Ah, the sweet sound of a baby sleeping soundly. You’re probably relieved when they fall asleep—you can finally rest, too! But another reason to feel good about your resting baby is that sleep also plays an important role in infant brain development.

Stats on Baby’s Sleep

Bedtime and naptime are highly productive periods for your baby.

  • Babies spend 80% of their time in active sleep while in the womb
  • From birth to age 2, children spend more time asleep than awake
  • 40% of childhood is spent in slumber
  • Half of their sleep is in the active phase (REM sleep) until 6 months of age

Not coincidentally, it’s during these early phases of life that the brain is busiest growing.

Phases of Baby’s Sleep

Just like adults, your baby cycles through two main kinds of sleep: active (rapid eye movement, also known as REM) and quiet (non-REM).

  • Active sleep. Key neuronal, or brain cell, connections are made. The brain literally lays down the tracks for everything it learns, pruning away little-used connections. Active sleep is when we dream.
  • Quiet sleep. The muscles receive increased blood supply, energy is restored, and tissue growth and repair take place.

Importance of Baby’s Sleep

While it looks like your baby is just catching z’s, the reality is that an enormous amount of physical and mental development happens during their sleep. An essential layer of fat called myelin forms around nerve fibers during sleep, and recent research shows connections between the left and right hemispheres of children’s brains are strengthened during sleep.

These developments help brain functions mature. They also influence critical abilities such as language, attention, and impulse control. Brain activity during sleep has a direct effect on a child’s ability to learn and may even affect developmental and mood disorders. Simply put, sleep builds your baby’s brain.

5 Ways to Support Your Baby’s Sleep

Now that you know the importance of sleep for your baby, help them get the rest they need for strong brain development. Here are five simple steps.

  1. Recognize the Importance of Sleep.
     Sleep is as crucial as proper nutrition in supporting your baby’s brain development. A Canadian study of toddlers found that those who got the most sleep were better at function and skills—including the ability to pay attention, set goals, and stay on task.
  2. Know the Signs of Sleepiness.
     Sleepy signs can vary by age and personality. Some little ones are eye-rubbers, while others get fussy.
  3. Put Them to Bed Drowsy vs. Sound Asleep.
     Over time this strategy may help your baby learn how to get back to sleep on their own when they wake up. All babies awaken briefly between their 1.5- to 2-hour sleep cycles. If you rock your baby to sleep, they might expect this when they wake up in the night.
  4. Swaddling.
     Some experts believe babies younger than 6 months sleep better when wrapped in a blanket. Others say tight swaddling interferes with the development of the hips. If you want to try swaddling, talk with your doctor about how to do it properly so that the blanket isn’t too loose, covers the head, or inhibits breathing.
  5. Take Full Advantage of Alert, Awake Time.
     By providing interesting things for your baby to engage with by day, you make them more likely to sleep well at night. You can do this by having fun conversations, bringing them outside to see the sights, and giving them colorful toys to play with.

Now that you know how important sleep is for your growing baby’s brain, you can rest assured every time they rest up! And, if you’d like to help them get better rest, here’s how to master the art of sleep.