Infant Sleep – What do Children Need and What do They Get?

Sleeping, both at night and a daytime nap, has a tremendous impact on your child’s development. Make sure that your little one sleeps as long as they need. 

Scientists believe that sleep not only influences body development (since large quantities of growth hormone are produced when we sleep, protein synthesis occurs, appetite is regulated etc.), but it also affects intelligence, memory, and emotions.

Better memory

There are so many studies of child sleep going on that new interesting facts are revealed each week. Recently, an interdisciplinary team of German and Swiss researchers published study results suggesting that sleep and naps improve the ability to understand the meaning of words. And we’re not talking about a simple word-object association, but about a process involving the long-term memory. It was discovered that even six-month-old babies after a nap have memorizing capabilities previously associated with children a few months older than that.

Other new studies indicate that naps are an important factor influencing the ability to recognize and remember faces. Scientists also suggest that deep sleep is probably connected with the development of cognitive skills.

Sleep cycles

Does it mean that children should sleep as long as possible and those who don’t sleep much will have problems?

It’s not so easy. Human sleep needs vary, as does the ability to quieten down or the way we react to stimuli. At different stages of life, humans have their own specific needs for sleeping. An adult sleeps on average 8 hours per day, mostly at night. Doctor Michal Skalski, psychiatrist, and sleep disorder specialist, believes that the number of hours slept is just as important as sleeping through at least 5-6 sleep cycles (each one is about 90-100 minutes) and waking on your own after the last one ends instead of being interrupted during a deep sleep phase.

Infant sleep looks a bit different. They quickly enter the REM stage and then move on to deep sleep, with each cycle taking about 60 minutes. It easy to wake up during the REM stage (which is longer and happens more often than in adults), so children wake up more often than parents.

Specific needs

We should also remember that each child is different. Some children often take short naps, while others sleep straight through the night, fall asleep late, early, wake up at sunrise or sleep till 9 a.m. Every infant has their own, specific needs. We learn about them by observing the child. Remember their sleeping patterns and how they change over time. Very often a baby who slept like an angel after birth, during the stage when motor skills are developed (5 months or so) wakes up very often, and in the 8th month, when separation anxiety peaks, they want to sleep only with their parents.

All night long or with breaks?

Now let’s account for the parents who want to sleep and live according to the routine they’re used to. They observe their child and respect their needs, but also want to adjust the baby to their own routine.

Interestingly, the sleeping habits we impose on the baby depend on the culture. For example, the time children go to bed, what “sleeping through the night” means, whether children should sleep with parents or alone (in a different bed? room?).

In a very interesting book titled “How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm” (2012), Mei-Ling Hopgood talks about infant and children’s sleeping habits. In developed countries such as the USA adults usually, sleep 8 hours at night and expect the same from children, plus a few naps during the day. But members of the Kung and Efe tribes in Africa divide the sleeping hours into a few portions. Adults (and children) sleep a bit, then meet with a friend, sleep, then eat. They don’t make the distinction into the night for sleeping and the day for activity.

Together or not

Many modern parents expect their infants to fall asleep on their own in their beds and “cry them out” until they reach that goal. But in some cultures, this would be unthinkable! In Japan, children sleep with parents for a long time, and on Bali families sleep together and no one is ever alone.

In Argentina it’s normal that parents spend evenings and nights socializing, with their babies close – they fall asleep in strollers, on makeshift “beds” made from chairs, with loud music playing and people talking around them.

It’s hard to say which model is the best. But we should keep in mind that people around the world have different ways of soothing their babies to sleep. A universal method does not exist because our cultures, customs, needs, temperaments, and lifestyles differ.

Likewise, there are no universal suggestions concerning the length and frequency of baby sleep. It’s child-specific and depends on their needs. You should realize that and do what is best for your child, for you, for your family. Don’t compare your child with your friend’s, even if she says that their child falls asleep on their own and sleeps until morning. Maybe so, but it does not affect your child’s needs in the slightest and has nothing to do with the sleeping conditions you should provide for your child.

Life quality

“When Whisbear the Humming Bear received the ‘London-Warsaw Bridge’ award in the Health-Tech category, I thought it was an important and interesting sign,” says Zuzanna Sielicka-Kalczyńska, co-founder of Whisbear. “Taking care of good, healthy sleep of infants and little children is now perceived as healthcare, as taking care of life quality and good development of our little ones.”

“Our bear also participates in sleep quality research,” adds Julia Sielicka-Jastrzebska, co-founder of Whisbear.

Whisbear the Humming Bear soothes your babies to sleep. Its CrySensor detects your child’s crying and turns on white noise, switching it off when the baby falls asleep. 

Conclusions 

When I read the studies and research concerning infant sleep, two things are certain. Firstly, when infant sleep is concerned, pediatricians across the world point out the importance of safe atmosphere and routines such as dinner, bath, story, hugging. Each family can have their own unique routine. But it’s clear that children like routine, it helps them to quieten down and relax.

Secondly, sleep is really something you should care about. It’s important for your baby’s health, intelligence, emotions – now and in the future.

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