Sunday, January 8, 2012
To understand a child’s sleep problem, you need to know something about the nature of a child’s sleep. A full term infant emerges from the womb already practiced in two distinct modes of sleeping known as active sleep and quiet sleep. The form called active sleep in newborn infants is also known as rapid eye movement sleep. It is distinguished by slight but frequent body movements, irregular breathing changes in facial expression and the easily visible rapid movements of the baby’s eyes beneath his closed eyelids. In older children, dreaming takes place during REM sleep. In the quiet sleep mode, the infant’s breathing is regular and deep, and most other body movement is markedly diminished. In the first month however you may see fast body twitches, called startles, and rhythmical sucking notions while the baby is sleeping in this state.
At birth a full term baby divides his sleeping time roughly in half between active and quiet sleep. Until the age of three months, the baby falls directly into active, REM sleep; after about three months, he falls directly into active, REM sleep; after about three months he falls first into non REM, or quiet sleep. During the first six months of life the quiet mode of sleep evolves into varying stages similar to that seen in older children and in adults. When the child is in the deeper stages of non REM sleep, he can be very difficult to awaken. It is this kind of sleep that enables you to dress him in his pajamas and tuck him into bed without waking him up when he falls asleep on the sofa or floor. By the time he is six months old his sleep moves through cycles of non REM and REM sleep in a way which will remain fairly constant throughout life. In his REM sleep he may awaken if only for a few seconds. He may open his eyes examine his surroundings and shift his position. He might do this as often as nine or 10 times a night.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
The timing and length of sleep periods also change as children grow older. A newborn may spread her sleep over six or seven periods evenly distributed throughout the day and night. But by six months, she probably will be napping only twice during the daytime and if you have helped her form good sleep habits, will have settled into regular over night sleep, waking you only occasionally. Your child will most likely abandon her morning nap early in her second year. While her afternoon naps may continue until three years of age or even later.
Although such information can serve as a yardstick for roughly assessing your child’s sleep patterns, do not worry yourself by making close comparisons. The figures are averages, and each child is an individual. For example some perfectly normal, healthy two and a half year olds may need only nine hours of sleep at night, especially if they nap well during the day. Others, equally fit, may snooze for 13 hours at night and may even get another one to two hours during the day. But if your child’s total daily sleeping time differs by several hours from what is indicated for her age group on the chart and if she consistently seems tired, irritable or overactive during the day you should consider the possibility that she has a sleeping problem and take steps to eliminate it.