Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Category — 1.3 Adaptive: Sleep Patterns

Sleep Patterns

Adaptive (Self-Help) Development: Typical Sleep Patterns in Infants, Toddlers And Young Children1

Newborns spend a good portion of their time sleeping. As months go by, they spend more hours awake. However, sleep and rest continue to be essential for the healthy physical and emotional development of infants, toddlers and older children. Recent research has also connected good sleep patterns to cognitive skills development. In fact, those children with poor sleeping habits who do not get the minimum 10 hour sleep per night may experience stunted growth and development in children in preschool ages. These children may also be more irritable and cranky when they are awake―very much like adults who have difficulties with their sleep!

Sleep habits and a family’s’ cultural background and beliefs are connected. Different families hold different views of nighttime sleep. They can also hold different views on the “correct” way a baby is put to sleep, where they sleep and for how long they are left asleep.

  • For example, some parents may prefer keeping their babies in the same room and sleep with them, instead of having a special room for the baby; some families try to keep their babies awake for most of the day with short naps on and off, instead of fostering mid-morning and mid-afternoon naps.

Night waking happens at different stages. It’s important for parents to realize there are different reasons a baby may wake up during the night. Parents react and respond differently to night waking based on why the infant or child is up.

  • For example, if a baby is distressed, in pain or hungry, a natural response for the parent will be to pick the baby up, soothe them, feed them, comfort them and gently put them back to bed.

By the time they between 6 and 9 months old, most babies are not hungry when they wake up during the night. At this stage, the recommendation from experts in baby sleep is for parents to give baby a chance to calm themselves down before picking them up, unless the parents learn, through the baby’s cry, that they might be in pain or discomfort. For babies who are not hungry, in pain or discomfort, self-soothing and self-regulation are important skills they need to develop early in life. These skills will help them be able to take good care of themselves when they are older. For some children, it could be more difficult to learn this type of independence if they are not given the opportunity to calm themselves down when they are babies. Giving the baby a gentle pat on the back or singing to them after a couple of minutes of cry generally help babies to calm down. At the same time, parents may want to pick the baby up if crying persists and gets louder. Between 9 and 12 months, most babies are sleeping through the night, or an average of six to eight hours, non-stop.

As babies and toddlers grow older, they may require less continuous sleep. Most babies will benefit from one or two naps per day. As they enter the early childhood years, they may need just one nap (or no naps at all) during the day.

It’s important not to force a baby to eat or play when they are tired or sleepy. Babies will most likely not enjoy these activities and may end up associating these activities with “feeling cranky or tired”, which may cause them to avoid these activities in the future.

Difficulties with sleep have also been linked somewhat to the baby’s temperament. Babies  with predominantly “difficult temperament” may have difficulty with regular/irregular feeding or changing habits.

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December 25, 2010   No Comments