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Sleep it’s all biology!

Sleep is necessary for us all to function throughout the day. Babies and young children are developing quickly both physically, mentally and emotionally in order for the body to process this rapid growth of learning, it is essential for babies and young children to get the sleep they need. Understanding sleep biology can help you to understand your little ones sleep and their own individualised sleep needs.


There are two distinctly different states of sleep in which we cycle back and forth, REM sleep or Rapid Eye movement is a light sleep and is where we dream. This type of sleep in babies and young children enables the brain to make sense of what they have seen and learnt during their waking hours. It aids children’s learning by increasing the blood supply to the brain this aids babies and children’s learning enabling them to be more alert and their ability to retain information is improved, their senses are enhanced as is their cognitive ability. During REM sleep the brain can better process information. Non- Rem sleep is a deep sleep the body is able to restore itself during this stage of sleep therefore blood is directed to the developing muscles, growing tissue can be repaired as in this sleep cells can divide more quickly. During this time hormones are released for growth and development the immune system is also supported through the production of white blood cells.

Newborns sleep is referred to as Active (Rem) sleep and quiet (non-REM) sleep. Newborns are yet to develop their circadian rhythm- the natural pattern of physiological and behavioural processes that are timed within a 24 hour period. Therefore newborns cannot distinguish between night and day. Newborns have different sleep patterns and schedules to us and sleep as much as they require usually around 16 hours over a 24 hour period, with their wakings dictated by hunger or sleep cycles. Newborns spend around 50% of their sleep within active sleep and sleep onset is via active sleep.

During active sleep baby can be seen to have jerky body movements, may smile there will be rapid eye movement within the baby and the heart rate and breathing become rapid and irregular. A baby will stay in this cycle for around 50 minutes and during this there is an increased blood flow to the brain. After this cycle a newborn will then enter a transitional stage of sleep lasting 2 to 3 minutes whereby baby will have a brief arousal before entering quiet sleep. During quiet sleep which is characterised through slower and regular breathing and heart rate, little movement and no eyelid movement. Quiet sleep helps the body to restore and is concerned with muscle growth and cell renewal. Babies are less likely to awaken during this stage and again this lasts for around 50 minutes

As babies grow their circadian rhythm develops and baby begins to distinguish between night and day this is usually around 10 -12 weeks. Babies will develop longer and deeper sleep periods from the age of 3 months the sleep cycles now last 90 minutes long and sleep onset is now via non-rem sleep, this pattern is now set for life. Babies at 3 months still require a lot of sleep around 15 hours per 24hours, babies at 3 months are able to develop a routine and is ready to sleep for longer stretches at a time.

From around 6 months a baby goes through another growth spurt and the introduction of solids means that night time feeding is now perhaps less, though it is normal for older babies to still feed, babies at this age also become more anxious and separation anxiety sets in. During the sleep cycles during the transitional period a baby may wake fully whereby sleep problems could be created. Sleep becomes disrupted due to increased mobility such as rolling over or standing in the cot unable to get down.

At around 9 months naps are dropped to 2 and from around a year to one nap during the day and generally sleeping 11-12 hours at night. The circadian rhythm continues to develop until the age of 4 in most children. This is when a child may no longer need a nap during the day but still requires 11 and a half hours at night. The sleep cycles continue in 90 minute cycles and non rem sleep develops into that of an adults, divided into 4 stages to indicate the depth of sleep. Babies are sleeping no differently to hundreds of years ago, however parenting over the years has changed. Cultural influences have impacted our ideology of sleep and we are confused and overwhelmed by the conflicting information surrounding sleep. Holistic and gentle sleep coaching is a family centred and multi dimensional approach that looks at the big picture and recognises that babies needs are met not just physically but emotionally too.

You can get more sleep through love, care and calm

Lots of love Claire xx

images by Enchanted Photography www.enchantedphotography.co.uk

Sweet Beginnings Babycare

 Claire is based in Maidstone, Kent and her sleep consultancy, baby massage and baby yoga classes offer a nurturing space for mum and baby to relax, recharge and connect. Claire has an extensive background in childhood studies and baby care.