tend to entertain their baby (from constantly offering stimulating toys to 'leave be').
  • Baby's food: Both breast feeding and bottle feeding have their influence on infant sleep patterns. Neither one of them is good nor bad; they're just different.

    Breast feeding is ideally adjusted to baby's needs: it is light and easily digested. It does make young babies sleep relatively lightly which is an advantage since easy arousal is important when very young. Parents usually do not report poor sleep due to breastfeeding.

    Breastfeeding hormones are found to help regulate baby's sleep as they make baby drowsy and sleepy.

    Formula feeding is heavier and, with a full stomach, baby may sleep a bit longer on average. Over-feeding is possible though and may make baby sleep longer than she naturally would, which is not ideal in very young babies. Always avoid huge feeds as last before bed and ensure to monitor your baby closely.

    Formula is not a guarantee, or 'magic trick' for sleeping through: many parents have tried, or have been advised, to switch from breastfeeding to formula hoping for longer nights. Sadly the effect is often the reverse: digestive issues often make sleep more difficult.

Refer to the baby sleep patterns page for further practical tips on how to steer your child's natural infant sleep patterns.