Like breathing air to survive, we also need sleep for our survival, and this is even more important during the early years as it directly impacts mental and physical development.
As babies, sleeping is takes up 20 odd hours per day. Circadian rhythms relate to brain cycles influenced by night and day and of course, these take time to mature. This is why babies sleep patterns can be so irregular (much to our dis-like). In fact, it can take 3-6 mo. for babies sleep patterns to even out.
Let’s talk about the 2 main sleep states, non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) or “quiet” sleep and rapid Eye Movement (REM) or “active” sleep.
During NREM sleep the body is in a rejuvenation phase, i.e. repair, growth and development.
During REM sleep, this is when we dream.
A baby will spend approximately half the time in each state, for around 50 minutes progressing to an hour and a half by pre-school age. to an hour.
For babies sleeping usually coincides with nappies and hunger.
There are up to 10 major developmental milestones during year 1 and the energy required during these spikes can interrupt the sleep pattern.
Babies become irritable, fussing and squirming as they navigate their growth spurts and their irregular sleep patterns.
We recommend only putting your baby to bed when they have calmed, i.e. become sleepy but not necessarily fully asleep. It is also recommended you try and align the sleep patterns with day and night best you can.
Here’s a summary of our Sleeping Tips for Newborns:
- Watch for sleepiness, be attentive of sleep patterns.
- Only put baby to sleep when just falling asleep, not fully asleep.
- Make sure your baby is on his/her back, with no soft toys or blankets or pillows potentially obstructing their breathing.
- Try an align your babies sleeping with night and day patterns.
Sleep and Infants (4-11 months)
Here’s what’s typical. This doesn’t mean there’s something wrong if this is not the case with your baby.
Usually at 6-9mo your baby is sleeping thru not requiring night feeds, sleeping around 9-12 hours. During the day, they usually take short naps 2-4 x.
You want to train your infant. This means vocalizing ‘time for sleep’ as a regular evening time and creating a ritual, i.e. reading a book, putting a particular lamp on, or soothing music. Good sleep is a habit and even as adults we need to train ourselves. Missing this opportunity may mean your infant constantly calls for attention as soon as you leave the room which can seduce parents to sleeping in the room or having them sleep with them.
Here’s a summary of our Sleeping Tips for Infants:
- Create reasonably firm sleep times.
- Create a fun bedtime routine, and be consistent!
- Make sure the environment is ‘sleep friendly’.
- Train your baby to fall asleep on their own as much as possible.
Sleep and Toddlers (1-2 years)
As babies become infants become Toddlers they need less sleep, around 11-14 hours and day naps usually reduce to once per day.
Keep in mind many toddlers experience night terrors during REM sleep.
It is thought this is due to an over-active frontal lobe in the brain. The frontal lobe is our predictor, it forward plans. In adults mostly, we can control this and remain present so that we can function moment to moment. You may have noticed toddlers 5 steps ahead of themselves, racing around, asking questions, picking up things etc. This drive for independence over stimulates the sympathetic nervous system which needs to be quietened for sleep.
Here’s a summary of our Sleeping Tips for Toddlers:
- Again, be consistent. Create a sleep time and routine and stick to it.
- Make sure the bedroom is always the same. Same light, same music, same ambience, same sounds coming from other parts of the house etc.
- Ensure your toddler’s last thoughts are happy one’s.
- Use a security object, e.g. blanket, soft toy to help create sleep independence.
Sleep and Preschoolers (3-5 years)
Sleep time typically for pre-schoolers is around 11-13 hours without nap times.
Like toddlers, falling asleep difficulties and waking up during the night are common.
As their creative brains develop, fears and terrors usually increase. This may even lead to sleep walking.
Here’s a summary of our Sleeping Tips for Pre-schoolers:
- Again, maintain a regular and consistent sleep schedule.
- Read to your child and pick up the same book the next night. I used to read a chapter a night which created anticipation for next evenings read.
- Make sure you read in their room by their bed.
- Make sure the child’s room is the same every night with NO TECH.
Sleep and School-aged Children (6-13 years)
Children at this age need 13 need 9-11 hours of sleep.
This is when school and sport interests increase, as does tech!
In my earlier blogs this month I talked about the physiological impact of tech on sleeping.
Symptoms of poor sleep include mood swings, behavioural problems such as ADHD and cognitive problems that can then impact on their ability to learn in school.
Here’s a summary of our Sleeping Tips for Children:
- Teach school-aged children about healthy sleep habits.
- Continue to emphasize need for regular and consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine.
- Make child’s bedroom conducive to sleep – dark, cool and quiet.
- Keep TV and computers out of the bedroom.
- Avoid caffeine.
About the Author:
Andrew is married to Dr. Linda Wilson, the Stress Specialist and has two children, Isaac and Bella. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.