We all know that babies sleep a lot but why is it so important for their development that they get enough sleep?
The transition out into the world is an exhausting and overwhelming one for babies. They are in a period of rapid growth and development, particularly their brains, and sleep is when most of this development occurs. Children’s bodies produce growth hormones when they are asleep and as anyone who has a newborn knows, they are growing rapidly at this stage of life. Your babies brain will double in size during the first year of their life and most of that growth will occur while they are asleep.
Why Sleep is Important for babies Development
Babies need 14-18 hours of sleep a day depending on their age. As mentioned before, most of the babies brain development happens while they are asleep. This is when the connections between the left and right hemispheres of their brains are being formed. Brain synapses are being formed during sleep, more than a million neural connections are formed per second during the first 3 years! Memories are formed and stored during sleep. It also helps boost immunity. Therefore sleep is so important for babies development.
About Sleep Cycles
Everyone cycles through different types of sleep during the night and also during naps. From about 6 months of age, a sleep cycle consists of REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep.
In REM sleep your eyeballs flicker from side to side underneath your eyelids. This is also called dream sleep.
During Non REM sleep, you can either be in deep sleep or light sleep.
The amount of REM sleep and Non REM sleep in a cycle changes through the night.
Read more about sleep cycles here.
How sleep cycles affect children’s sleep
Children have a lot of deep non-REM sleep in the first few hours after they fall asleep. That’s why children sleep so soundly in the first few hours after they’ve gone to bed and aren’t disturbed by anything.
Children have more REM sleep and light non-REM sleep in the second half of the night. Children wake more easily from these kinds of sleep, so they might wake up more during this time than at the beginning of the night.
In the early childhood years, sleep cycles get longer as children get older. In children aged three years, sleep cycles are about 60 minutes. By about five years, sleep cycles have matured to the adult length of about 90 minutes.
Sleep issues can arise when babies wake after a sleep cycle and are not able to settle straight into another.
How can I make sure my baby gets enough sleep?
If you’re worried your baby isn’t sleeping enough, don’t panic – they’re not in for a lifetime of developmental issues just because they’ve fought off a few naps or refuse bedtime.
It will take some time to figure out how your baby’s sleep cycle works. You can, however, start to instill some good sleep habits that will help them get enough rest from day one. Even though there might not be a set pattern or routine to your baby’s sleep immediately, you’ll probably notice the eat-sleep-play cycle. Try logging these activities to inform activity throughout the day.
You can also start with a pre-sleep routine. Once your baby’s sleep becomes less erratic and they have a more consistent bed time, this can become your bedtime routine.
If you are worried that your baby may not be getting enough sleep or isn’t sleeping all night, check out our article on how to help your baby to sleep all night.