How Do Developmental Milestones Affect Sleep?

– Written by JoAnna Inks 

baby girl reading books - JoAnna Inks Sleep Solutions

As a mom and a sleep coach whose daily job is to talk to parents of babies and toddlers, I’ve concluded that babies are complicated creatures!  

As Matthew McConaughey put it, “They eat, they crap, they sleep, and if they’re crying, they need to do one of the three, and they’re having trouble doing it. Real simple.” 

So simple and in a way, he’s correct! A baby’s essentials break down into eating, pooping & sleeping, and their only way to communicate an issue about any of these is to cry.  

Any parent can tell you that knowing there’s a problem is the easy part; solving that problem is much more difficult.

If your baby’s learning to crawl, talk, rollover, or even teething; these developmental milestones do disrupt your baby’s sleep. 

In a 2015 study published in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, researchers looked at the sleep patterns of babies before they started crawling, while they were learning to crawl, and a few months after learning to crawl. 

The results stated that “Along with the overall improvement in sleep consolidation, periods of increased long wake episodes were also manifested; the rise in sleep disruption was temporally linked to crawling onset. 

The results of the study highlight the dynamic interrelations between domains of development indicate that emerging motor skills may involve periods of disrupted sleep, and point to the moderating effect of age.” 

To dumb that down significantly, babies appear to have more nighttime wake-ups around the time that they learn to crawl. 

To quote that same study, “In dynamic systems, downward trends in performance and in behavioral control often mark the emergence of new abilities. This pattern has been identified in diverse domains of infant development, including manual reaching, vocal production, and language acquisition.” 

Or to dumb that down, things can get worse before they get better.  

Teething is another one of the usual suspects when it comes to disruptions in baby’s sleep, and again, it seems like common sense. 

Teething is not the evil-doer most people make it out to be by the way. 

I’ve had parents tell me that their baby’s been teething for months and not sleeping well.  Babies teethe for the better part of two years of their life. If a baby couldn’t sleep while teething – I’d be out of a job and thankfully, I’m quite busy.  

The truth is yes, a baby’s gums can get sore, but it won’t disrupt sleep for months & months.

 A study from the April 2000 issue of Pediatrics looked at symptoms that could and could not be attributed to emerging teeth. It found that during the four days before a tooth appeared, the day it popped out, and for the three days following, there was a statistical increase in wakefulness and irritability. The discomfort that comes along with teething explains why it would be disruptive to your child’s sleep.

We’ll leave teething aside for a moment and talk about language development and movement. Just like us adults, babies get excited when they learn something new.  

Watching my children learn to crawl and walk was incredible!  They were SO proud of themselves and so excited about their new skills! 

Babies then want to practice their new skill, morning, noon & night!  

This excitement can make sleep a bit challenging.

Instead of letting this short, 3-5 day regression run its course.  Many parents look for a “solution”. This “solution” is often in the form of more “help” with their baby’s sleep.   This “help” results in less consistency, and suddenly, your baby is super confused about the expectations around sleep.

My best advice?  Hold steady! You may have to offer a bit more support here and there but don’t try to “fix” the situation.  You’ll make it worse. 

If given some space, baby will get over the excitement of the newfound skill and go right back to being a great sleeper.

If your baby’s been in a “regression” for the past nine months of their life,   It’s time for some lasting sleep skills so that everyone in the family can get the rest they need!

Ready for some sleep?  Book your complimentary discovery call today so that you and your baby can sleep!

Here’s to a well-rested family,