So you finally got your kiddo to bed! ??

But do you then find it baffling how active he seems to be as he “sleeps”? (Or maybe doesn’t sleep…) I hear this mostly from parents who are co-sleeping with baby in the bed, but the wiggles can happen anywhere.

First, put on your mama-detective hat. Has this happened consistently for a long time now, or only every now and then? Did it have a starting point? And/or an ending point?

Learning new skills (gross motor, social, language, etc) can meddle with sleep! Some parents notice obvious connections; others not so obvious until we dig deeper.  

Also, when something’s “on your mind,” how does it affect you? For me, I’m a thinker—if I wake up thinking about something in the middle of the night, somehow it seems a million times bigger. I can feel that my brain seems desperate to solve the issue, regardless of how much I want to sleep. The same can be true for your child!

Learning happens when, exactly?

Recently I listened to a Science Friday podcast about memory and dreaming. Lo and behold, they gave some clues about this very topic!

So, learning isn’t something that just happens instantly the way you put a file on your computer. But often information doesn’t stick in your head unless you practice it.

And the interesting part, relating it to sleep, is that some of the rehearsal that makes our memory work … [happens] while we’re sleeping and information that we’ve recently learned comes up.

It gets reactivated at night and therefore integrated better and more available when we wake up the next day and we need to remember things.

In other words, learning isn’t “one and done.” It requires rehearsal.

But let me clarify this!! In the case of baby/toddler development, this does not mean consciously practicing something like sitting, standing, or walking the baby.

It means the brain automatically rehearses whatever it needs to do, as its own process, without us interfering. In the case of a baby on the verge of belly crawling or other new motor skills, I often describe this as the reflexes “off-gassing” (like when you buy something new and need to let it “air out” before using it.)

And it just so happens that some of this process takes place when?? At night when you’re hoping for some good solid luscious sleep…!

It’s not a dreaming state, so we don’t remember it. It’s called slow wave sleep. It helps to integrate the learned information, making it more available.

Supporting your baby’s motor development in a baby-led way will help his/her nervous system settle.

Child-focused play time and “attachment play” will help your toddler.

A good cry release in arms as needed will help take the edge off of any pent up feelings or stress that might be getting fluffed up along with all the new skills.

Aside from those things, some of that wriggling is par for the course!

Hang in there and stay in touch.

© Eliza Parker 2021, All Rights Reserved, links welcome