The Connection Between Baby Brain Development and Sleep

In the womb, babies spend about 95% of their time asleep. And as soon as they make their entrance into the world, they’ll still spend the majority of their time sleeping—the transition from the womb to the real world is overwhelming and exhausting for your baby.⠀

Not to mention, their bodies are in a state of rapid development, especially their brains. While they’re snoozing, memories are being stored, synapses are forming, brain tissue is developing, connections are established, energy is replenished…and a whole lot more.⠀Infants spent 14-17+ hours sleeping, that’s a lot of time sleeping!

This early brain development is essentially the building blocks for your baby’s future learning, health, and behavior. The connections formed as an infant serve as an infrastructure for forming more complex connections when they’re older.⠀

The infant brain also has the incredible ability to change and grow – literally. Recent research confirms that the first five years are particularly important for the development of the child’s brain and brain cells, and the first three years are the most critical in shaping the child’s brain architecture so I’m going to help explain the connection between baby brain development and sleep.

The Connection Between Baby Brain Development and Sleep

We’re taught from an early age that sleep is important and here are a few reasons:⠀

  • Most of the baby’s brain development happens during sleep: literally. This is when the connections between the left and right hemispheres of their brains are being formed.⠀
  • Brain synapses are formed during sleep: more than 1,000,000 million neural connections are formed per second during their first 3 years.⠀
  • Memories are formed and stored: your baby’s brain stores what they’ve learned that day during REM sleep⠀
  • Poor sleep and sleep problems can cause bigger issues down the road: cognitive issues, developmental delays, etc. can sometimes be linked to not getting enough sleep⠀

Besides the impact sleep has on your baby’s growing brain, it also impacts your baby’s mood, eating, behavior, which is why an overtired baby quickly turns into a fussy baby.⠀

A baby who gets enough sleep is going to generally be more agreeable, eat better (which is important for development!), less fussy, easier to soothe, and more  responsive. A well-rested baby is a happy baby! Babies’ sleep patterns are so critical to overall well being and development.

Why Is Sleep Important For Infants?

Research shows that sleep is critical for your child’s brain development, cognitive development and physical development. Your baby develops at a rapid pace in their first two years of life. Sleep is a critical component to ensuring your baby is developing on their individual timeline. A baby who doesn’t get the sleep they need will struggle with meeting milestones, feeding, and overall temperament. If your baby is a newborn, it can be challenging to get consistent daytime and night sleep but try to use this blog post and others to help your baby get the sleep that they need in order to develop and thrive!

How Is Sleep In Infancy Linked To Cognitive Development?

There are many studies and research that have performed data driven studies on the link between sleep in infants and cognitive development. Researchers found that infants who regularly sleep less than 12 hours total over any given 24-hour period have poorer cognitive and language development at two years of age than infants who get more sleep. Research has also found that nighttime sleep has a greater impact on cognitive and language development compared to daytime sleep. This is because nighttime sleep is more restorative. Short or disrupted nighttime sleep is associated with a decrease in cognitive development.

What is Restorative Sleep?

Restorative sleep is that great sleep when you wake up feeling rested and refreshed. It happens when brain activity helps restore your body and mind. For babies, this is a critical stage of their sleep cycle and is the goal that we work on when we work on teaching independent sleep.

How To Help Baby Sleep

So, we’ve learned that infant sleep is critical to progression and many other areas of child development. Between 0-24 months of age, babies’ brains develop more than they will the rest of their lives. That’s a pretty astounding fact. Let’s discuss the ways that you can help your baby learn to create healthy sleep habits. 

Sleep Schedule & Routine

It’s never too early to start a bedtime routine. A bedtime routine can help signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep. This can be for both sleep at night and sleep during the day. A sample bedtime routine looks something like this: bath(on bath nights), change into pajamas and swaddle or sleep sack, feed, read books, sing songs and cuddle and place into sleep space. 

If you have a newborn, you may hear of a schedule called eat play sleep. This pattern of activities can help create routine and also help avoid parents feeding their babies to sleep. This pattern works for some babies but doesn’t work for all. If your newborn needs to be fed closer to falling asleep, that’s okay! If you need to work on a feed to sleep association when you baby is older, you can certainly do so! 

Independent Sleep Skills 

Sleep training teaches your baby the skill of independent sleep. That essentially means they learn to fall asleep and back to sleep on their own. When babies end one sleep cycle, which ends after 30-45 minutes, it can be difficult for your baby to fall back asleep. This is due to the fact that the first 30-45 minute of sleep is a very deep sleep cycle. Babies then go into a light stage of sleep and it can be hard for your baby to sleep after waking from that light sleep cycle. Working on your baby’s sleep schedule and independent sleep skills can help them learn to connect one sleep cycle to another! Sleep deprivation in babies and adults can lead to several negative effects

Wake Times 

Keeping an eye on your babies wake time between naps can help get them on an age appropriate schedule. And also avoid them from getting overtired. A wake time is the amount of time your baby is awake between naps and before bedtime. Age-appropriate wake times are included below. Wake times are especially important for babies from Newborn – 12 months of age. 

The Connection Between Baby Brain Development and Sleep

Sleep and developmental milestones are so closely connected. And the best thing that a parent can do for their baby is help them get the appropriate amount of sleep for their age. Restorative sleep leads to increased brain health, emotional regulation and increased development. If you are struggling with getting your baby to sleep and can tell they need more or are overtired, I’m here to help you!

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