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Junk Sleep - Why You Shouldn't Worry About It With Your Newborn

Sleep consultant

Author: Kimberley Fernandez - CLD, CCCE, CSC

Kimberley is a certified birth doula, postpartum doula, certified childbirth educator and certified sleep consultant. She has been working with families in their birth and postpartum journeys since 2006 and currently teaches live online prenatal classes and virtual pre-recorded webinars on infant care, infant feeding, postpartum recovery through her teaching portal "The Birthing Room"


Sleeping in a wrap is not junk sleep

I have been hearing the term "Junk Sleep" thrown around a lot lately, on social media and from many "sleep experts". But what is Junk Sleep really? For adults, junk sleep is sleep that occurs outside of regular sleeping hours. Sleep that will disrupt your circadian rhythm and basically throw off your sleep structure causing disordered sleep. This term has been used lately to describe sleep in infants outside of scheduled nap time and bed time. But is the term being used too early for infants and babies? And should you worry about it?

In toddlers and older babies, when sleep structure is disrupted, it can lead to a difficult time for you and your very irritable toddler. Considering specific nap schedules and bedtimes for your older baby and toddler can be very helpful. But now a days I'm seeing this term used with infants as young as 2 and 3 months old. And at that age, I think this term can cause undo stress on parents and be dangerous for infants for whom sleep is necessary for development.

Sample nap schedule-2
Download PDF • 56KB

For infants, in the beginning of life, sleep is determined, primarily, by food. How long it takes to feed, digest and become hungry again. Sleep is also dependent on the other systems running smoothly, including movement and respiration. If any of these are systems are disrupted, particularly if feeding isn't going well in the beginning, sleep will take a hit. So when baby sleeps, where ever it is, then that's the win.

The first 4 weeks of baby's life is spent in full on recovery mode. You are healing from birth, and baby is figuring out life on the outside and you are also figuring out life with baby. This period time will mean baby is sleeping in 1.5 to 2 hours at a time. As you fall into a rhythm of life, the next 2-3 months, baby will become more aware of their surroundings and they will creep into an eat play sleep pattern. And you will likely be more comfortable venturing out of the house with baby in tow. That will mean some of baby's sleep may occur in a stroller, car seat, wrap/baby carrier or on the floor at grandmas. These situations would be deemed "Junk Sleep"

Some anxious parents may feel like they can't go out with baby because baby's nap times, and wake windows are too small and baby has to "always" sleep in their bassinet or crib with black out blinds. This is entirely untrue. In the early months of baby's life, sleep is needed, but where baby sleeps doesn't need to be so rigid. Especially since getting baby outside and getting fresh air can be very beneficial to engaging baby's circadian rhythm and developing the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

Plus the more you include baby in outings and your daily life, the easier it will be for them to adapt to changes and eventually sleep almost anywhere. My personal feeling about sleep is that getting the foundations loosely laid in the early months (3-4 months) will help as baby's sleep needs change. But rigidity in those foundations aren't necessary.


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