Until you become a parent (or unless you suffer from insomnia) I don’t think that many of us give very much thought or recognition of sleep or what sleep is, it is just part of our daily routine, we may nap if we feel more tired than usual, we may sleep in longer in the morning if we wish (and can!) I know I very much took sleep for granted before becoming a Mum and with lots of sleepless nights and much longer days I now cherish my sleep and in turn am fascinated by it.
Sleep is so vitally important to all of us, not just babies. When we are asleep our consciousness is altered and we go through different stages; REM sleep and Non-REM sleep (REM –Rapid eye movement.) Non-REM sleep goes through stages from awake, drowsy, to sleep and deep sleep and then we go into REM sleep which is our deepest state of sleep. During the different stages of sleep our bodies are still working hard, particularly our brain. Different parts of our brain become more and less active during sleep which is why we have dreams. Studies have shown that quality and restorative sleep gives us a better ability in controlling our emotions – makes sense when you know you are irritated at something you wouldn’t usually bat an eyelid. Sleep is also essential in the development of our short and long term memory and for children this is extremely important. When we do not have enough restorative sleep a whole multitude of things can happen; our mood is lowered, we are more forgetful, we are short tempered because we have less control of emotions and we are not as alert as we can be. This can have an impact upon a lot of different parts of our daily lives, for example, you may not be at your best in work, you may say something out of turn that you usually wouldn’t, something may upset you more than it usually would, you over-think things more, you forget things you wouldn’t normally and worse, you feel low and quite possibly run down. So, if this is what sleep looks like for adults, I am sure you can appreciate its importance for children.
Sleep plays a huge part in the development of children, it develops their short and long term memory and it is crucial for them to absorb all of the information they are learning in their wakeful windows each day. For a baby everything is new, everything is interesting and everything is about learning. There is an awful lot for a baby to adjust to and digest because remember, for the past nine months they have only known mum’s womb, they can only take so much in before they need to rest and digest all of this amazing stuff. Sleep helps children to physically and cognitively develop and during the different stages of a sleep cycle growth hormones are released. Children with consistent inhibited sleep are more likely to have poor linguistic skills, poorer levels of concentration when it comes to starting school and are more likely to be irritable and easily distracted, no prizes for recognising that each of these will impact upon behaviour. Personally, the effects of lack of sleep scare me and I am not for one minute judgemental upon parents that do not yet have their children sleeping through or napping like they should. Every child is different and some will learn much easier and quicker than others, sleep is a learnt skill and it is hard for children to learn to fall asleep and there is little advice and education around this BUT every child is capable of learning to fall asleep independently. If you are a parent of a child that sleeps and they learnt quickly then that is great, if your child is not yet sleeping, it can be done and it is great that you recognise that there is a need to help them in this important life skill.
Remember everyone’s wakeful times are different and in children these wakeful windows will be shorter in the earlier years and will adjust as they begin to develop and grow older. Be aware of the length of wakeful time your child should have and how many naps are needed throughout their day. A consistent approach and structured routine will certainly help in aiding their ability to sleep. Laura, Babbaboo SleepBack to Learn page