What Is Sleep Debt for Babies?

What Is Sleep Debt for Babies?

Infant & Child Sleep Debt Explained

You may not be shocked to hear (your third cup of coffee today might have been a clue) that most adults, especially parents, experience sleep debt. 

Sleep debt refers to the cumulative amount of sleep that has been missed over a period of time, which can result in a sleep deficit. 

What is surprising though, is that babies can also accumulate sleep debt - and the effects can be detrimental to their development. If a baby consistently fails to get enough sleep, either due to being unable to fall asleep, waking frequently throughout the night, or not getting enough total hours of sleep it can affect their health and well-being. Keep reading to learn more about sleep debt plus some tips and tricks to help your baby - and inadvertently you - pay that sleep debt back. 

How do I clear my baby's sleep debt?

Clearing your baby’s sleep debt involves helping them get enough sleep over a period of time. Easier said than done, am I right? 

Your baby requires a pretty shocking amount of sleep for their healthy growth and development. Newborns typically sleep for 16-17 hours a day, while older babies usually need between 12-14 hours of sleep per day. 

To help your baby catch up on those Z’s, make sure that they have enough time for sleep in their daily routine, and prioritize sleep over other activities when possible. Setting up regular wake-up and bedtimes, and keeping naps consistent will all help pay back some of that sleep debt. Babies can struggle to calm down and sleep tight. To help them learn to self soothe, use a weighted sleep sack or swaddle. The gentle weight resembles a hug and offers an instant calming effect that can help babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. 

What is an example of sleep debt?

An example of sleep debt is when a baby consistently misses out on recommended amounts of sleep over a period of time. For instance, let's say that an 8-month-old baby requires around 14 hours of sleep per day, but only gets 12 hours of sleep on average. Over the course of a week, this would result in a sleep debt of 14 hours (2 hours of missed sleep per day x 7 days). If this pattern continues, the sleep debt would continue to accumulate and could have negative effects on the baby's development and health.

It’s important to keep in mind that all babies’ sleep schedules will wax and wane, changing seemingly as fast as they do. Don’t be alarmed if your baby’s sleep patterns change from one day to the next. If there are no concerns such as regular difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, your baby will probably make up for any missed sleep on their own time. 

How can sleep debt affect a baby?

When sleep difficulties do become regular, sleep debt can have a variety of negative effects on your baby's physical and mental health. It can impact their mood, behavior, cognitive development, immune function, and even growth. If left unaddressed, sleep debt can lead to chronic sleep deprivation and other long-term health problems. A tired baby can take a toll on the caregivers well-being too. Prioritize the health and well-being of all family members by educating yourself on just how important good sleep is for you and your baby. 

Does napping pay sleep debt?

Napping is one of the best ways to pay sleep debt. However, napping alone may not be enough to fully repay your baby's sleep debt. It's important to ensure that your baby is getting enough sleep both during naps and at night to make up for any missed sleep.

In an effort to prevent sleep debt all together, it's important to establish healthy sleep habits from the beginning. This includes setting a regular sleep schedule, creating a calm and quiet sleep environment, and helping babies learn to fall asleep independently. To help your baby adapt to a routine, use sound machines and weighted sleep products that they can associate with naptime or bedtime. 

What does sleep debt do to the brain?

Consistent lack of sleep can have a concerning impact on your baby’s quickly developing brain. It may impact your baby's cognitive development, including memory, learning, and attention. Sleep is important for consolidating memories and promoting neuronal connections in the brain, meaning sleep debt can interfere with these processes and impair cognitive development. 

Sleep debt can also impact a baby's behavior, making them more irritable, fussy, and difficult to soothe. It can also lead to poor emotional regulation, which impacts your baby’s social and emotional development.

Furthermore, sleep can impact a baby’s immune system. Sleep debt can reduce their immune function, making them more susceptible to illnesses and infections. 

These are just a few reasons why quality sleep for babies is so important. Even if your baby seems to be sleeping fine, we still encourage you to try Dreamland sleep aid products to help them sleep even better. Afterall, we can all attest to the benefits of a good night's sleep. 

Why do overtired babies fight sleep?

They’re tired, but why won’t they sleep? One reason is that when babies become overtired, their bodies actually release stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can make it even more difficult for them to fall asleep. These hormones can make them feel more awake, even when they are actually very tired. 

Another reason why overtired babies may fight sleep is because they become more easily overstimulated. When a baby is overtired, their nervous system can become overstimulated by even the smallest noises or movements, which can make it difficult for them to relax and fall asleep.

Additionally, some babies may fight sleep because they have developed sleep associations that require certain conditions in order to fall asleep, such as being held or rocked. If these conditions are not present when the baby is tired, they may have difficulty falling asleep. Building sleep associations is a positive tool to aid in getting your baby to follow a regular sleep schedule. Many parents opt for the use of weighted swaddles, or sleep bags to not only keep their baby comfy, but let them know it’s time for sleep. 

How do you reset an overtired baby?

When your baby gets so tired that they become uncontrollably upset, there are two tried and true methods of resetting an overtired baby. 

Take them outside, or put them in water. 

A quick walk outside or a warm bath can instantly snap baby out of a fuss and prepare them for a sleep routine. Whether it’s the bonding, the sensory experience or simply calming effects of warm water and/or fresh air - it works. 

Once baby has calmed, these are a few things you can do to help them fall asleep more easily:


Create a calming sleep environment.

Make sure the room is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Use a white noise machine or a lullaby to create a soothing background sound.


Establish a consistent sleep routine.

Having a consistent bedtime routine can help signal to your baby that it's time to sleep. 

Help your baby wind down.

Offer a gentle massage or cuddle to help your baby relax and feel calm.

Adjust feeding schedule.

If your baby might be waking due to hunger, try feeding them before bedtime.

Weighted sleep sacks or swaddles.

The gentle pressure of a weighted sleep sack or swaddle can naturally reduce stress and give your baby the feeling of security and comfort - just like a hug. Dreamland offers a selection of weighted sleep sacks and swaddles with CoverCalm® Technology that evenly distributes gentle weight from baby’s shoulders to their toes, helping them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Our swaddles, sleep sacks, and blankets can double as a cue that allows your baby to prepare for sleep, thus reducing anxiety. Helping your baby calm before sleep can help them fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Dream Weighted Sleep Swaddle, 0-6 months

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