As any new parent will testify, babies and sleep do not seem to exist together. Countless parents have spent sleepless nights walking the floor with their infants. Teething, colic and colds can keep baby – and his parents – awake.
It has been proven that babies sleep even less while undergoing any of 10 major, predictable stages”or leaps”during their first 20 months. Research conducted over 35 years by Dr. Frans Plooij, one of the world's top specialists in infant development and parent-baby interactions, says all babies will experience sleeping problems during the Wonder Weeks (leaps in mental development).
How Much Sleep Does My Baby Really Need?
According to a WebMD article, the amount of sleep a baby requires varies depending the age of the child and personality traits.
The article makes general guidelines as follows:
Unborn Baby: on average 23 out of 24 hours
1-4 Weeks Old: 15 – 16 hours per day. Newborns do not have sleep patterns related to day and nighttime cycles, nor or any other pattern.
1-4 Months Old: 14 – 15 hours per day. On average, by 6 weeks of age a baby may develop more regular sleep patterns, as confusion between day and night ends.
4-12 Months Old: 14 – 15 hours per day. While up to 15 hours is ideal, most infants up to 11 months old get only about 12 hours sleep.
1-3 Years Old: 12 – 14 hours per day
Of course, these are all just averages; not all babies need the same amount of sleep. The number of hours a baby's brain and nervous system needs to rest is as varied as their physical characteristics. It takes a tremendous amount of energy and mental resources for babies to learn new skills and discover their world. Your baby requires enough sleep to facilitate learning and discovery of new things.
How Might Mental Development Affect My Baby's Sleep?
Your baby’s world changes completely and suddenly when he/she undergoes a leap in his mental development. Every infant will react differently to leaps, and some will become upset which can alter his or her sleeping habits. Some parents find that their infants almost stop sleeping, while others notice a reduction the amount of sleep. Other babies begin to sleep more during the day and less at night. Parents should remember that changes in their baby's sleeping habits during mental development stages are normal. Once the stage, or leap, is over, your baby should begin to sleep better.
Some babies have such a strong natural drive to learn and will not take the time to sleep until they master new things. Many parents can identify this tendency in their child at a very young age. These babies refuse to sleep until they have succeeded at a new skill. Parents may need to distract the baby with another activity, and should always praise him/her regardless of the outcome of efforts. Parents may find that reading a book with their baby can provide the needed break.
How Can I Help My Baby Sleep Well Even During Periods Of Intense Mental Growth?
There is no magic formula to get your baby to sleep. If only there was one! You can help him by giving him the opportunity to process or digest the new impressions of the leap. Take it easy during those days when your baby goes through a leap. Put off demanding things and let him rest for a few days. It may be inconvenient to change your calendar around, but in the long run you and your baby will be more at ease and have peace of mind.
The Curious, Energetic Baby
Some babies find life far too challenging to stop and go to sleep. Tired or not tired, they are constantly on the go. The more stimulation they get the more they want.
Many parents find that even when they develop a routine at home, their baby still refuses to go to bed. Parents may label their baby as difficult or temperamental when actually the baby is just eager to learn and highly curious about their world.
Babies simply cannot grow and learn with little or no sleep. Parents should research games that they can play with their baby that focus on the stage of mental development currently being experienced by the baby. These games will help him/her practice and master the skills he is learning. This will place strong demand on your baby's brain and be challenging. The extra stimulation may satisfy their curiosity and tire your infant out. You can get lots of inspiration for developmentally appropriate baby games in The Wonder Weeks book.
Does My Baby Dream?
The opinions about whether babies dream are varied.
Research indicates that the amount of REM sleep is the largest part of a baby's sleep. Babies who are born after a pregnancy of 25 weeks even spend their entire sleeping time in REM sleep. Children born at full term spend approximately 45 to 65 percent of sleep time in REM sleep.
Even though a baby spends a majority of their sleep in REM state, we can't necessarily compare an infant's “dreaming” to an adult's. According to an article on LiveScience.com, psychologist David Foulkes, one of the world’s leading experts on paediatric dreaming, says people often mistakenly equate their baby's ability to perceive with an ability to dream. Considering a baby's limited pool of experiences and the immaturity of their brain, Foulkes and other neuroscientists think babies remain dreamless for the first few years of life.
Although there may be times when a parent finds themselves walking the floor with their baby for an entire night, sleeplessness should be the exception and not the rule. Adequate sleep is essential to both the physical, as well as the mental, growth of all babies.