Secrets of baby sleep: how snoozing helps your baby’s development
A re-post from BBC
But they don’t just switch off when they’re snoozing in their cot or Moses basket – a lot is going on in their growing brains and bodies.
Professor Alice Gregory, an expert in the science of sleep and author of Nodding Off: The Science of Sleep from Cradle to Grave, reveals exactly what happens when your baby sleeps...
From the moment they're born, your baby is learning new things. And incredibly, this could even be happening while they sleep. In one study from Columbia University in the US, sleeping babies heard a noise and then air was blown into their eyes. They quickly learned to scrunch up their eyelids when they heard the sound… even though they were fast asleep.
Professor Gregory says: “At different stages of life we know there is a link between sleep and learning. This study shows that babies might even be able to learn new information during their sleep; in this case learning to predict when air would be blown into their eyes."
In another study, researchers at Washington University found rapid eye movement (REM) sleep plays a big part in forming memories. REM sleep (also known as ‘active’ sleep) is a stage of sleep when our eyes move and most of our dreaming happens. About half of babies’ sleep is in this REM stage, compared to around a quarter for adults.
Professor Gregory says, “There aren’t many studies focused on babies, but it seems that during sleep, our memories are reactivated and moved from the hippocampus (the area of the brain where short-term memories are stored) to parts of the cortex (where longer-term memories are stored).”
Your baby physically grows while they sleep
You can almost predict when you need some bigger baby grows by keeping an eye on your little one’s sleep patterns. In the day or so before a growth spurt, some babies sleep up to four-and-a-half hours more than usual. According to the same study, every hour of extra sleep your baby has increases the chance of a growth spurt by 20%.
Your baby experiences different emotions when they sleep
Your baby’s language is boosted by sleep
“This is just another reason why we should always give babies ample opportunities to get the sleep they need”, says Dr Gregory.
Sleep really is important for so many aspects of their development.
Your baby's development affects their sleep
“Other developments that might impact on your baby’s sleep include pulling up to stand but not yet knowing how to get back down independently, gaining the ability to throw a pacifier out of their cot, or even learning new words.”