Though babies can sleep for up to 16 hours in a day, these periods of sleep often last for only two to four hours at a time depending on the child's feeding schedule. An area of concern for most new parents is the timeframe in which their baby will develop the ability to sleep uninterrupted through the night. Parents of premature babies often wonder whether their child's premature birth will have an effect on sleep patterns, especially when it comes to sleeping through the night.
General Time Frame
As a result of being born early, premature babies often reach important milestones a few months after babies who were carried to full term. While a full-term baby might begin to sleep through the night at approximately 4 months of age, a preemie may not reach this accomplishment until 6 or 8 months of age, says HealthyChildren.org, a website developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Premature babies have a more difficult time settling into a pattern of waking and sleeping and learning the difference between day and night than do full-term babies. Part of the reason for this difficulty is that premature babies' brains are less developed than are those of full-term babies. Premature babies' brains are going through maturation that other babies finished while in the womb. Another contributing factor to a premature baby's sleeping troubles might be the extra time spent in the hospital. While neonatal nurses do their best to create a calm environment for preemies, the machines, lights and other instruments can make it a stressful place for sleep. After coming home, premature babies may need extra time to settle into a regular sleeping pattern simply because of the change in atmosphere.
Putting a Preemie to Bed
The AAP recommends that premature babies, and all babies, be placed on their backs when put to sleep. Placing a baby on his back to sleep reduces the risk of SIDS, according to the AAP. Premature babies should sleep in a crib that has a firm mattress. Any object that might interfere with breathing, such as pillows, blankets and stuffed animals, should be removed. Following a pre-bedtime ritual each night can help premature babies establish a sleeping routine. For example, making a habit of bathing your baby, then reading him a story or singing a bed-time song will help him recognize "bed time" as he grows older.
Encouraging Overnight Sleep
You can help your preemie move toward sleeping through the night. During the day time, play with him when he is awake. Professionals advise that parents not keep babies awake during the day in hopes of getting them to sleep through the night. During the night, when your baby wakes to eat, remain as quiet as possible, keep lighting and talking to a minimum. Also, give your baby time to self-soothe, time to fall back to sleep on his own, before you rush in to scoop him up.