Want to know the secret to boost your baby’s IQ? The answer is simple – sleep. Many studies have shown that adequate sleep during infancy is crucial for optimal intelligence. Getting sufficient quality sleep is the key factor for the maturation of the brain and central nervous system, and the most crucial development occurs in the first two years of life.
The recommended sleep time for infants should ideally be 14-18 hours per day and quality sleep is linked to a range of benefits, like higher IQ and EQ, heightened memory and improved cognitive ability.
What Happens To Your Baby’s Brain During Sleep
During pregnancy, the foetus rapidly develops from an embryo to form the baby’s brain, spinal cord and organs. This process occurs while the foetus is in a long-term sleep state in the womb. After delivery, the weight of the baby’s brain actually doubles from 400 grams to 800 grams within a year. At the age of 2, the brain weighs about 1000 grams, which is a third the weight of an adult brain.
Experts estimate that Human Growth Hormones (HGH) released by the body during sleep is three times more than during waking, hence the growing emphasis on adequate sleep during infancy. This hormone is especially active in infants and growing children, acting as an essential building block for the brain’s growth and development.
Learn to Recognise Your Baby’s Sleep State
There are two types of sleep states:
REM (Rapid Eye Movement Sleep), also known as active sleep, which accounts for a considerable amount of your baby’s sleep time. During this sleep state, your baby may experience some jerking in the arms or legs, accompanied by eye movement under closed eyelids.
Non-REM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement Sleep), also known as quiet sleep.
There are 4 stages during NREM.
Stage 1: Drowsiness, you will observe your baby dozing off
Stage 2: Light sleep (any movement or sound may startle your baby)
Stage 3: Deep sleep (baby’s breathing and heartbeat are stable)
Stage 4: Very Deep Sleep (baby is not easily awakened by surrounding factors)
A baby sleep cycle alternates between the various stages throughout the night. A baby enters stage 1, then moves into stage 2, then 3, then 4, then back to 3, then 2, before cycling back to REM. Babies are most sensitive to movement and noise as they may move between light and deep sleep, and may experience difficulty going back to sleep once they are awake.
Ask The Doctor: Exactly How Important Is Sleep For My Baby?
The most fundamental factor affecting an infant’s growth and cognitive development is sleep, explains Dr Wong, an expert in infant cognitive development. We find out all about infant sleep and cognitive development in this exclusive interview.
Q: At what age is sleep the most critical for healthy brain development?
Dr. Wong: Sleep is especially critical for cognitive development within the first 2 years of life. A baby’s brain will start developing as early as 3 weeks after conception, and most of the primary activity during brain development happens during sleep. While sleep time varies from birth to adolescence, it is still crucial for every age group.
One study even found that sleeping less than 10 hours per night from birth to age three resulted in a greater tendency for language and reading problems in children, and these issues persisted later in life.
Are daytime naps the same as night sleeps in boosting my child’s IQ?
Dr Wong: It is never one or the other, both are just as important. In fact, babies’ sleeping routine at night can be disrupted if they don't get enough sleep during the day, causing night awakenings that may adversely affect brain development.
Children require daytime naps until at least around the age of two and a half to three years, even if the child may sleep well at night. Many studies also point to the positive correlation between the duration of daytime naps and memory, suggesting that more naps can actually improve a child’s ability to retain information.
What is the biggest factor that affects my baby’s sleep?
Dr. Wong: Irregular bedtime could be the biggest factor when it comes to quality sleep for your child. The lack of a bedtime routine disrupts the circadian rhythm (body clock), leading to sleep deprivation that affects the developing brain.
The second factor is the sleeping environment. Babies find dark rooms extremely comforting, making it easier for them to fall asleep and remain in a state of deep sleep for longer periods of time. A dark sleeping environment also promotes the release of melatonin, a sleep hormone that tells your baby’s body that it’s time to sleep. Melatonin is crucial to help your baby regulate their circadian rhythm to develop a healthy bedtime routine.
Parents may also consider the following factors for a good night’s rest for your baby:
Choose lightweight cotton or other breathable fabrics for comfort when dressing your baby to sleep
Avoid large meals 1 hour before bedtime
Teething around 6 months can also upset your baby’s routine and sleep patterns
Avoid physical activities or over-excitement before bedtime.
Q: What is the ideal number of hours my baby should be sleeping?
Dr. Wong: Babies need at least 14 to 18 hours of sleep, depending on their age, and most babies do not begin sleeping through the night (six to eight hours) without waking until about 3 months of age.
Newborns sleep about eight to nine hours in the daytime and about eight hours at night. However, they may not sleep more than one to two hours at a stretch, hence the importance of a bedtime routine.
Q: Why doesn’t my baby sleep through the night?
Dr. Wong: Babies are not innately born with the sleep-wake cycle, which is a routine that develops as they grow older. They tend to be very light sleepers, and a large proportion of their sleep is active sleep. This is also why babies take 6 months to 1 year of age to be able to sleep through the night.
Q: Any useful tips on helping my baby get a good night’s sleep?
Dr. Wong: Every baby is different, and there are many factors that may affect the sleep quality of your child. For example, if the newborn baby has a heavier head, it is necessary to pay attention to whether the headrest can provide sufficient support to protect the head and the cervical spine.
Should you notice any slight movement or sounds from your baby, it can be helpful to pick your baby up and try to rock them back to sleep. This increases the likelihood of your baby re-entering deep sleep within the next few minutes. If you observe that your baby is wide awake, check their diaper or any other external factors that may be causing discomfort to your child.
Helping Your Little Ones Get a Good Night’s Sleep
A large amount of evidence has shown that getting adequate sleep can directly impact future cognition, temperament and psychomotor development in infants. For optimal development of your baby’s cognitive abilities, parents must ensure sufficient sleep time and encourage healthy sleeping habits.
When it comes to finding an ideal sleep environment, parents should avoid deliberately creating a quiet environment for the baby, as this will only increase your baby’s sensitivity to sounds, and they develop a tendency to be easily awakened by subtle sounds in the environment. An easy solution to your baby’s sleep woes is to invest in a multi-functional electric rocking chair, which can improve your baby’s sleep quality and help their brains develop optimally.
Combi’s Fealetto Auto Swing is equipped with an auto-rocking function and 7 soothing lullabies to gently ease your little ones into bedtime. It comes with a Dacco Plus's sleep cushion, exclusively designed for newborn babies for ultimate comfort. In a Japanese experiment, more than 94% of the babies fell asleep within 15 minutes of swinging in Combi’s Fealetto Auto Swing.
A dark sleeping environment is ideal for your baby to get quality sleep, and melatonin (sleep hormones) are released in the dark. Combi’s BEDi parenting station can help create a dark environment by shading your baby with a sleep shell. Its innovative dome structure is designed provides a sense of safety, while effectively blocking up to 99.9% of indoor or outdoor light. The cuddling-style seat cradles your baby in Combi’s BEDi parenting station to create a comfortably dim environment that shields your baby’s eyes from any harsh light. Invest in this smart splurge, which comes highly recommended for fussy sleepers, giving parents more downtime for self-care and a peace of mind.