Sleep is important for babies and young children as it is vital for their functioning, rest and development. During sleep, the body goes through many processes which facilitate all three of the above mentioned areas, and can be broken down into two categories; the brain and the body.
REM sleep is important for brain functions and processes, which are essential for cognitive development, learning and functioning. While babies and young children sleep, their brains makes sense of what they have seen and learnt whilst awake. The brain processes and rehearses new information and new neural pathways are created in the process. Dreaming is a key function which increases the blood supply within the brain to optimise information retention. Children in this state are more mentally alert, their senses are sharpened and their cognitive ability is enhanced. This all leads to better information processing, and in turn promotes development.
Restoration is the primary focus of the body during non-REM sleep, which enables optimal gross development and health. Blood supply is increased to the developing muscles and growing tissues are repaired as the cells divide more quickly. Vital hormones are also released during sleep for growth and development. Health is improved from more sleep as during this state white blood cells are produced to build a better immune system.
From the graph above you can see that your child will not encounter REM sleep until the early hours of the morning. This is why many night wakings occur during the second half of the night as REM sleep is much lighter in nature than non-REM sleep. But it is also why it is so important for a baby or child to get a long and full nights sleep as without spending those crucial hours in REM sleep, your child’s brain will not have the opportunity to carry out those vital functions and processes for development and learning.
If a baby or young child gets a good amount of sleep for their age, there are many benefits in addition to those outlined above and includes improved appetite, mood lifted and enhanced intellectual ability. Insufficient sleep compromises the ability to learn, relax and grow. The same benefits and impairments also apply to you as a parent, so it is vital for you to get a good nights rest so you can function and accomplish what you set out to be as a parent, as well as all other areas of your life.