Sleep Expert Dr. Polly Moore on How to Get Newborns to Sleep

October 24, 2016

Dr. Polly Moore is one of the foremost leading experts on sleep in the United States. She’s the director of sleep research at the California Clinical trials in San Diego. She’s the author of THE 90 MINUTE BABY SLEEP PROGRAM and her latest book THE NATURAL BABY SLEEP SOLUTION.

During an interview with CareGuide, she discussed known baby sleep problems, the reasons newborns need so much sleep during the day and what parents can do to identify and help develop a healthy sleep schedule for their child.

Interview with Dr. Polly Moore

Dr. Polly Moore is one of the foremost leading experts on sleep in the United States

by Clarke Illmatical

Do you encourage parents to document sleep patterns? feeding?

“I think people can go a little crazy with it. I know, there are a lot of terrific apps that people use, and as long as they use them to help reduce their anxiety, a lot of time new parents are very anxious and they think they’re doing it wrong, and it can be very helpful for them to see it black and white.They sometimes don’t trust their own instincts… “

When it comes to natural sleep rhythms for the baby, I’ve read that that the reason babies sleep so much when they’re first born is that they’re spending a tremendous amount of time sleeping in the womb. Parent’s aren’t actually setting a schedule? Do you think they should be?

“I didn’t have any information about babies internal rhythms until I had a child. I was a sleep technologist, in one of the very first sleep labs in the U.S., there were no sleep specialist at the time. We had to educate physicians about sleep apnea, we had to educate them about restless leg syndrome, things like that. Then I went to graduate school and got a P.H.d in neuroscience from UCLA, so I’ve been studying sleep for a long time.

When I say that there’s ever been any kind of data… in other words, if you look at parenting book, they say your baby needs to sleep 16 hours a day, but clearly, your baby isn’t going to sleep 16 straight hours. But they don’t really tell you what it should look like.

When I started to recognize these rhymes ‘I said, I must have been trained on this before because surely they would have written something about this.’ But it didn’t seem like it was written about anywhere. So I started to give talks, locally at parenting groups, and they affirmed what I had been seeing, which is that you can actually track a baby’s rhythms, by paying attention to certain queues that they give you. And so, they kept telling me to write a book…

It’s a simple program once you understand it.”

You said it’s a simple a program, based on the information that I’ve read you state that the baby needs to sleep every 90 minutes? Why does this happen?

”I had a terrible time with my first baby, and thought, why am I not getting the hang of this why does she not have a more regular nap schedule each day. It seemed to be different. I didn’t understand that. I happened to recognize because I was looking at my watch and paying attention to when she woke up. This is when she was about five months old. I noticed that she yawned, which is a sleepy sign, and thought that is funny, she just woke up 90 minutes ago – but see 90 minutes is a very meaningful interval in the world of human sleep because our REM and NON-REM cycles are in 90 minutes.

Those cycle back and forth with a very strict rhythm, it takes about 90s minutes for you to go through a non-REM and get to an end of the REM cycle and then it starts another non-REM… for whatever reason. I was already primed to recognize 90 minutes as a meaningful unit of time.

There’s also scientific research on something called The Basic Rest and activity cycle, so the people who discovered the REM State, this was in the 1950s, this was a really long time ago, they identified that there was this 90 rhythm not just in our sleep patterns but in also in other aspects of our physiology, which make some sense, because the body clock in our brains that keeps us on a 24 hour schedule, also it controls our heart rate and respiration and blood pressure and so forth…”

When it comes to newborn sleep, there is contradicting information, you’re saying that there is a rhythm, while other professionals say, “We’re going to help you guide the baby to sleep.” Why is this? Why two trains of thought?

“I think it’s probably the same phenomenon, but we’re calling it different things. What I mean, I told you the story of my daughter, How I finally recognized the rhythm when she was about five months. I wasn’t sure if it was present at birth but when I had my son, he clearly had a 90-minute rhythm on the first day of life.

What I mean by that is, if you pay attention to when they wake up, and mentally add 90 minutes, somewhere around that window of time you will see them do something that looks sleepy. They’ll yawn, they’ll they’ll rub their eyes, they’ll lose attention span of whatever you’re doing. All of the sudden become withdrawn so they’ll have some kind of change. Sometimes they will outright cry because they’re so exhausted, it isn’t always something obvious, so that’ one of the things I try to help people with.

I think when people say they want to put their baby on a schedule, the ones that work are the ones that are multiples of 90 minutes, it isn’t just a handy number it’s meaningful in nature in human beings to have this 90-minute clock that runs.

The thing that always confuses people, you’re baby gets tired around this 90s minutes, but if you don’t make another nap opportunity, they go into another alertness cycle and that’s how the kids can end up, being over tired or underslept because this window of time is kind of short… when they look sleepy, at least with my kids, I knew I had to get them down for a nap pronto, whatever we were doing needed to stop so that they could get the nap.”

Chapter 6 in the book, sleep problems. When you think about parents who aren’t educated on sleep, what are some of the biggest mistakes in terms of sleep problems?

“We tried to put in the book, the things that we hear about all of the time… In most ways, the sleep of a baby is like the sleep of an adult. But there are some ways it is very different.

In one of the ways, one of the common sleep problems is when people say ‘My baby naps irregularly’ and he or she goes down at night, but then they wake up at night. And one of the really counter-intuitive things is the more naps they get during the day, the better they’ll sleep at night because when they wake up, it’s almost the end of a REM cycle.

We all wake up at the end of a REM cycle, we don’t know why. Why don’t really remember it, but studies show that you kind of crack and eye open, and you go back to sleep… You don’t even remember the awakening, but we do have these awakenings at night. And it’s one of the things that plagues the field because people don’t remember their sleep all that accurately. But when babies wake up in the night, they often will come to full alertness instead of falling back to sleep, which is what you want.

For whatever reasons, getting more sleep during the day is the thing that helps them sleep better at night. That’s counter-intuitive, that’s the opposite of what an adult would be like would be like, if we took four naps in a day, we would have trouble sleeping at night.”

You mentioned that babies were light sleepers. Noise will wake them up, but I’ve also heard that extreme quiet at night will keep them awake. What are your thoughts on machines that produce “White Noise?”

“It’s always nice to not be dependent on a device with babies when babies are inclined to awaken several times at night, in most cases, their baby is not getting enough sleep during the day.

To draw an analogy to us, the adults, when we fall asleep, when we have difficulty sleeping, it’s often when we have difficulty sleeping, it’s often when we’re overtired too… People with insomnia, they wake up, like ‘It’s 3:30 in the morning!’ and then they start worrying about it. And then the next night when they wake up they say ‘Oh, I hope I don’t have insomnia again. So they end up with this negative cycle. Most of what it is, I give this advice to people, ‘ Make sure they get all the naps they need during the day, then they sleep better at night, which makes no sense at all.”

Is that something that parents are missing? If they’re able to afford it, should they invest in nannies or doulas? Someone who’s going to help that baby get as much sleep as possible during the day time.

“You hope for that. Usually, someone who’s not a parent is not as anxious about it. The times when I give talks to moms, a lot of times they really don’t value their own intuition and they want someone else to tell them how to do it.

Really, they kind of know what they need to do. But they don’t have anybody to affirm them. They can think of themselves as failures which is a terrible thing. I think mostly when it’s not your child, their crying doesn’t bother you nearly as much. The sound of your child crying is extremely stressful. Your child is in distress and you need to help your child.

A lot of times, doulas and nannies can have that distance where they can do what they thinks is the right thing for the child instead of what American parents do, which is worry that they’re doing the wrong thing or screwing up their child.”

How often does SIDS occur? How can parents avoid it?

“It does still occur, but when it occurs it’s almost a freak occurrence… We still only have the few clues about SIDS and sometimes, they are just a trail of breadcrumbs in the forest that don’t go anywhere…”

Can ADHD develop due to a lack of sleep? Or any disorders develop due to a lack of sleep?

“All we know, we don’t have any cause and effects studies. We have studies looking at how current babies, how much sleep they get in the 24 hour day, compared to the 1950s, in most cases we’re getting a lot less. Then you look at, we have a lot more ADHD, but that wasn’t something people were tracing back then…

It also might be that the brain disorder, that the child is born with, might become ADHD, is something that interferes with their sleep. This is one of the things we don’t know.

One of the things we do have pretty good data on are short sleep in babies and obesity by the time they’re toddlers. That’s pretty shocking. “

Too much sleep contributes towards obesity?

“No! Too little. For whatever reasons, it looks like, short sleep, and overweight, there are lots of large studies, like with truckers who drive through the night and they just drinking coffee, they at a very sedentary job.

There are a lot of people on the night shift who put on weight. There are two factors. Not being able to get eight hours of sleep even doing the best you can, doing the night shift your body won’t let you.

There’s also the fact that that you’re moving your sleep to a different circadian phase… “

This book, who is the audience?

“I wrote it for parents.

For me, it was something that made sense. It gave me a system and it gave me some kind of structure and something where I could expect when my child when my child is going to be sleepy.

I also just thought, ‘I wish somebody would have told me earlier on.”

For more information on Dr. Polly Moore and to purchase her books visit:

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