Why sleep is so important for learning and play

Good sleep leads to productive play
Good sleep leads to productive play 

During the first 12 months of life, your baby's brain grows rapidly, and getting enough restful sleep is vital for assisting this growth. But as well as promoting brain development, quality sleep restores your baby's energy levels, supports their physical development, and helps them maintain an even temperament and mood.

Good sleep benefits your baby

How does sleep help your baby to learn? During restful sleep, the connections between the left and right sides of your baby's brain are strengthened, which means your baby's capacity to learn, be creative and remember information are increased.

If babies don't get sufficient sleep, they may not feed as well, they may become irritable during playtime, and they may find it more difficult to settle when it comes to their next nap or bedtime.

Good sleep is helped by routine

Sticking to a routine when it comes to sleep can make putting your baby to bed easier. This is because they will know what to expect. For example, your baby's daytime nap routine might involve a book, a cuddle and then into the cot. For bedtime, the sleep routine might involve a feed, a lullaby, saying goodnight to toys around the room, and then into the cot. You might turn on a musical mobile or a night light as the last part of your routine. Also ensure your baby's room is calm, quiet and low lit to encourage restful sleep.

After the newborn months, most babies will sleep about 14 hours per 24-hour cycle, with some of these hours made up of daytime naps (usually two or three). Naps help your baby sleep soundly at night (you may have heard the expression 'sleep promotes sleep' – it's true!), and because they're well rested, they're less likely to get cranky and frustrated during play and will enjoy their learning time with you.

Good sleep leads to productive play

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When playing with your baby, make each session short enough to maintain their interest. Younger babies tire easily, so learn to recognise when they've had enough play and need to rest and recharge for the next session.

If you know how to detect your baby's 'tired signs', you'll avoid over-stimulation, which can make your baby too tired and more difficult to settle at naptime.

Some common 'tired signs' to look for include:

  • losing interest in playtime
  • jerky movements
  • looking away
  • rubbing their eyes
  • yawning
  • clenching their fists
  • arching their back
  • crying, getting upset and grizzling.