This blog post is part of our series on infant sleep and its impact on development, published in collaboration with the journal Infant Behavior and Development. The featured research was published in a special issue on how infant sleep affects cognitive, social, and physical development and how parents and caregivers can contribute to promoting healthy sleep and development in infancy.
Key Insights for Caregivers:
Most infants sleep for 12 hours a day and can sleep through the night before their first birthday.
At eight months old, infants who had good and adequate sleep at night showed better language development and greater cognitive abilities by the age of 14 months.
Infants with better sleep quality had higher cortisol levels in the morning, potentially indicating more mature brain organization.
Caregivers should learn sleep routines and strategies to help babies sleep through the night as sleep promotes learning and brain development.
The Circadian Sleep-Wake Cycle and Learning:
In the first months, newborns sleep about 75% of a 24-hour day. By nine months, they sleep around 50% of a 24-hour cycle.
A circadian rhythm develops in the first year to establish an adult pattern of being awake during the day and sleeping at night.
Approximately 20 to 30% of toddlers still experience night waking or poor sleep after their first birthday.
The Importance of Healthy Infant Sleep:
Research suggests that the quantity and quality of infant sleep is related to learning and brain development.
For example, babies who sleep shorter periods have poorer memory, and those who have trouble sleeping at night struggle to remember new words.
Sleep and Cortisol Stress Response Cycles:
As an infant’s sleep-wake rhythm develops, so does the circadian rhythm, which responds to stress.
Perceived stress triggers a cycle that releases cortisol, a stress hormone that increases stored energy to help the body cope with the stressor.
Optimal sleep (adequate and healthy night sleep) at eight months was associated with better learning and language skills at 14 months.
Since sleep promotes early brain development, caregivers should help infants and toddlers achieve restful and continuous sleep at night.
How Parents Can Support Their Children’s Brain Development:
Caregivers can help infants achieve restful sleep by introducing daily routines at home.
It’s essential to understand each infant’s individual sleep needs and not assume that all babies will respond the same way to an evening routine.
Understanding a baby’s sleep needs is crucial as some babies with health or neurological development issues may experience sleep disturbances.
In summary, parents‘ sensitivity to their infant’s individual needs should contribute to developing their sleep routines to ensure that babies achieve good, restful sleep at night, making them more ready to learn and develop new skills when awake. Adequate, restful sleep in the early years can lead to more mature brain development, as indicated by higher morning cortisol levels.