by Sara Davies
Regardless of age, sleep is a very important part of a person’s day. It is the time when the body restores and rejuvenates itself for the work that all parts of the body need to accomplish the next day. Infants are no different.
Sleep is just as important for them, if not more so, than someone like an adult who is much older. Sleep for an infant serves several purposes. Not only does it help to aid in their overall development, by the length and quality of sleep, but it also plays a role in an infants’ overall temperament and ability to function during the hours they are awake.
It is important to remember that sleep occurs in various cycles that are broken into stages. It is not one continuous action when a person’s body is at rest.
Each sleep cycle is approximately 90 minutes long and is followed by a R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle. Four sleep cycles occur when a person’s body is at rest. The last two cycles of sleep are the most restorative for the body and are known as deep sleep cycles. These cycles are the most important for brain development because they are the cycles during sleep that repair, restore and rejuvenate the body by repairing cells and tissues in the body as well as retain or eliminate information that has been learned during the day.
Lillard and Jessen state in their book Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age 3 (published in 2003) that these stages of deep sleep are the most important for young children because it is the time when “the body receives almost half of its daily dose of human growth hormone” which encourages the growth, maintenance and repair of muscles in the body. If a child becomes sleep deprived, they will not be able to function as well overall.
Sleep deprivation is something that can happen easily if a child misses naps or starts to go to bed past their usual time. Sleep loss can be connected to a child’s learning ability and in-turn harm their overall development. This is all important information to better understand just how important sleep is to a young child.
Establishing a sleep routine is important to do as soon as it is possible and practical to start one. A sleep routine helps to establish the quality of sleep your child will likely receive and a general routine to wind down at the end of the day.
Establishing a sleep routine helps to form healthy sleep habits that will continue as your child grows. Newborns are unpredictable with their sleeping habits and this continues until about the third month of life. They nap several times a day which can vary from 15 minutes to four hours at a time. By three months old, infants begin to have more organization in their sleep patterns and take about three naps a day.
The first nap occurs between one to one and a half hours after waking. The second nap is dependent on the infants’ personal schedule and can last from one and a half to three hours and then the third nap of the day usually occurs between 4-6pm for about an hour. Keep in mind that each child is different and unique, and each have their own personal needs regarding sleep. Another thing to keep in mind is that as your child grows older, their sleep needs will change, but they will greatly benefit from a sleep routine that you helped to establish early on in life.
Just like adults, sleep helps to improve how infants’ function during the day. Adults in the infants’ life help to facilitate important sleep habits and patterns by understanding the need and importance of sleep for their child as well as maintaining a regular routine at bedtime as much as possible. Young children thrive on routines and this is one that is going to serve them well for years to come. A child who is overly tired will have a much more difficult time falling asleep than a child who is well-rested.
According to the National Sleep Foundation’s website, these are the recommended hours your child should sleep each night:
Lillard and Jessen (2003) state that a parent’s “first responsibility to newborns in regards to sleep is to help them sleep through the night as soon as they are capable of doing so.”
To learn more about safe sleep practices, go to:
Sara is the lead teacher in our Infant Classroom. You can reach her here.
“Sleep is a paradox; it is a passive state that is highly productive. ”