Parents with newborns struggle with sleepless nights.
The effects are usually more profound in those having babies for the first time, as they may be inexperienced or unprepared to deal with the demands of the infant.
“I was so excited when I found out that I was pregnant. And though I am happy to have a child now, the sleepless nights are killing me,” said Jane Mumbi, a mother of a four-month old boy.
“The baby seems to never want to sleep. He will be awake until past two in the night, crying and wanting us to just hold him even when he’s dry and well fed. Sometimes I feel like he’s suffering from insomnia!”
To alleviate such inconveniences, health experts urge parents to promote infant physical activity or exercises that will enhance their chances of sleeping well at night.
A new study published in the Infant Behaviour and Development Journal found that physical activity has a strong influence on the sleeping patterns of children.
The research, which is among the first to focus on the connection between common health behaviours in babies, suggests that babies who are less active get less sleep.
Scientists from the US-based Michigan State University who conducted the study noted that the discovery is something new parents may want to consider when looking for possible solutions for the long, sleepless nights endured after children are born.
We know physical activity and sleep influence each other and are strongly associated with growth in older children and adults.
“But these new findings suggest that this association could emerge as early as infancy, which is a critical developmental period,” said Janet Hauck, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of kinesiology, who specialises in infant motor intervention research.
The study analysed 22 healthy six-month-old infants and monitored their physical activity level and sleep more than 24 hours. Their weight and length were also measured.
Hauck stated that overall, babies who were significantly less active had a reduced daily sleep duration (less than 12 hours) compared to the more active ones.
These children had more overnight feedings as well as the least amount of night-time sleep.
They also had a better weight-for-length score, making them less susceptible to the adverse effects of childhood obesity.
Some of the recommended forms of infant physical activity include playing with babies on the floor or having tummy time with them.
The latter refers to the duration babies are positioned on their stomachs and encouraged to develop motor skills while being supervised.
During this time, they usually attempt to move around or wriggle by throwing their legs and moving their arm and other body parts.
Tummy time also gives babies the chance to try new positions that build their head, neck and upper body strength.
Moreover, the movements help in preventing flat spots on babies heads, which usually develop as a result of them lying on their backs over long periods. Tummy time should start soon after birth as part of a pleasurable daily routine that parents subject their babies to — for about a minute or two — at different times of the day.
Over time, the duration can be gradually increased to between 15 and 30 minutes daily.
Parents can conduct the sessions by laying the baby across their laps on the tummy.
But as the baby grows stronger, it can be put on a rug on the floor to play by his or herself, but under strict supervision for safety purposes.
“While we don’t have evidence yet that tummy time directly affects sleep, we know that it increases physical activity and promotes healthy weight gain,” Hauck said.
“So, parents who feel their baby isn’t sleeping enough could promote tummy time during the day to boost their baby’s physical activity level.”
Hauck urged parents to make 12 hours of sleep or more a priority for their baby by creating a bedtime routine and being consistent with it.
“While their little one is awake, they should encourage physical activity by interacting with their baby during floor time activities and doing supervised tummy time several times a day.”
She cautioned parents against focusing solely on afternoon naps in a bid to make their babies recover the hours of sleep lost during the night.
“Napping doesn’t help. In fact, babies who slept less at night, yet napped more during the day, still weren’t able to get as much sleep overall as those who slept more at night.”