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How can babies’ temperament affect their sleep?

Constitutional factors are ingrained, probably genetically inherited characteristics, and they have a major impact on the way your baby sleeps. Some of these tendencies affect our personalities, emotions, and behaviors -- even from day one. Your baby was born with a whole constellation of these tendencies, and your strategies for dealing with her will depend on those tendencies. For instance, we know that overall activity level is mostly inherited. Highly active babies tend to sleep less and need more interaction. They can’t yet move their bodies around much to burn off their energy, so they crave the mental stimulation of being awake. These babies don’t want to miss anything, and will probably end up being social and outgoing. But the price you pay is less sleep now, and maybe more fussiness. It’s difficult to tell if your baby is fussy because of constitutional personality factors, or if her tummy, or something else is bothering her. Careful observation of her daily reactions and behavior will help you decide what’s what. An active baby needs to have lots of interaction and “play” during the day. Give as much “tummy time” as she will tolerate, to work her little muscles. Engage her attention and go for the laughs; play “peek-a-boo” games, make funny noises, do silly things; whatever brings the laughs. This will both excite her and tire her out for better sleep later. Don’t play with an active baby at night, though; she is never too young to learn that nighttime is for sleep.

Other constitutional factors can interfere with sleep: Babies who are overly sensitive, perhaps to noise, light, skin sensations or body movements can have problems sleeping. Don’t assume your baby needs total quiet to sleep well. Some babies need “white noise” to sleep well; ask your doctor just how loud you can play “white noise;” babies are used to a great deal of noise in the womb and often sleep better with constant noise playing. Babies who are sensitive to the motion of their body often need to be swaddled, even late into their first year. There are new, larger-sized swaddling blankets that make this easy to do. Don’t feel bad about using a baby swing, if it works, at least for the first few months. Neurobiologists think that a swinging motion may actually be helpful in brain development. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.