The importance of sleep

When Samuel wakes for the fourth time at night and will not be settled without a feed, feelings of despair mixed with a small dose of panic come over his mom. She knows that he should not need a night feed at all at this stage and yet in their small house, with a toddler in the next-door room, she doesn’t know how else to settle him quickly and quietly. Four night-feeds later, her hours of sleep that night are less than the feeds he received… and it’s off to work for mom.

Working a busy day is the reality for many moms and sleep deprivation is often part and parcel of returning to work. How well she functions is another issue. Why is it that we fall apart and all areas of our lives suffer on little sleep? 

Why is sleep so important? And why do we feel so rotten on broken sleep. Theories abound on the precise benefits of sleep but these are a few:

  • While we sleep our brains process and ‘file’ the experiences we have when awake so sleep is vital for memory.
  • During sleep waste by-products of the days brain processes are expelled and new fuel is stored for the next day’s brain activity.
  • Sleep has a vital role in the mastery of skills and learning.

It is this third option that is gaining ground in the science of sleep literature. Research with rats has shown that the same neurons (brain cells) that fire during a certain activity during the day, e.g. negotiating a maze, fire when the rat is in Rapid Eye Movement – REM (light) sleep that night. This shows that the brain carries out practise runs of the new activities we learn each day, when we sleep. So the research is indicating that for learning and strengthening of neurons, light sleep or REM sleep is essential. This shows how vital sleep is for our baby’s development as they learn new skills everyday in the first year.

So what happens during deep sleep? Well this is where the research gets really interesting – it appears that synapses or brain connections are in fact broken down during deep sleep! This sounds like something to be avoided at all costs – but in fact pruning or decreasing the number of synapses is essential or the brain would become over loaded and consume too much energy. This explains why babies who don’t sleep well at night are more susceptible to sensory overload or overstimulation the next day.

As any sleep-deprived mom will attest, sleep is so important. We now know it’s for the processing of skills and learning as well as the pruning of the brain cells to prevent overstimulation. So it stands to reason that babies who are learning new skills each day need their sleep, but remember … the same goes for mom.

If you are sleep deprived and battling with your baby’s sleep, use Baby Sense to solve your problems.

References: TIME Magazine, January 2005

By Meg Faure