Thanksgiving has kicked off the holiday season and for many of you that means back-to-back company until the New Year. When the house is full of family and friends it can make it more difficult, not only to get your child down to sleep, but with increased noise in the house, it can cause them to wake frequently. A common misconception with many of the parents I have worked with, is that once their child enters into a deep sleep, they are less likely to be woken up from noise or disturbances. Since it is the season for visitors and noisy homes, I wanted to provide information about sleep cycles that will help clarify this common misunderstanding.
Similar to adults, the nature of your child’s sleep is different during each stage of their sleep cycle, and at some stages, your child may be more prone to wake up from such things as noise or light. Because a child’s sleep cycle is much shorter than an adult (a child under the age of one might have a sleep cycle of 45 minutes) they will transition from light and deep sleep frequently throughout the night.
The National Sleep Foundation provides the following description for the two alternating types of sleep:
- Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) or “quiet” sleep. During the deep states of NREM sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development.
- Rapid Eye Movement(REM) or “active” sleep. During REM sleep, our brains are active and dreaming occurs. Our bodies become immobile, breathing and heart rates are irregular.
Below I have attached information from The Brain from Top to Bottom, http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/i/i_11/i_11_p/i_11_p_cyc/i_11_p_cyc.html a McGill University hosted website designed for sharing scientific knowledge about the brain and human activity, that helps to break down the different stages of a regular sleep cycle. Sleep cycles for children are very similar to adults, however, cycles for children are much shorter (lasting about 30-50 minutes) and increase gradually with age.
Stage 1 Non-REM Sleep: Non-REM (NREM) sleep begins when you first lie down and close your eyes. After a few sudden, sharp muscle contractions in the legs, the muscles relax. Though your reactions to stimuli from the outside world diminish, Stage 1 is still the phase of sleep from which it is easiest to wake someone.
Stage 2 Non-REM Sleep: People in Stage 2 sleep are unlikely to react to light or a noise unless it is extremely bright or loud. However, it is still possible to awaken them. But because people go through Stage 2 sleep several times during the cycles in a night, this is the stage in which adults spend the greatest proportion of their sleep–nearly 50% of the total time that they sleep each night.
Stage 3 Non-REM Sleep: This stage marks the passage from moderately to truly deep sleep. During Stage 3, the muscles still have some tonus, and sleepers show very little response to external stimuli unless they are very strong or have a special personal meaning (for example, when someone calls your name, or when a baby cries within earshot of its mother.)
Stage 4 Non-REM Sleep: This stage is the deepest, the one in which we sleep the most soundly. The brain’s temperature is also at its lowest, and breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure are all reduced under the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Stage 4 accounts for 15 to 20% of total sleep time in young adults. The muscles still have their tonus, and some movements of the arms, legs, and trunk are possible. This is the stage of sleep that accomplishes most of the body’s repair work and from which it is most difficult to wake someone up. This is also the stage of sleep in which children may have episodes of sleepwalking and night terrors.
REM Sleep: This is the dream stage. In REM sleep your brain recharges its batteries and records what it has learned during the day. During REM sleep, the brain’s oxygen consumption, which reflects its energy consumption, is very high–even higher than when someone is awake and thinking about a complex cognitive problem. During REM sleep, the body’s inner temperature is no longer well-regulated and tends to shift toward the temperature of its surroundings. Because babies spend tremendous amounts of time in REM sleep, care must be taken to keep the rooms where they sleep at a suitable temperature, so that they don’t suffer from excessive fluctuations in body temperature.
After REM sleep, you either wake up or begin another cycle. With the frequency of your child’s sleep cycle, it is best to try and keep the noise down throughout the night. Because this may be difficult when you have visitors during the holiday season, I suggest finding a room in your home to host your company that is not directly attached, or linked by a common vent to your child’s room. Also, be sure to have a white noise machine, such as a fan in your child’s room, and for extra noise reduction, one outside your child’s room.
Above all stay safe and enjoy this special time of year with family and friends!
Angela Walsh is a Family Sleep Institute, Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant and the founder of Babes in Sleepland. She helps sleep deprived babies, children and families, get back on track and get the sleep they need and desire. To learn more about Angela and how she can help you, visit her website: babesinsleepland.com. Also get sleep tips, the latest research on baby and child products, and be part of her weekly Q and A at her Facebook page: Babes in Sleepland and follow her on Twitter