Sleeping


There are a number of key elements to consider when preparing your Montessori baby’s sleeping place. The Montessori approach to sleep is based on an understanding of natural sleep patterns and a sincere desire to protect your infant's inborn ability to regulate and be independent in their sleep. 
To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.”  Maria Montessori


First we take a look at the differences between adult sleep and infant sleep. Gwen Dewar, a biological anthropologist, explains the science behind sleep.
The timing of adult sleep is governed by circadian rhythms, physiological changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Many of these changes are influenced by your exposure to light. 
When you expose yourself to sunlight each morning, you help maintain your internal clock. Even if you are sleep-deprived, morning light exposure helps ensure that you will be more alert during the day than you are at night. As the day wears on and darkness falls, your body begins to produce less cortisol (a hormone that keeps you alert) and more melatonin (the hormone of drowsiness). 
Maternal melatonin passes through the placenta and may direct the fetus’ internal clock, but after birth this intimate hormonal connection is broken and newborns must rely on their own internal clocks. However, infants have not yet developed their own circadian rhythms for the production of melatonin and cortisol. Newborn sleep patterns are shaped by the length of time it takes them to feed, digest and become hungry again. For most newborns this means feeding every 2-3 hours. 
Nevertheless, newborn sleep isn’t completely divorced from the natural rhythms of the 24-hour day. Studies show that circadian rhythms begin developing in the first days after birth. It takes about 12 weeks for infants to show day-night rhythms in the production of melatonin, the “sleep hormone” and circadian changes in cortisola hormone that regulates wakingmay take even longer to emerge. Scientific evidence suggests that even newborns are receptive to environmental cues about time. And you can take advantage of this fact to help shape newborn sleep patterns. 
How to help baby adapt to the 24-hour day
 Make baby a part of your daily routine. When mothers include their newborns in their daily activities, newborn sleep patterns adapt more rapidly to the 24-hour day. 
 Reduce stimulation at night. When baby wakes for night time feedings, keep activity to a minimum. Make as little noise as possible, and avoid moving your baby around. 
 Expose your newborn to natural lighting patterns. Light cues may not influence newborn sleep patterns as much as social cues do. But they are still important. 
 Try infant massage. Studies suggest that this helps the body to produce higher levels of nocturnal melatonin.
 Breastfeed if you can. Breast milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that is used by the body to manufacture melatonin. Tryptophan levels rise and fall according to maternal circadian rhythms, and when infants consume tryptophan before bedtime, they fall asleep faster 
Infant Sleep Patterns
Babies have two sleep states - active and quiet. And their sleep cycles are short - only 50-60 minutes for the first nine months. When a newborn baby first falls asleep, she enters into sleep state called “active sleep.” This sleep state is characterized by fluttering eyelids; relatively rapid, irregular breathing; occasional body movements; and vocalizations (grunts or brief cries). 
About half way through the sleep cycle, the newborn passes from active sleep to quiet sleep. As its name suggests, quiet sleep is characterized by slower, more rhythmic breathing, little movement, and no eyelid fluttering. 
Quiet sleep represents the end of the baby’s sleep cycle. When it’s over, babies either begin the cycle again (re-entering active sleep) or they wake up. 
As babies mature, quiet sleep begins to differentiate into distinct NREM stages. In addition, their sleep cycles lengthen, and they spend proportionately less time in active, or REM, sleep. 
But change is gradual, and it takes several years for children’s sleep patterns to resemble those of adults. Whereas adults spend only 20% of sleep time in REM sleep, REM represents 50% of sleep time in newborns and 30% of sleep time in three year olds.
Babies begin their sleep cycles with about 25 minutes of active sleep, and they complete a sleep cycle in only 50 minutes. This means: 
 Compared to adults and older children, babies are light sleepers. They spend proportionally more time in active sleep.
 Babies are especially easily awakened for 25 minutes (or more) after first falling asleep. That’s why it can be so hard to move a sleeping baby without waking him.
 Babies may experience arousals every 50 minutes or so. 

If you consider that baby sleep patterns are characterized by short, 50-60 minute sleep cycles, you may wonder how it’s possible for babies to “sleep through the night.” 
The answer is that “sleeping through the night” is a myth. 
A variety of anthropological, historical, and clinical evidence suggests that adults are not designed to sleep through the night. Let alone babies.
With their short sleep cycles, babies experience more opportunities for arousal. And they have smaller stomachs, which means they need to eat more frequently than adults do.
So when some parents boast that their baby is sleeping through the night, what they’re really saying is that they are not aware of their baby’s night-time arousals. Their baby, in other words, doesn’t make enough noise to awaken them. 

Preparation of the physical environment
The physical environment for sleep can be prepared in the following way, with two core concepts in mind:
Facilitation of freedom and independence and
Support for the child’s developing sense of order

A bassinet or moses basket for sleeping in during the first six weeks after birth. This is to simulate a womb-like environment whilst allowing baby to be free from swaddling cloths and still feel secure. You can plan to transition to a floor bed when the baby starts to adapt his sleeping patterns from night-time waking and feeding, to a solar pattern in which he has longer stretches of night-time sleep. This happens when the baby’s biological rhythms are respected. Choose a basket for its sloping base and low sides which still allow the baby to see most of his environment. A key aspect of this period is an environment of low sensory stimulation to ease the transition from the womb.
Maria Montessori spoke of the child’s first nine months outside of the womb being a second gestation, a period in which his physical, spiritual and psychic life, are founded. The first six weeks are known as the symbiotic period  a time in which the mother and child are bonded by a need for one another. Dr Silvana Montanaro says that “It is during the symbiotic life that the newborn must from a biological birth to a psychological birth.” and  “Psychological birth follows the time of external pregnancy which consists of the mother’s arms, the points of reference, food when needed and the reassurance that there will always be a response from the mother when requested.”
It is relatively simply to ensure that your baby has continued access to the points of reference that he has established whilst still in the womb: your voice and heartbeat, the ability to touch his own face and mouth with his hands, and to move his limbs freely.
The period before the age of three is the strongest for the development of the sense of order. Infants have an extraordinary ability to “map” their physical environment mentally. Therefore an ordered environment with a place for everything will support this strong urge during its most sensitive period. 
“That the mathematical mind is active from the first, becomes apparent not only from the attraction that exactitude exerts on every action the child performs, but we see it also in the fact that the little child’s need for order is one of the most powerful incentives to dominate his early life”  Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Since the young child’s sense of order is so very strong in this first stage of life one should carefully considered all the things you will need to fulfil his physical needs and set aside a space in his bedroom for each of these areas. This means you will not need to alter his physical environment in any drastic way for the first three years of his life. Obviously small changes will be made to keep his environment matched to his needs, but one should not be moving large furniture pieces or changing the general layout of his bedroom, respecting his need for stability so that his physical environment always matches the mental map he has formed internally as a young infant. 
There is an abundance of information from parents around the world who have created Montessori sleeping spaces for their children. We have included several photographs to share their ideas below. Click on the photos to be taken to the original sites.


 









There is a new website that has been launched that specifically promotes and explains the use of the floor bed. Check it out :) www.bedstart.com

14 comments:

  1. Hi, I am new to the Montessori philosophy and would like to make changes to my daughters room. She is 16 months and sleeps in her cot. I would value some ideas and advice. Thank you Dee

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  2. Hi Dee
    Transitioning to a floor bed after your child has begun walking does present some challenges - but it is certainly worth pursuing. I would suggest that you start by clearing her bedroom of anything that you would be unhappy with her touching when not supervised. When her bedroom is filled only with safe objects and furniture, I would let her see you removing the cot and replacing it with the floor bed. Some cots can be converted into toddler beds - if you have this option you might like to try it first, so that the bed is still somewhat familiar to her. The only drawback of a toddler sized bed, is that you cannot fit on it! But if you have no plans to lie down next to her at any point it should be fine. Not knowing anything about your daughter's current sleeping habits makes it difficult to give specific information. A floor bed or a bed that she can get in and out of independently is wonderful for her self-esteem, self-regulation and independence, but can be challenging for parents who are reliant on having their child contained in a cot until they are ready to get them out of it. As long as you are prepared to work towards finding a balance between your need for sleep and her need for self-direction you will be fine! Let me know how you get on...Meg

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    1. Thanks Meg I appreciate the help. There is so much to think about that at times it can be overwhelming. Her cot does turn into a toddler bed, and I like your point that it will be some what familiar to her. What about chest of draws? She is not much of a climber but I have heard of children pulling the draws out and using them as a ladder.
      I have a wonderful sleeper who settles herself to sleep. How do I encourage her to stay in her bed? I have seen in 'How to raise an amazing child' a picture where they have used a child gate at the bedroom door. Any thoughts?

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    2. Yes there are a lot of variables but it sounds as though you a loving mum who wants the best (much like most other mums out there!).
      I've never had a child climb a chest of drawers, personally, but they have done some pretty crazy stuff :)
      I guess if you are worried perhaps you could remove it initially and then bring it back when she is older? Or just make sure that there is nothing attractive on top for her to try and reach...and give lots of appropriate opportunities for climbing so that she doesn't need to exercise her will in inappropriate ways!
      Great to hear that your little one already settles herself - this will make your transition to a bed much easier. I would not do anything differently at bedtime - just stick to your usual routine. If she gets out of bed it may be a sign that she isn't tired...or she may just be exercising her new ability to leave bed when she wants to :)
      You can calmly lead her back to bed and repeat the goodnight process until she stays in bed. Sometimes when she is unsettled you may need to remain outside her room, just inside the door, within her view or right next to her (in order of preference) to give her the support she needs to fall asleep. The key is always to only give the support that she really needs to do this independently, rather than playing a big role in the process. The less you do, the better, but you always come to where she's at. I'm sure you've already realised that no two days are ever the same with a little one :)
      You could use a baby gate if you were worried about her leaving her room in the middle of the night (say if you were sleeping far away from her and wouldn't hear her), but I like my kids to know that they can come to me if they need me in the night. Also, since she has already passed the sensitive period for object permanence (which usually occurs around 9 months of age), she will probably strongly object to having barrier where one did not previously exist.

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  3. Wonderful, thank you very much for all the tips. I will keep you posted on the progress.

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  4. Great article! I am new to the Montessori world and hope to raise our children with Montessori's theories! After the first 6 weeks in the moses basket does Montessori promote co-sleeping before the baby floor bed?

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  5. Hi Becky
    You would begin the transition to the floor bed as soon as you notice your baby having longer sleep stretches during the night, than the day. Since the sensitive period for order is so strong in the first three years of life, consider that anything you introduce during this time will essentially become your baby's baseline for normal. If you intend to co-sleep for three years, then moving from the moses basket to co-sleeping would be a natural choice. However, if you anticipate that you would not be willing to co-sleep for that length of time, it may be better to start off with the floor bed right away. In my article Montessori and Attachment Parenting - http://montessorihomes.blogspot.com.au/2011/06/montessori-and-attachment-parenting.html gives information about how you can balance the time your child spends in their own bed developing independent sleeping skills with their need to be close and reassured by you during the night. So in short, no, Montessori does not specifically promote co-sleeping, but at the same time would not promote a standpoint in which the child is left to figure it out alone or with no support from the adult. I guess Montessori is all about helping the child to do it for themselves, without "making" them do anything. It is about guiding, not "doing stuff to" the child.
    With my own children, we went straight to the floor bed, and continued to put our kids down to sleep at the start of each night in their own bed, but were happy to have them in our bed in times of need. This was a good balance and worked well for our situation. Every family is different so you have to find what works for you bearing in mind the sensitive periods that are in play during the first years of life. Hope this helps...

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  6. My son is 8 months old. He has been sleeping on a floor bed since he was 2.5 months old and transitioned out of the bassinet. Up until now we have loved the floor bed, but now that he is more mobile he is rolling off quite a bit before he falls asleep or sometimes when he wakes in the night. He doesn't usually roll off when he is sleeping. I'd like to stop night feedings, but I don't feel completely comfortable letting him cry if he has rolled onto the floor. I have to admit, I'm starting to feel tempted to set up the hand-me-down crib that we have stored in the basement "just in case." What's your advice?Thanks,
    Megan

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    1. Hi Megan, you could try popping a small bolster under the sheet at the edge of the floor bed to stop him from rolling out unintentionally, but still allowing him to crawl out if he wants to. I don't think that leaving a baby to cry is ever a respectful response. So feel free to help him back onto his bed if he calls out for help. :)

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  7. Hi, my husband and I had thought of buying only a mattress to put on the floor in our bedroom and have our soon-to-arrive newborn sleep on on it from the first night home from the hospital. I haven't heard of the Montessori philosophy until now. Is it suitable to start from month 0? Thank you.

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  8. Hi Adeline
    You could definitely start out with a mattress on the floor next to your bed. Most people start out with some kind of basket or bassinet for the first 6-8 weeks (commonly called a Cestina in Montessori circles) with a Topponcino to sleep on top of. You should be able to find more information about both of those items via Google. When your baby is beginning to transition out of the symbiotic period you will notice that they are more interested in the world around them, they may be starting to smile at you and make eye contact with you and this is the sign that they are ready to sleep on the mattress itself. Some babies like the close feeling that the bassinet provides - a womb-like environment after the transition from birth. There are lots of sources for information - check our Voila Montessori and How We Montessori for some great baby and toddler info about Montessori in the Home. Hope this helps?

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  9. My son is 9 months old and wakes up 3-4 times each night crying hysterically until we give him a bottle and he goes right back to sleep. He refuses baby food so he is basically only on liquids. How do we help him fall back asleep without a bottle?

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    1. I'm new to the Montessori world--Meg may have something to add from a Montessori view--but I couldn't resist responding as I have years and years of experience in feeding little ones. He really does need to learn to eat solids thru the day so he's not hungry at night. He's definitely at the point where solids should be playing a regular role in his caloric intake--three times a day at least, in addition to breastfeeding/formula. Most babies take some time to accept solids. You just have to consistently expose him to them at regular mealtimes and not get involved emotionally if he doesn't like it or he'll use that. Home-cooked food, pureed or mashed, will definitely be accepted faster than jarred. And, actually, assuming his oral/hand development is normal, and esp if he has teeth, just putting dry cereal or crackers or pieces of soft fruit or cooked veggies/meat/beans
      (think strained soups or crockpot meats) on his tray/plate is a great way to explore/eat the food independently. Just put it there and walk away if you have a hard time not feeling frustrated when everything is snubbed or thrown. I had to do this with my super picky 1st, and probably within a month or so she was trying new things and a few months later was a great little eater. Some say to keep foods bland, but my babies all prefer seasonings, most especially if meat is served. Just try to avoid adding sugar, although a touch of salt--especially for vegetables or meat--or something to dip his food into as he gets older (yogurt, peanut butter, sauces, dressings) can really make a difference in how much a baby will eat. Also, serving slices instead of small pieces helps as babies often prefer a huge piece over a tiny one, like we adults! You can score the skins of things like pears to help them be chewed more easily. If you're still not seeing any improvement after a month or so, he may be very oversensitive to taste/smell or textures or have difficulties with motor planning--especially if he's showing any delays in other physical skills, even mild ones--in which cases you'll want to find a feeding specialist, such as an occupational therapist with feeding certification. I've read a study that found babies exposed to different food textures after 10 months of age were less likely to be accepting of them by a certain later age than were babies who'd been exposed to them before 10 mo, so it seems there really may be a sensitive period for even that!

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  10. I have twins, first, I made them sleep on a mattress on the floor, but rolled out ......
    Then I discovered this company that sent me two fantastic beds:

    this is the address:
    http://www.woodly.it/eng/baby-furniture.html

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