Developmental stages can absolutely cause trouble with sleep.
Let’s start with newborn sleep.
Newborns spend about 50% of their time in R.E.M (dream) sleep and 50% in deep sleep.
During R.E.M. sleep your little one will make memories, process the information gained that day and develop neuropathways so they have a lot of information to process.
You may find that when you’re looking at your baby when she is dreaming you see a lot of physical movements. As adults, when we dream we enter into a state of muscular paralysis which means we can’t act out our dreams. Newborns lack this, it develops over time and, that’s why they move so much, shuffling and moving around. They may look restless and that is the reason.
You can also tell when they are in a deep sleep and this is when you might refer to them as “sleeping like a baby”.
During deep sleep your little one’s cells renew, their immune system is repaired and a number of hormones are released including the growth hormone – so this is incredibly important stage of sleep.
The first milestone your little one is likely to reach is the development of sleep cycles. I have already written a blog about this in detail but essentially if your little one is reliant upon something to fall asleep when their sleep cycles develop (around 12 to 16 weeks) they will continue to need this prop to get them to sleep every time they come to the edge of sleep.
There are many more developmental milestones which can cause a bump in the road with sleep.
Essentially these can be broken down into four main categories:
1. Gross motor skills for example sitting and standing,
2. Fine motor skills for example picking up raisins and getting dressed,
3. Language acquisition which is often overlooked as a possible progression
4. Finally social development interacting with their peers.
I’m going to deal with the most common developmental stages, the first one of these is rolling.
What you will probably find is it your little one will end up rolling during the day but then they also have a biological need to master the skill overnight.
They roll onto their tummy and become frustrated because they can’t roll back but they can’t resist practising this skill until they reach a certain level of mastery.
If they really are stuck on their tummy just calmly and quietly roll them back without talking so that this doesn’t stimulate them. You can pop your arm next to them for a moment or two if your little one is getting really exhausted, to help them stay where they are. You may find you do this 50 times but you have just got to keep doing it and it will often resolve within a couple of weeks, if not sooner.
Some babies enjoy sleeping on their tummy but if not, the best way to help your little one is to practice this skill a number of times during the day, very carefully helping them roll from back to front and side to side.
You may often find that your baby can do this in the day but fatigued babies often forget their skill set and are not able to do it at night time.
Sitting is another developmental stage where your little one will be biologically driven to practice. You can deal with this in a very similar way to rolling by helping your little one lay down when they sit up and can’t lie back down again and practise this a lot in the day too.
Make sure that, if you need to give your little one a helping hand to lay down at night, you’re not talking and spending lots of fun time with them so they’re not associating sitting up at bedtime with having playtime with mummy and daddy
Crawling is often the next stage which disrupts sleep and you may find your little one on all fours at night. Again make sure that you model this to your little one and practice it a lot in the day to ensure you get the right sequence of events in place. Hopefully, if you do this a lot, then this will only last a few days.
This can be a tricky developmental stage because your little one may be able to stand, but may not be able to get back down again.
Again you may have no option but to offer assistance to help your little one to lay down and then leave the room so they can drift off to sleep themselves.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked skills which can cause difficulties with little ones’ sleep is language acquisition.
You might find you put your toddler down for their nap and she spends an hour or so chatting to herself so you decide that you’re going to get rid of the nap.
If happens before she is 2.5 to 3 years old, it’s likely that this is a development surge in language that little ones experience throughout their second year.
Again this is your little ones biological urge to practice the skill that they are acquiring so feel they don’t warn to go to sleep with all the learning to be done. If your little one is happy don’t get rid of the nap now, especially if they are under 2 ½ . Give your little one the space to practice her language.
You may find at this point she gets very tired in the afternoon and you may need to take your little one out around 3 pm to 3.30 pm for a 20 minute pushchair nap to get over the fatigue and take the edge off bedtime. You may need to move bedtime earlier as well.
Stick with this because it may only last a couple of weeks. My advice is that you definitely wait and see whether this continues for more than a couple of weeks before you get rid of that nap.
So, absolutely, developmental stages can impact your little one’s sleep but make sure you don’t get into any bad habits whilst helping your little one though these stages.
As always I would encourage you to keep an eye on your little ones developmental milestones and speak to your GP or health visitor with any concerns you have.
If your little one has trouble with sleep generally, without a developmental milestone in sight, just let me know, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and I can help you all get a better night’s sleep.