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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Baby (And Parents, Too!)

baby wrapped in a white blanket with tiny feet sticking out

Babies sleep a lot. We know this. We also know (or, most of us do, anyway), that our babies sleep a lot because they need a lot of sleep [1]. What we may not realize is that the when and the how of your baby’s sleep patterns can also make a huge amount of difference. This may sound strange. After all, so long as your baby is getting the right amount of sleep, does it really matter when and how they get it? Well, actually, yes it does. Scientists largely agree on the fact that a regular sleeping pattern is far, far better for babies than the ‘as and when’ approach adopted by many parents. Why? Read on…


The importance of Circadian Rhythms

Circadian rhythms, otherwise known as ‘the biological clock’, are what govern when we sleep, eat, and generally fulfil our basic biological needs. The more regular your sleeping and eating patterns, the ‘healthier’ your circadian rhythms. This is more important than you may think, because your circadian rhythms are inextricably linked to your moods. Serotonin, a circadian chemical, not only wakes you up, it also helps to boost your mood and keep you on an even emotional keel [2]. So much so that it’s medically utilised for people suffering from depression. The healthier your circadian rhythms, the better shape your serotonin-release mechanisms will be in. This is why good sleeping habits are emphasised so much in the treatment of people with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders [3].


Circadian Rhythms and the developing brain

So far, so good – but what has all of this got to do with babies? Well, your baby’s brain and moods benefit just as much as your own from healthy circadian rhythms, with the added bonus that all that crucial development which occurs while your baby sleeps is likely to be improved. Babies start developing circadian rhythms in the womb [4], generally aligned to the mother’s own rhythms. The more regular your circadian habits are during pregnancy, the more regular your baby’s will be during the first few weeks after birth. It is more than worth cultivating these rhythms, as it allows your baby to sleep and wake at regular intervals naturally. Not only are you able to predict when your baby will sleep, thus eliminating the necessity of trying to ‘force’ them to sleep when they’re not tired, their circadian rhythms will also be able to effectively prime the brain for some essential sleep-development [5] as baby naturally winds down to sleep. A brain which isn’t expecting to sleep is less prepared to do all the sleep-time jobs it needs to do, and sleep will therefore be less restful, and less useful. A baby with healthy circadian rhythms, however, will sleep and wake in a natural fashion, allowing the brain to know exactly what it can expect, and giving it the space and scope to develop in a healthy, natural manner.


Healthy sleep habits, happy baby … and parents, too!

An oft-neglected topic in the conversation about baby sleeping patterns is the sleeping patterns of baby’s parents. As we’ve mentioned above, decent sleep patterns are absolutely essential to maintain good mental health, and are useful where physical health is concerned, as well [6]. Needless to say, the health and state of mind of baby’s parents directly affects the quality of care baby gets. If parents are perpetually tired, they’re also likely to be irritable, depressed, and generally less able to give baby the love and attention needed. If baby is sleeping through the night, baby’s parents are likely to be, too. And that means well-rested, happy parents [7]! The better your baby’s circadian rhythms are, the better yours will be – which is good news all around.


[1] What To Expect, “How Much Sleep Do Babies Need?”

[2] SN Young, M Leyton, “The role of serotonin in human mood and social interaction: Insight from altered tryptophan levels”, Journal of Pharmacology, Biochemistry, And Behavior, Apr 2002

[3] Rita Milios, “Can’t Sleep? Non-Pharmaceutical Options for Treating Insomnia During Recovery”,, Apr 2015

[4] M Seron-Ferre, GJ Valenzuela, C Torres-Farfan, “Circadian clocks during embryonic and fetal development”, Birth Defects Research, Embryo Today, Sept 2007

[5] Ronald E Dahl, “Sleep and the Developing Brain”, Journal of Sleep, Sept 2007

[6] National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, “Why Is Sleep Important?”, Feb 2012

[7] American Psychological Association, “More Sleep Would Make Us Happier, Healthier, and Safer”, Feb 2014


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One Response

  1. Hello, Anne!

    Thank you for an explanation and the importance of circadian rhythms! I’ve not even heard about it before. Generally, babies sleep much more than adults. I don’t think I need and can sleep for 10-11 hours like my son each night. I go to bed approximately 3 hours after my son, so I have 3 hours to spend with my husband, eat, watch TV and have fun. This brings me a great pleasure. I agree that the more scheduled will be your day, the better you will spend it.

    Thank you again!

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