While there are still a lot of unknowns about sleep, your body does need it
It may surprise you that scientists know very little about sleep. For example, there is still no agreement as to why exactly humans need sleep. Science also has very little explanation about dreams and what happens in your brain while you sleep. It doesn’t know why people have dreams, why we have them when we have them and what they mean. The connection between the subconscious and conscious is also a part of science that has more unknowns than knowns.
However, what is important and what the science does know is that people do need sleep. Also, your brain needs it more than other parts of your body. Your skin, heart, stomach, and kidneys will keep working quite well even if you skip just one night of sleep. You will still be breathing. Your body will demand food. However, your brain will not work as well if you start cutting sleep. If you skip two nights of sleep, you will likely become very cranky and irritated. You will start experiencing memory problems. If you try to stay awake, you will eventually go into deep sleep even if you do not want to.
Sleep does a lot of useful things to your mind and your body
Sleep is a break that your mind takes from the outside world. It lets you calm down and slow down. This is true even for your baby, who may be frustrated for not getting her favorite type of cereal for breakfast and upset about not being able to play for as much as she wanted to.
In addition to its calming effect, sleep helps you create new memories. When you sleep, your brain keeps building connections. It also sometimes rewrites the endings and the memories of the events that have happened previously. This way, when you wake up from a good night’s sleep, you see things not only through your emotions but also through the eye of your mind.
Some of the best examples about the importance of sleep come from scientific studies during which researchers interrupt sleep and then measure brain functions. Studies show that severe problems from interrupted sleep, including include attention deficit, loss of memory, irritability, and aggression, start appearing in children as young as two years old. When children could get enough sleep, typically between six and eight hours, the important functions of the brain and emotional state returned to their normal conditions.
Both you and your baby have an internal clock
All people, including babies, have internal clocks that are wired to keep us awake when it’s sunny outside and asleep when it gets dark. At the same time, human internal clocks are extremely adaptable.
Jet lag is one of the examples that prove this fact. The internal clock is very sensitive to the changes and it does tend to resist them. However, when it realizes that it has to change, it can make the changes within just a few days. In addition to the day/night cycle, the internal clock depends on a number of factors that include quality of food and frequency of eating, breathing patterns, daily routines and rituals and emotions. When a schedule of a person, be it an adult or a baby, stays more or less consistent and there are no extreme emotional changes, the internal clock will keep sending the signal to shut the eyes around the same time every single day. At the same time, every person, including babies and toddlers, has a unique internal clock, which is why putting your baby to sleep on your schedule may be tricky in the beginning.
Sleep has stages
One of the fascinating facts about sleep is that it has stages. When you know what they are, you will be able to recognize when your baby is about to fall asleep. You will also get a better understanding of why sometimes your child wakes up easily and why sometimes it seems impossible to wake your baby up. You will also know what is going on when it comes to dreams, nightmares, and sleepwalking.
Altogether, there are five different stages of sleep. They work like a ladder and the further a person climbs the ladder, the deeper the sleep.
The first one is the border between sleeping and being awake. The second one is the initial sleep when you are not sleeping deeply, but your eyes are not moving. Then, there is deep sleep. It is followed by the deepest sleep. Finally, there is a stage called REM or rapid eye movement sleep.
Babies sleep even before they are born
The fertilized egg doesn’t know anything about sleep because it doesn’t have a brain. Unborn babies start moving at about 10 weeks of pregnancy, but they don’t show any typical signs of sleeping or being awake.
Somewhere around the 25-week mark, unborn babies start to wake and go to sleep, which has been proven by the use of ultrasound and observations of very premature babies. At this point, the ratio of sleeping and being awake is about 50/50.
When a baby arrives, she spends about 70% of the day, or about 16 hours, sleeping. At the same time, newborns still need six to eight feedings a day. Many of them wake up for just enough time to get some food and then go back to sleep immediately after feeding. Sleep patterns of newborns are very immature, which is why they can be very active one hour and then go into a deep sleep during the next hour.
The reason why babies spend so much time sleeping is that their bodies haven’t yet developed the abilities to be fully asleep and fully awake. Because of this, they spend the bulk of their time in primitive stages of sleep. As a baby grows, sleep patterns start to develop and the internal clock starts working better and better.