The Importance Of Sleep
Updated: Jul 5
Guest blogger, Gemma Axford, A Certified Baby & Child Sleep Consultant
Before qualifying as a Sleep Consultant, I worked as a Nanny for many years. I qualified in 2004 with a CACHE level 3 Diploma in Child Care and Education. I embarked on a once in a lifetime opportunity nanny position working abroad, when I was 18, which was an amazing life experience! I have worked with many families since then, back home in the UK. I became a Certified Sleep Consultant following training in 2019.
So, you ask, what is a good night’s sleep?
When women are expecting a baby, their sleep tends to be impacted; is this nature’s way of preparing us for the ‘4th trimester’?
It is to be expected that a newborn baby wakes for feeds. As baby grows, the need for numerous feeds reduces once their little tummies grow and they are able to take a fuller feed.
We all cycle in, and out, of light and deep sleep. A child’s sleep cycle is about 45-50 minutes. So, your baby will briefly awake 45-50 minutes after falling asleep.
Overall, your baby’s deepest phase of sleep is in the earlier part of the night, with 4-6am being the lightest phase.
I am deeply passionate about sleep and ALL of its benefits. These benefits reach the family, not just the little sleep thief themselves.
1. Child Development
As a parent myself, I know how important it is to make sure we provide a nurturing environment for a child to learn, to grow and to be content.
Quality sleep is vital for everyone, but it is crucial for children to support their rapid growth and development.
Quality, deep phase sleep promotes all areas of their development. This is difficult to achieve when a child is waking often in the night or having short naps. A child is constantly learning and attempting to reach their milestones. Sleep aids a child’s memory, their appetite and the development of their fine and gross motor skills. If your baby is learning to roll over or crawl, you will find they practice in their sleep too!
2. Physical Wellbeing
When your baby is a poor sleeper, this will mean that as a parent, you are too!
When we are sleep deprived, our immune systems are negatively affected. You may find that the family is always suffering with a cold & often generally under the weather, sleep (or lack of) is often a big factor!
Our immune systems thrive when we are getting enough rest and sleep, this applies to adults and infants.
A lot of the tired parents I work with are surviving on tea and biscuits ... When you are suffering with sleep deprivation as an adult, you will notice cravings for sugars and carbohydrates; this is your body’s way of trying to perk you up throughout the day and keep you going. A lot of people also complain of weight gain when they are not getting enough sleep.
When you are well rested, and are no longer suffering with broken sleep, you will have more energy to put into preparing healthy meals for the family and getting outdoors for some exercise, and also getting round to the jobs you may have been putting off!
3. Emotional Wellbeing
One of the toughest issues a family faces when they come to me, is the negative impact their tiredness has on their mood, thus affecting relationships.
Sleep deprivation brings lethargy, lack of concentration, clumsiness, and general low mood as well as lack of patience and short temper. It is only natural to feel this way when one is constantly tired, running a house, looking after little people and often working too.
After I finish working with a family for the 2 weeks, I notice a HUGE difference in the way they sound and talk about the improvements they’ve found since starting sleep training their child. It’s always wonderful to hear how they notice how much lighter their own mood is.
This is the most rewarding part of my job. Getting children sleeping well is great, but nothing beats the feeling of helping to piece a strained family back together once their sleep situation is sorted.
Myth: “Allowing your child to skip naps will make them more tired, making bedtime easier & more likely to fall asleep.”
False: “Overtiredness is your worst enemy. Scheduling naps to suit the age of your child is key. If naps are hit and miss, an early bedtime will make up for it. A 6:30pm bedtime is perfect for a tired little one.”
4. How much sleep should a child be having for naps?
I have talked about night time sleep so far, but I want to stress the importance of naps for children. Naps and night sleep go hand in hand. If naps are short or worse, they are simply not happening how you would like them to, this will cause the night time to suffer.
The following guide is an average, as children are of course all different and unique.
· 3-month-old – 6-7 hours.
· 4-month-old – 5 hours.
· 5-month-old- 4-5 hours.
· 6-month-old – 3.5 – 4 hours.
· 7-month-old – 3-3.5 hours.
· 8-month-old- 2-3.5 hours.
· 9-month-old – 2-3 hours.
· 10-month-old – 2-2.5 hours.
· 11-month-old – 2-2.5 hours.
· 12+ month old - 2-2.5 hours
· 18 months old - 1.5 hours is ideal.
· 24+ months old - Limit to 1 hour.
5. My Top Tips for parents looking for guidance with improving their child’s sleep:
Have a set routine. You can start this from day 1, as a cue to the body and mind that it is time to settle down and get ready for sleep. Routines should last from 20 – 30 minutes and at least some of it should take place in the child’s room. Your routine might include a bath, pyjamas, feed and maybe a song or book.
Get a good blackout blind. Our body clock (circadian rhythm) is set by daylight. If there is daylight coming in around the side of your blinds at 5am your baby’s body will release hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, that signal it being morning. Similarly, if it’s nice and dark then melatonin, the sleepy hormone, will be released.
Babies need to learn to fall asleep without ‘props’. Props come in many different forms, from feeding to patting, rocking, music, cuddles and many more. If your baby is reliant on one or more to fall asleep, then they will most likely need it each time they wake in the night (which we all do at least several times a night, briefly).
Naptime routines. A short nap routine will help cue your baby’s body and brain that it is time for a nap. It need only take 5 minutes or so and might involve pulling the curtains in baby’s room together or saying goodnight to some toys in the room, then a short cuddle and a song.
Keep baby awake whilst feeding. If you are feeding your baby in the night, try not to let him/her fall asleep at the breast or bottle. Try to keep feedings low key and quiet, with the aim of getting baby back into the cot aware of their surroundings.
Feeding upon waking. Where possible offer your baby a feed when they first wake from sleep, they will be at their most alert, so they will most likely take a nice full feed and therefore not develop a feed to sleep association.
Consistency is everything! Whatever is happening at one sleep situation needs to be happening at all sleep situations, to send a clear message about what is expected and that includes every time your baby or toddler wakes in the night.
If you can relate to any of the above, head over to the Sleeping Gems Facebook Page. I am always updating tips and routine advice to help tired parents.
Further advice and recommended websites: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/
Summer Safety Tips: https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/safer-sleep-advice/baby-summer-safety/ (This also discusses why you should not cover a pushchair or pram with a covering – see Little Steps Agency blog post for more information on this too - https://www.littlestepsagency.com/post/why-you-should-not-cover-a-pushchair-in-the-heat)
Recommended black-out blind: https://gro.co.uk/product/gro-anywhere-blind/