An exhausted face and bruises under the eyes are a classic “bow” of young parents. It is even imitated on Halloween: the costume and make-up of the baby’s mother is easy to recognize. It is more difficult to understand who coined and spread the expression “sleep like a baby” in the sense of deep and serene. After all, in fact, they do not sleep at all! To alleviate sleep deprivation (or get over it quickly and know that it will definitely end someday), Healthyinfo tells how these babies sleep. Spoiler: there is an unexpected scientific explanation for their screaming at night.
Fact one: Babies only sleep for an hour.
In the norms for the first month of sleep, they write that children at this age sleep from 19 to 22 hours a day! This cute fact sets up inexperienced future parents for happy expectation and misunderstanding why it can be difficult with a newborn if he sleeps all the time?
And here’s the surprise: sleep in children is not at all the same as in adults. During these 22 hours of sleep, they can wake up 22 times, and you with them. The fact is that the duration of a complete sleep cycle in infants is less than an hour. And if by the end of this hour the child is hungry, cold, wet the diaper, or simply lost his mother, he wakes up and is indignant.
So they don’t do it on purpose, this, alas, is a feature of age — often waking up and screaming right there.
Fact two: deep sleep comes on more slowly
Our sleep is divided into two phases: REM and non-REM sleep, or light and deep sleep. Normally, adults move from superficial to deep much faster than children. Babies need about 20 minutes for the brain to stop responding to small stimuli.
It is for this reason that it is not possible to immediately transfer the child to bed after he has fallen asleep — he opens his eyes and is indignant. To understand when the child fell asleep deeply, you need to watch him. In the REM phase, his eyes move under his eyelids, his eyelashes tremble, he can smile, wince, and his hands will be tense.
In the phase of slow sleep, the body relaxes, becomes soft, breathing becomes even. Now you can shift and enjoy half an hour of silence.
In babies with muscle hypertonicity, prematurity, neurological features with excitability, the deep sleep phase occurs even more slowly. And for this, even small deviations from the norm are enough, which then will pass on their own. But while they are, the child will not really let the parents sleep.
Fact three: when a child sleeps poorly, his brain develops well
Yes, yes, in contrast to the brain of an adult tired of nightly cries. Although this is not about a lack of rest — it harms children in the same way, but about these long phases of shallow sleep and frequent awakenings. During REM sleep, the blood supply to the brain increases. Its activity increases dramatically, new neural connections appear, it literally grows.
All this helps the baby quickly learn new data, process information about the world around him, and adapt to it as best as possible.
Fact four: the concepts of “day” and “night” are only for adults so far
Although the inside of the abdomen was also sometimes dark, sometimes a soft pink-beige light made its way through the tissues, these changes in the time of day did not teach the baby anything. Their brains and endocrine systems don’t know that day and night exist, so they don’t care when they’re awake or when they’re asleep.
It may seem to parents that this is not so, simply because wake-up calls at night are remembered better than daytime chores. But that’s because babies do spend a lot of time sleeping at first. That’s when, after three to four months, the amount of sleep drops to 12–14 hours a day, there will be fewer nighttime awakenings. But still, 2–3 times to get up to the baby up to a year during the night is the average norm for all young parents.
Scientists with the help of blood tests have proven that both maternal and paternal instincts can come with time (publications in PNAS). In women, he wakes up earlier only because they have to take care of the child even at the stage of pregnancy.
But active hormonal changes in the body occur when an adult takes the child in his arms, changes the diaper, washes, puts him to bed. Then the hormones of attachment begin to be released. And the more often dad does this, the faster that parental instinct appears, growing at a physiological level.
In this article, we talked about the amazing changes that occur in the body of fathers after the birth of a child. Although they were not pregnant, but dad’s body reacts to the baby!
Fifth fact: even an established sleep pattern is disturbed
Even if the baby finally got used to himself and accustomed adults to a tolerable sleep schedule and nightly wake-ups, everything can suddenly change. Teething, illness, fatigue, overexcitation, those same developmental leaps or anxiety due to a long (already two hours!) Mom’s absence can disturb the peace of the night.
Don’t worry, it will pass.
By about six months, the child’s body begins to react more clearly to darkness and light, regulating the production of melatonin. Therefore, the same tricks work as with adults — subdued light when going to bed and bright sun in the morning.
For this reason, scientists recommend sticking to a sleep schedule with packing at the same time and do not advise traveling with children under five years of age to areas where the time is different from the usual. It is possible to shift the regime so seriously that it will take a long time to return it.
Fact Six: Sleeping through the night is not normal for children
Sleeping four to six hours during the night is a big achievement for children, which can be expected after six months, and even then not always. It is literally the duty of babies to wake up more often than children of other ages. And not to drive the parents crazy.
In addition to waking periods for eating and exploring, children are forced to wake up due to discomfort. Sensitive skin and a quick reaction to changes in temperature, moisture in the diaper, bowel movements — the key to survival.
More importantly, the baby’s brain periodically wakes him up to prevent sudden infant death syndrome.
It is interesting!
Renowned and respected evolutionary biologist David Haig has come up with a new explanation for why babies cry at night. He suggests that they cry to distract their mothers from their husband and prevent a possible pregnancy. Frequent nighttime feedings delay a woman’s fertility and can speed up hormonal changes that inhibit ovulation.
Not all scientists are convinced that Haig is on the right track. Some argue that babies wake up at night for more basic needs such as food, water, or comfort. Self-crying can also be a coping method that prevents the baby from sleeping too soundly, rather than a kind of contraceptive.
But if Haig is right, the little screamers are doing everything to prevent the birth of another child and ruin their happy life. This self-interest is in direct conflict with the evolutionary goal of mothers, which is to pass on their genes to as many children as possible.
It is impossible to go back to ancient times and test whether frequent nightfeeding actually helped babies survive in the early stages of our evolutionary history. Today’s children are growing up in a world that bears little resemblance to one in which this trick could be useful. “I think it’s an adaptation to a world that’s very different from today,” says Haig. Contraceptives, supplemental nutrition, and good health have likely eliminated the need to try to rule out new siblings. However, they still cry at night!
Haig says this means that mothers can probably relax a little and know that an inconsolable baby is not necessarily in despair. These cries and tears may just be behavioral relics from the past. With which, one way or another, one will have to come to terms — until humanity evolves again.