Though your baby probably doesn't sleep more than four or five hours at a time, the time she does spend sleeping is vitally important for her health, growth and development. When her sleep is interrupted, it can negatively affect her well-being. Several factors, including illness, too much sleep during the day and separation anxiety, can contribute to sleep interruptions, but no matter what causes them, interrupted slumber can have several effects.
Crankiness and Irritability
When your baby's normal amount of sleep is interrupted, she isn't getting the good, quality sleep that she needs to be well-rested the next day. According to pediatrician Marc Weissbluth, author of the book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins," babies who wake up several times when they would normally be sleeping soundly are more likely to be cranky and are less likely to be able to cope with the events of the day. Interrupted sleep also makes it more difficult for your baby to take a good nap, which further compounds the problem and can make her even more irritable. Lack of sleep might cause her to cry for extended amounts of time, too.
Lack of Enthusiasm
Tired babies aren't as interested in playing or trying new activities as well-rested babies are. When your baby's sleep is interrupted for whatever reason the night before, expect that he won't be patient or energized enough to be his normal self. Weissbluth notes that tired babies are often less adaptable, which will make it difficult to interest your little one in anything entertaining. Tired babies are also more intense and scared than rested babies, according to Weissbluth. A 2011 study from Stanford University found that lack of sleep affects memory retention and function. Though the study was done with mice, it suggests that similar effects happen for humans, which means that interrupted sleep might affect your baby's brain growth and cognitive development.
Depressed Immune System
When your baby doesn't get enough sleep, her immune system suffers, which means that she's more susceptible to catching a cold or coming down with the flu. Weissbluth reports that chronic interrupted sleep, or sleep interruptions that happen regularly, can cause headaches and body aches, as well. Your baby might also develop stomach problems, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure and muscle tension if her sleep is interrupted regularly. Lack of sleep can also interfere with glucose control, which contributes to an increased risk of diabetes and obesity.
Tips and Suggestions
The best way to eliminate sleep interruptions is to teach your baby to put himself back to sleep. Resist the urge to rock or feed your baby to sleep because if he wakes up at night, he'll need you to do the same thing to fall back to sleep. Instead, rock or feed him until he's sleepy, and them put him in his crib so he can fall asleep on his own. Minimize interruptions by creating a quiet sleep environment, as well. Keep the noise level down around your baby's bedroom and keep the room at a comfortable temperature. Create a sleep schedule so your baby goes to sleep at the same times each day. This will train his body to sleep when it's time and will also promote more restful slumber.