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The Importance Of Sleep For Newborns

Written by Dr. Pramod Mane on Thu, 01 December 2022 — Fact checked by Dr. Burtseva Tamara Viktorivna

Key Highlights

  • Newborns spend around 70 per cent of their time asleep.
  • According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns should get around 14–17 hours of sleep throughout 24 hours.
  • The sleeping positions of newborns can be very crucial for their wellbeing.
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the sudden, unexpected, and unexplained death of a healthy baby.
  • The risk for SIDS is far greater among children living in a house with smokers.
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A newborn sleeps all day. They can take a couple of weeks to get habituated to their surroundings around them. It is a fact that newborns sleep a lot! These long sleeping hours that they indulge in are essential for their growth and development.

Newborn sleep is all about not having a sense of day and night. They sleep around the clock, and because of their small stomachs, they don’t hold enough breast milk or formula to keep them satisfied for long. This leads to them waking up often to eat. That is the main reason why a newborn is fussy at night.

No matter what time of day or night it is, we cannot underestimate the importance of sleep for infants. New mothers always ask, “But why is sleep important for newborns?” It has everything to do with their brain development.

Parents have to give priority to the importance of sleep for newborns. Despite their propensity to sleep, a newborn fighting sleep is also a common occurrence. Here is all the information you need about newborns and their sleep.

The importance of sleep

Newborns spend around 70 per cent of their time asleep. This time is not time wasted as they as growing and developing while they sleep. Complex processes of brain development take place while the newborns are asleep.

You may ask, why is sleep important for infants? Here are some other important changes that sleep enables the newborn to attain:

1. Growth

Babies double their birth weight by around five months and triple it by around 12 months. This is a serious amount of growth in such a short period. Good sleep plays an important role in this process.

Somatotropin is a growth hormone that is released throughout the day. Approximately 80 per cent of it is released soon after a child is in the non-REM stage of sleep. Not getting enough sleep can stunt their physical growth and development. Scientific research showed a link between increased bursts of sleep and growth spurts in growth parameters like body length. It is evident that growth spurts occur during sleep and are influenced by the same. It is thought that this may be because of the release of somatotropin during sleep.

2. Weight gain

It has also been found that short sleep duration can lead to childhood obesity. The research found significant correlations between sleep and growth in babies in the first six months.

Research has found that a daily sleep duration of fewer than 12 hours during infancy appears to be a risk factor for overweight and adiposity in preschool-aged children. So although good sleep helps them grow, less sleep can negatively affect their weight. To avoid this, it is essential to ensure a sound sleep for your newborn.

3. Mental development and learning

A newborn baby’s brain roughly doubles in size in the first year after birth. They develop rapidly, and a lot of it is happening while they are asleep. Research in sleep and mental development found correlations between normal sleep development and higher developmental scores, whereas higher motor activity and night waking negatively correlated with mental scores. It was also found that children with a difficult temperament slept less.

Just like older children and adults, sleep is critical when it comes to memory and critical thinking. According to scientists, sleep allows infants to strengthen their memories and understand things they’ve learned while being awake. During the first year of a newborn's development, this processing of information that happens during sleep is important as the child is completely new to the world and is learning all about their bodies and their environment.

4. Immune system

How important is sleep for a newborn? Sleep is important for our immune system at any age, but it is especially important for babies as their immune systems are still new to the words. They are immature and not as strong as adults. It takes time for immunity to develop, and sleep plays a vital role in this.

If a baby is sleep-deprived due to whatever reasons, they are more prone to being infected by disease and infection. This can also affect their time of recovery and overall wellbeing. Being sick or catching constant infections can also negatively impact their sleep and disturb their sleep cycle giving them less quality sleep overall.

How long do newborns sleep

Newborns tend to sleep most of the time, except for the times they feed and lay awake observing their surroundings.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns should get around 14–17 hours of sleep throughout 24 hours. It might be astonishing but some newborns may sleep up to 18–19 hours a day!

Newborns wake every couple of hours to eat. Babies that are breastfed need to feed about every two to three hours.

Babies that are bottle-fed babies tend to feed less often about every three to four hours. It is the parents’ responsibility to awake the newborns who sleep for longer periods to feed. Waking them up every three to four hours to eat until he or she shows good weight gain is important. The baby will gain weight usually within the first couple of weeks. After that, it is acceptable for your baby to sleep for longer periods at night.

The first months of a baby’s life can be the hardest for parents as they might require to get up many times at night to tend to the baby.

Each baby has a different sleep pattern. Some start to sleep through the night for five to six hours at a time and by two to three months of age, but some don’t and take their time adjusting to the sleep cycle.

Where should my baby sleep

During the first six months, it is advised to position your baby in the same room as you when they’re asleep, both during the day and night. This can reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

Particularly in the early weeks, it is natural for your baby to fall asleep for they only do so in your or your partner’s arms, or when you’re standing nearby.

You can start getting your baby used to going to sleep without you comforting them by putting them down before they fall asleep or when they’ve just finished a feed. It may be easier to do this once your baby starts to stay alert more frequently or for longer.

If you use a baby sling to carry your baby, make sure you use it safely.

What are the best sleeping positions for a newborn

The sleeping positions of newborns can be very crucial for their well-being. The position a baby sleeps in can determine various health aspects. Some sleep positions are better than others. Certain sleeping positions should be avoided.

Here are the sleeping positions of newborns to be aware of:

1. Back sleeping

Placing your baby on their back is considered to be the safest sleeping position. It can help them rest peacefully and get enough oxygen. Babies can clear their airways better while they are sleeping on their backs. Many parents worry about their infants choking in their sleep while they are sleeping on their backs.

Studies have shown that babies usually turn to their sides while vomiting. Another concern parents have is regarding the ‘flat head’ that the baby might get due to sleeping on their backs. This problem can be prevented by changing the baby’s sleeping position often.

2. Side sleeping

Many parents are worried about their newborns squirming in their sleep and turning to their side. This can be dangerous as side sleeping enables the baby to turn to their tummy easily. Tummy sleeping isn't the best sleeping position for newborns as it can cause breathing problems.

Side sleeping is often considered worrisome by many parents due to the harlequin color change that might occur. This is a harmless condition in which half of the baby’s face and body become pink or red. The color change is temporary and goes away on its own in less than two to three minutes.

Harlequin color change happens because blood pools in the smaller blood vessels on the side that the baby is lying on. It goes away as the baby grows.

3. Tummy sleeping

Tummy sleeping is a position to be avoided as it can pose several risks to the newborn. This sleep position adds pressure on the jaw that can potentially restrict your baby’s airway.

Also, this head placement causes the baby to breathe recycled (rather than fresh) air continually. This eventually leads to a buildup of carbon dioxide and a lack of oxygen. It can make the baby giddy and uncomfortable.

Thankfully, back sleeping effectively addresses all of these issues and is the most suitable sleeping position for a newborn.

What Is SIDS?

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is also known as cot death. It is the sudden, unexpected, and unexplained death of a healthy baby. It is important to know about SIDS as many babies pass away because of reasons not considered serious enough.

Sleeping positions, sleeping conditions, temperature, bedding, surrounding conditions, etc., can be responsible for SIDS.

Tips for your newborns sound sleep

There are several ways by which you can ensure your newborn’s sound asleep. These tips are easy to follow and can be incorporated into your newborn's sleep routine. Follow these tips for a better good night’s sleep for your newborn:

Tips for your newborns sound sleep

1. Choose a firm surface

Around the six-month mark, babies become increasingly mobile. This will lead your infant to start rolling onto their stomachs even after being laid on their back. Soft mattresses tend to take the shape of your baby’s head and face and create breathing obstructions for the child. 

This is why a firm mattress or any other rigid surface is recommended. You can also choose a bassinet, a crib, or a play yard that meets the safety standards for the peak safety of the baby.

2. Eliminate loose bedding and soft objects

It is a common practice to surround your newborn with stuffed animals. However, untucked linens, as well as stuffed animals and soft toys all pose potential sleeping hazards to the newborn. This can be prevented with simple measures.

To prevent suffocation, use a tightly fitted sheet on the mattress and skip the pillow and blanket altogether, especially for newborns.

3. Monitor the temperature

Cute outfits can be tempting but try not to overdress your baby for bed. Periodically check their temperature to see if they’re warm or have a fever. If the baby is sweating or feels hot to the touch, remove any extra layers of clothing. 

Dress your baby in simple cotton clothing that is comfortable for the baby. You can adjust your thermostat to adjust the temperature. The ideal room temperature for babies to sleep in is between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. Avoid co-sleeping

However loving it can seem, it is dangerous to sleep in the same bed as your newborn. They are small and fragile and need their own space. 

Do not sleep in the same bed as your newborn. Instead, it can be helpful to share a room with your newborn so you can tend to them as needed and lower their risk of SIDS and sleep in their beds comfortably.

5. Offer a pacifier

A pacifier is a rubber, plastic, or silicone nipple substitute given to an infant to suckle upon between feedings to quiet its distress by satisfying the need to suck. 

A bedtime pacifier for your newborn is also recommended for the prevention of SIDS. There are two important things to note when it comes to pacifier usage. 

First, ensure that you’ve already established their breastfeeding routine. Secondly, if your baby rejects the pacifier, that’s okay; there’s no need to force it onto them.

6. Get the proper vaccinations

Infants with up-to-date vaccinations are half as likely to develop SIDS. 

That’s why it’s crucial to get them the right vaccinations at the right time. This can also help the babies avoid the risk of infections and live healthier in general.

7. Don’t use cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol

The risk for SIDS is far greater among children living in a house with smokers. A baby whose mother smoked during pregnancy runs the risk of great damage even before being born. 

Also, recreational use of alcohol and illicit drugs is extremely harmful before and after the birth of your baby as they continue to depend on you for breast milk. Staying away from alcohol and drugs can help you be present at the moment and take better care of your newborn.

When it comes to your newborn’s sleeping positions, seek out appropriate guidance from your doctor or midwife and take the proper precautions. Always put your baby to sleep on their back and follow the safety tips mentioned above.

Conclusion

This article has tried to answer the question of why is sleep important for newborns. Newborn sleep is a unique aspect of childhood. A newborn sleeps all day and continues to grow and develop throughout their sleeping period.

Various aspects of their growth like physical, mental, immunity, and others take place during this time. That is why importance of sleep for infants is given its due. Newborns sleep a lot and it is our responsibility to make sure they sleep well.

A newborn fighting sleep or a newborn fussy at night has to be discouraged. Being aware of SIDS and knowing the hazards of bad sleeping positions underlines the importance of sleep for newborns. Make sure your baby’s sleeping conditions and take care of their healthy bedtime routine as it is of utmost importance for their present and future.

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Dr. Pramod Mane

A Doctor of Medicine (MD) in Pharmacology., currently based in Mumbai, India, Dr Pramod Mane, comes with an experience of more than 20 years of working in Medical Affairs in the Pharmaceuticals & Nutraceutical Industry. Director of Medical Services at Mega Lifesciences since 2008, Dr Mane has been associated with several MNCS in the areas of Medical Affairs, Medical Services, Medico-marketing, Pharmacovigilance & Clinical trials in his illustrious career.

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