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Sweet Slumber: Sleep Training for Little People

Avigail Sharer

“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one,” a wit once observed. Few challenges leave mothers more frazzled than a little one who simply will not slumber. Family First takes a look at the mechanics of infants’ sleep and at the many sleep training methods available.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

There are few things more peaceful than watching the cherubic face of a sleeping baby.

There are few things less peaceful than stumbling out of bed five, six, seven, eight times a night to settle that sleeping baby.

There’s good reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture in some countries: deprived of sleep, our frustration waxes and our patience wanes. We feel stressed and depressed, overwhelmed and underappreciated. Brain fog descends and the strongest espresso is unable to lift it. Generally, adults need around eight hours sleep a night.

Babies need much more. At the newborn stage, babies might spend eighteen out of twenty-four hours sleeping. At twelve months old, between thirteen and fifteen hours of sleep a day is still the norm. Sleep rejuvenates our bodies and our minds, physically and emotionally.

Sleep scientists divide sleep into two basic categories: rapid eye movement (REM) or dreaming sleep, and NREM (non–rapid eye movement) which is usually deeper. Throughout the night, we cycle between these two types of sleep. Even in utero, from the sixth month of pregnancy, babies show clear sleep-wake patterns. During the last two months, sleep cycles develop, with periods of wake, periods of quiet sleep (NREM), and periods of active sleep (REM). Each night, infants have eight to ten cycles of sleep. The cycles get longer until adulthood, when they drop to five or six cycles a night.

Sleep scientists can only hypothesize about why babies need so much sleep. But among their theories is that dream sleep stimulates brain growth and development, and is important for learning and memory formation. The eight hours a day spent in non-dream sleep is important for body growth.


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