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Sleep Pressure

Have you heard of sleep pressure?

What is it?

How can you use sleep pressure to better understand your child’s sleep needs?

Sleep Pressure is present from birth, it is regulated by a hormone called adenosine which is released in the body while we are awake. During these wakefulness times adenosine gradually increases and causes sleepiness.

For babies it rises much quicker throughout the day to allow for any necessary naps to occur. The adenosine hormone is released at different rates over our lifespan, directly related to the amount of time we spend awake.

crying baby

You know yourself as an adult, it is difficult to fall asleep when we are not tired, and it is the same for our babies. However, it can also be difficult for some babies to fall asleep when their sleep pressure is very high. And when very high it causes a type of physiological stress on our bodies.

Cortisol or the “stress hormone” is released and this increases an elevated level of alertness (for fight or flight response) and you can imagine this is not contusive to being calm and falling asleep.

This is like a “second wind” when your child shows signs of hyperactivity, lots of physical movement, laughing and even high energy behaviour. It may be followed with a period of tiredness and irritability. This is a very good indication that their sleep pressure is very high and they need our support to down-regulate to a place of calm for sleep to occur. Have you seen your little one behave like this when you know they need sleep?

We need to acknowledge that all babies sleep needs are different when it comes to sleep pressure. Their behavioural cues to you that sleep pressure is rising can be varied too and the differences can be from

- the age of your baby

- individual variable sleep needs

- maturity and development

- cultural expectations

- family lifestyle factors

baby playing

That’s why I recommend avoiding being too prescriptive when your little one takes sleep in general and use awake windows by age with a grain of salt. As a side note there is currently no reliable research or evidence for the use of awake windows or naps.

Getting to know your baby’s own unique behavioural cues for rising sleep pressure will be your most reliable guide here.

Your child’s naps are purely driven by their reaction to their unique natural rising sleep pressure and has absolutely nothing to do with the need for melatonin (sleepy hormone that is released at the end of the day in reaction to reduced daylight).

Melatonin is virtually undetectable during the day which means a blackened-out room will not help your baby to sleep, like many sleep programs instruct you to do. Although some babies benefit from drawing the curtains to reduce distraction whilst going off to sleep.

Each baby will have their own unique sleep needs from a physiological and brain development perspective. Naps will change and evolve over time, as does your baby’s sleep needs. As parents we will need to adjust a well-honed napping rhythm, to possibly a new approach with different sleep pressure timings.

See how being more aware of your child’s rising sleep pressure can affect how you place naps and bedtimes.

Calm + Connection + Sleep Pressure = No Fuss Sleep

Sleep well, Karla x

mother kissing baby


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