Why do babies sleep so much? Why does my child sleep all day and not at night? Why is my child a bad sleeper? All questions associated with children’s sleep. This blog is going to first educate you on a child’s sleep cycles, how they differ from adults, and why it is so important for you to prioritize naps and bedtime for your child.
Children’s Sleep Cycles.
Starting with the basic knowledge (that most of us don’t know). Sleep cycles are important because we need to enter all of them to properly restore our body and recover. The same goes for children, and is even more dire because they are learning, developing their brain, nervous, vestibular, and immune systems, and overall body growth. SO much is happening and at a rapid pace.
Newborns start out by sleeping in a 2 stage sleep cycle:
- REM- (rapid eye movement) REM sleep is an active sleep. Your baby will twitch, make noises, and smile while in REM. Adults REM sleep temporarily paralyzes muscles except for our eye movement and breathing. Babies twitch and are much more active in REM, but the paralysis comes later in life.
- NREM- Quiet deeper sleep where it would be hard to wake them.
Newborn babies spend 50% in each sleep stage. With adult sleep you only spend 25% of your time in REM sleep. There are many important functions to REM sleep, one is when we consolidate memories. It is said, since a newborn baby is literally learning all new things, that might be why they need the extra REM sleep. The most incredible part of newborn sleep is it is actually developed in the womb at around 6 or 7 month gestation. REM sleep starts then and is followed by deep sleep a month or so later. Therefore means babies are literally built for sleep right from the first day of life.
The development of 4 sleep cycles:
By the time your child is 3-4 months old they start to extend their sleep into 4 stages.
- Non-REM drowsiness.
- Non-REM light sleep.
- Non-REM deep sleep.
- REM active sleep.
One of the big differences with the children’s sleep cycles is the length of time they spend in them. While adults don’t reach deep sleep until gradually though the night, children can plunge into deep sleep within minutes, which then gets them into REM sleep much faster and longer than how an average adult sleeps. An average adult sleep cycle is about 90 minutes where we go through the 4 stages, wake briefly, and start over again. Children however have 45-60 minute sleep cycles that extend as they get older. By the time they are 5 years old their cycle will mirror that of an adult.
Waking in the night.
It is 100% natural for your child to wake up when they finish their sleep cycle. It could only be for a few seconds or maybe a minute. Their brain waves change abruptly with a mix of light and deep sleep, and slight arousal. They might make noises, move around, yawn, rub their eyes. This is one of the most important things to remember. Do not rush into the room. Do not talk to them. Let them be and see if they can independently soothe themselves back to sleep. Unless you know if it is time for a feeding (if the baby is under 6 weeks old), then wait 10-15 minutes to go into the room.
Children and adults alike all naturally wake up between sleep cycles throughout the night. We might not remember it, because it is so brief, but this is an important step in helping your child learn the skill of independently sleeping. This goes the same for naps. A lot of children wake after 30-45 minutes of napping. This is one sleep cycle for them. Try to let them go back to sleep on their own, if you have to comfort them (after 10-15 minutes of waiting) let them know you are there to support them but let them put themselves back to sleep. Never soothe them back to sleep, that is not your job. They must learn to go to sleep on their own. Offer all the love and support but make sure they lay down still awake.
If you have a newborn baby their body wakes them up at night to feed because they actually need the nutrition to survive. Your newborn is not a bad sleeper. The best way to make it through the first 6-weeks of night time feedings at 2-weeks old is to start a flexible schedule of feeding, activity (wake time), and sleep. It might seem to mesh all together at first but you will be able to distinguish hunger from fatigue. It will keep you from overfeeding, underfeeding, and also recognizing when your baby needs to sleep or is overstimulated. Head over to my YouTube for “Sleeping through the Night” Newborn Edition.
Children’s sleep takeaways.
- 0-6 weeks old (or a certain weight): Feedings are necessary during the night, so expect to be up every 3-4 hours.
- At 2-weeks old, start developing a routine. The routine should always be in this order: Feed, activity, sleep.
- Get to know your child’s sleep and hunger cues.
- The routine will guide you in learning their cues, making sure they are eating and sleeping enough.
- Their circadian rhythm will also develop along with the consistent routine. Melatonin will naturally start kicking in when they distinguish day from night.
- Remember everything that happens during the day will affect their sleep. How they eat, nap, and play all affect nighttime sleep.
- Naps are just as important as nighttime sleep.
- If your child is 4-weeks old or older WAIT 10-15 minutes before going into the room at night and naptime.
All of this information will help you understand what is happening while your child’s sleep matures. It will also get you started on establishing healthy sleep habits to help your child learn how to independently put themselves to sleep.
If you need support in creating a routine, establishing healthy sleep habits and staying consistent you can find our programs here. It is never too late to start practicing and prioritizing sleep for our children and also for ourselves. It is truly life changing when you and your baby wake up refreshed, and happy to take on the day.
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