Research that examines sleep patterns and sleep duration of healthy twins is rather scarce, as is empirical evidence of how parents manage the sleep disruption associated with caring for twins (Damato and Zupancic 2009). However, the sleep patterns of twin babies are broadly similar to those of singletons (Bartlett and Witoonchart 2003). The major difference to consider is gestational age. Because twins are often born early they follow a sleep trajectory that more closely matches their gestational age rather than their birth age. Care should therefore be taken to avoid comparisons with other babies who were born later in their gestational development.
Are twin sleep patterns different from those of singletons?
Whether twin babies sleep differently from singletons in other ways is unlikely. All issues generally relate to their potential prematurity and/or to the amount of time they have spent in an incubator. If babies are coming home following a prolonged stay in a special care baby unit they are likely to be unsettled in the initial weeks due to their dramatic change in environment. One issue to consider is the environmental temperature which may affect their sleep – you may find that twins sleep better and achieve better thermal stability if placed together. Also remember that if they were born prematurely they will have smaller stomachs and require more frequent feeding than babies of the same chronological age, which will affect the frequency of night waking. Many parents find that their twins feeding and sleeping patterns become synchronised if they are fed and slept together.
Two other potential differences in the care of multiples that sets them apart from singletons are that multiples are more likely to be cared for according to a schedule and are more likely to have several different carers. Both strategies help parents cope with looking after multiple babies, especially if they have other children to care for as well, but both might also be difficult for babies to adapt to if they have to ‘wait their turn’ to be fed or comforted, or if they receive inconsistent care from a variety of carers. There is little research upon which to base recommendations, but one suggestion that is consistent with our knowledge of infant attachment and security is to designate helpers to take care of the household, the laundry, and feeding the parents, rather than handing over the primary care-giving responsibilities for the babies to others.