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7 Must-Know Facts About Baby Sleep for New Parents

Shelly Lopez - The Sleep Advisor | August 12, 2020

It’s no secret that raising a new baby will have its challenges. However, it’ll be peppered with joy, surprises, and rewarding obstacles. You may get an earful from experienced parents warning you to “enjoy your sleep while it lasts,” or to be prepared in ways that they weren’t. 

While it’s great that people want to share their sage advice, every child brings unique joys and struggles, and yours will inevitably vary as well. There will be countless new parenting tricks to learn, so we’ve summed up some of the best sleep facts to help you along your parenthood journey.

1. Newborns Don’t Know Night From Day

You may have heard by now how little rest parents get at the beginning of their newborn’s life. While it may sound like a nightmare, there is a good reason for your baby’s irregular sleep patterns. 

When our infants are first born, they haven’t yet developed their circadian rhythm, which is the function that tells our bodies when it’s night and day. Melatonin is released when the light dims to help us snooze, and ceases when light emerges to wake us up.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to make it develop sooner; each child will grow at their own pace, and that’s perfectly normal. So when you’re up at three in the morning, while it may feel like an eternity in that moment, those nights will be over before you know it.

2. Baby Sleep Cycles Are Not The Same As Adults

Adults have had years of practice sleeping for more extended periods and also have more developed rest cycles granting them the ability to snooze for a more significant length of time. Babies have shorter snooze cycles, lasting about an hour in length, and it takes them longer to reach REM sleep – roughly around 20 minutes. 

The REM stage in babies is much different than the REM stage for adults. While we tend to spend about 20-25% of our snoozing hours in REM, our tots spend about 50% of their slumber in this stage, which is considerably more. This variance points to the reason why our little ones wake more quickly in their sleep, as the REM stage is associated with lighter rest.

The Rapid Eye Movement stage of slumber is incredibly vital and may serve important functions like memory creation and nervous system maintenance. So, while babies have shorter shut-eye cycles, they still need more of it to gain these developmental hours.

3. Sleep is Necessary to Learn and Grow

When our tots are young, their brains and bodies grow at a rapid pace to take in loads of new stimuli. In order to do this, they need significant periods of rest to grow and absorb new information. One of the ways they’re able to do this is through sleeping.

Scientists have discovered that learning and brain development occur as information from waking hours are consolidated into memory functioning during REM cycles 

New research points to correlations between rest and growth in children. While the exact reason is still unclear, a growth hormone that is known to release during shut-eye could stimulate bone growth, which could be why our tots sometimes experience growing pains that wake them during slumber.

4. Sleep Regressions Will Happen

Teaching a baby how to sleep soundly for prolonged periods, unfortunately, doesn’t happen overnight. ‘Two steps forward, and one step back’ tends to be the name of the game. While frustrating, keep in mind this is to be expected and part of your little one’s growth process.

Slumber regressions usually occur when our tots are experiencing a burst in development. Crawling, walking, talking, and other developmental milestones can be enormously exhausting for our children, and as a result, their sleep can take a big hit. 

So ultimately, though tiring, regressions happen because our babies are developing at a healthy rate, which is an indication that you’re doing a great job supporting your little one just as they need.

5. There are Good Reasons for Night Wakings

When our babies are young, they have naturally shorter sleep cycles and need a tremendous amount of nutrients to fuel their constant growth. Our little ones can’t hold a large amount of food in their small tummies, and they digest quickly, so they wake up frequently to refuel. 

While a baby who snoozes through the night may sound like a dream, a child who wakes more frequently throughout the night can actually be a reliable indicator of a healthy, expressive child. 

6. Like Your Baby, Sleep Matures With Time

There really is no easy trick to get your child to doze through the night quickly. Each child will mature at their own pace, which is conducive to their individual development. Just like your child will learn to talk, walk, and crawl in their own time, they’ll eventually learn to sleep when they’re ready as well.

 Things you can do to help is maintain a regular routine, backed up with a safe and comfortable sleep environment.  Everything from where they go down to sleep to the lighting and room temperature, cot mattress, and even sleep clothing can make a difference.  Establishing an early bedtime, age-appropriate naps, and maintaining a schedule will help significantly when combatting difficulties in rest patterns.

7. All babies are unique

It’s crucial to keep in mind that your child will come with their own unique set of joys and challenges. If a friend is boasting about how easily their little one snoozes while yours seems to be a slumber vampire, hold tight, your situations can swap at the drop of a hat. Theirs could hit a sleep regression and yours could suddenly mature, learning to self-soothe and finally give you a much-needed break.

Shelly Lopez is a Relations Specialist for the Sleep Advisor, a website that covers everything related to sleep, from mattresses to the newest science behind technology and wellness breakthroughs.

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