It’s a well studied and documented fact that many babies are more wakeful during normal sleep times when they are working on a new skill. Parents around the globe may find this frustrating because, just when you think you’ve figured out your baby’s sleep habits and gotten into a rhythm, sleep may be interrupted in big ways. It’s also hard to know what emerging milestones your baby may be reaching, or if it is something else altogether such as teething, illness or an emotional concern. Crawling is one of the biggest developmental milestones to upset sleep. Today we’re looking at crawling and sleep to give you some information on why this major skill might be keeping your baby (and you!) awake.
Babies usually start to motor at some point in their first year. Movement can emerge in many different ways ranging from traditional crawling or army crawling, to scooting or crab crawling. All of these are normal progressions for babies as they learn to use their bodies for movement. As you can imagine, your baby is thinking hard about moving, even when he’s not actually making any moves yet. His brain is working on how to connect all of the pieces to get his body going, and that’s difficult work!
Much of this motor-based brain action occurs during sleep. You may even notice that your baby suddenly has a new skill in the morning after a good night’s rest. His brain was working out the details overnight and finally he is able to coordinate all the moving parts. However, sometimes babies feel the urge to try their skills immediately or the brain activity promoting locomotion is so great that they are awakened by the commotion. This is when crawling and sleep become an issue for many families.
One study in 2015 documented a sampling of baby’s sleep before, during and after learning to crawl. The results showed that babies are more wakeful during their period they are learning to crawl. Usually once the skill develops, sleep patterns return to normal, typically within three months. The research also indicated that babies who learn to crawl later experienced more wakefulness than early crawlers.
When it comes to crawling and sleep, some babies stay awake longer before falling asleep while others wake-up throughout the night. Also, some babies simply cry out while others practice motor skills in their cribs while they are awake. Why does this happen? No one knows for sure but here are a few theories:
- The control mechanisms and emotional response to learning a big skill like crawling excite your baby. Just as you may wake when you’re excited about something in your life, your baby is waking from his enthusiasm and anticipation.
- The brain activity occurring to promote gross motor skills may interfere with your baby’s normal sleep and wake cycles. This is equivalent to you trying to solve a problem in your head that suddenly wakes you at night to think about it more consciously.
- Sleep regression is a normal part of advancement in another area. You may notice sleep regressions with the development of fine motor skills and speech too. Your baby’s brain can only focus on a certain amount at one time!
When crawling and sleep problems arise, you can help your baby in a few ways. First, offer consistency and normalcy as much as possible. This means a solid bedtime routine, an age-appropriate bedtime and a room conducive to sleep. If your baby wakes because he’s practicing his skills by getting on all fours or pushing up to a seated position, let him do it as long as he is happy. It’s likely his drowsiness will eventually take over and he’ll fall asleep. If he’s unhappy or stuck in a position that he can’t get out of, gently ease him into a more comfortable sleep position. Continue to do that until he’s tired enough to sleep.
Sometimes the emergence of crawling is so disruptive of sleep that naps are short or don’t happen at all. If your baby refuses to nap at his normal times, let him stay up later and then try again when he’s tired enough for sleep. Resist the urge to add bumpers to your baby’s crib even if he is banging on the sides. Bumpers can present a suffocation hazard and increase the risk of SIDS. Also, this is a great time to lower your baby’s crib.
Crawling and sleep can be a trying time for you and your baby. Remember, consistency and calmness is the key to getting through this period. It is bound to be short-lived and once it’s over, your baby will be happily exploring his world in new ways.
Sources: Child Sleep Science and Science of Mom
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