How Sleep Benefits the Brain and Physical Development

The Importance of Healthy Sleep in Babies and Children. Learn why it is so important for you to help your baby learn to sleep independently.

Baby sleeping on mom's chest while dad watches

Why is sleep important for babies and children?

Many times, moms who try to get their babies to sleep well get accused of being selfish, bad mothers.

This is very unfair. Working to help baby learn to sleep well and independently is not easy. Not easy in the least. It takes a lot of work and sacrifice on the part of parents.

A big reason parents do this is because sleep is so important for babies and children. They want their children to be able to sleep well because there are so many benefits to having healthy sleep.

One of the best things about the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is the detail on the importance of sleep.

I think a lot of people might think moms want baby to sleep in order to get a break. That is a nice bonus of sleeping, but that is not the reason for having baby sleep.

Getting a break has its merits, but this is not the reason we work so hard and spend so much time and effort into getting this baby to sleep.

We do it because sleep is important.

How sleep is benefiting your baby's brain and physical development

What are the Benefits of Sleep for Babies and Children?

Here are some quotes from Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child on the importance of sleep.

Sleep Helps the Brain

“Providing the growing brain with sufficient sleep is necessary for developing the ability to concentrate and an easier temperament” (page 7). (emphasis mine)

“Sleep is the power source that keeps your mind alert and calm” (page 7). (emphasis mine)

“Sleeping well increases brainpower just as lifting weights builds stronger muscles…” (page 7). (emphasis mine)

Sleep Helps Learning While Awake

“…when children learn to sleep well, they also learn to maintain optimal wakefulness” (page 8). (emphasis–larger text–mine)

“Sleep problems not only disrupt a child’s nights, they disrupt his days, too, by making him less mentally alert, more inattentive, unable to do concentrate, and easily distracted. They also make him more physically impulsive, hyperactive, or lazy” (page 11). (emphasis mine)

“…infants who sleep more during the day are better able to learn from their environment; this is because they have a better-developed ability to maintain focused or sustained attention…They learn simply from looking at the clouds and trees, touching, feeling, smelling, hearing, and watching their mother’s and father’s faces” (page 24). (emphasis mine)

Sleep helps optimal wakefulness and the ability to concentrate and learn better.

Your child will be better able to concentrate on things, observe things, and learn things when she is well-rested, just like you are.

I love his thought about your child learning from simply watching the clouds. Your baby does not need flashcards and movies to make her smart; she needs sleep! Simply living life teaches her, so long as she gets the sleep she needs.

I get a lot of comments on how alert my babies are whenever we are in public. I live in a place with a lot of babies. I mean, a lot. It isn’t as though people are surprised that babies are alert, they are surprised at how alert my babies are. I believe sleep contributes to this.

I also get questions from parents concerned at how much their children are sleeping or surprised at how much mine sleep. They wonder how babies could ever learn anything sleeping so much.

Sleep is so vitally important that I am willing to have my children sleep all that they need to as individuals for optimal brain development. They are then able to learn much more during a shorter amount of time awake than they would being awake for longer but in an overly-tired state.


Sleep Helps Mood

He talks about toddlers and how toddlers who get adequate sleep are milder and in positive moods. “…three year olds who nap are more adaptable than those who do not” (page 24). (emphasis mine)

“…the children who slept more [at age three] were more fun to be around, more sociable, and less demanding” (page 25). (emphasis mine)

Toddlers are much more fun when they get the sleep they need. They are happy, so you are happy, so they are happy.

When Kaitlyn was a toddler and didn’t get the sleep she needed, she was clingy, cried, and begged for sleep. At least she knew and recognized what made her feel better.

When McKenna was tired, she got really disobedient. When Brinley was tired, she got very irrational and emotional. When Brayden was tired, he stopped trying when things got hard. He just got frustrated and walked away.

Sleep helps with a positive mood so much.

4 vital benefits of having healthy sleep habits pinnable image

Sleep Helps Physical Health

“…in a study of one- and two-year-old children, those who woke up frequently were much more likely to have an injury such as a broken bone or cut requiring medical attention than those who slept through…” (page 318). (emphasis mine)

“In my own pediatric practice, fat babies are almost always overtired babies. That’s because their mothers have incorrectly attributed their babies’ crying to hunger instead of fatigue” (page 433). (emphasis mine)

Read: How To Fix Your Child’s Sleep Deficit

Sleep Benefits in Real Life

Some parents might want to hold off on teaching sleep abilities because someday the child will not need naps anyway. Parents will just wait it out. Weissbluth points out, “…it simply is not true that children who miss naps will “make up” for it by sleeping more at night. In fact, the sleep they miss is gone forever” (page 24). (emphasis mine)

Let’s talk some basic logic in association with these quotes above.

Think about yourself. You are a person, right? How do you feel when you don’t get enough sleep? How do you feel when you don’t get good sleep? Are you patient? Are you happy? Are you able to perform your job to the best of your ability?

Or are you irritable? Do you need music, caffeine, and/or sugar to keep you awake? When you are driving, do you need to blast the cold air to keep you awake?

I remember really appreciating the need of sleep even more once I had a toddler, preschooler, and baby all at the same time. I really saw and understood the impact of sleep on me.

When you have a toddler and/or preschooler to take care of, there is no where to run and hide when you are tired. You have to take care of them.

When I was in college and high school, I could retreat to my studies or my bedroom to get away from people and avoid snapping at them.

When I just had a baby, I could just go through the motions without much effort.

But with toddlers, you need your patience! I am much, much less patient when I am tired.

People literally need sleep. 

Babies are people, too. Toddlers are people, too. Children are people, too. Just like you need sleep, they need sleep.


Sleep is important for the whole family. Naps are important for your baby. They aren’t just a nicety for mom, they are a necessity for baby.

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child is a great book for convincing you of the importance of sleep. I really think every parent should read this book. If you are ever questioning why you are working so hard to establish good sleep habits in your baby, read this post, and read the book. This is just a small sampling of that is in the book.

Sleep is important. Sleep is vital. Your baby needs sleep.

The importance of healthy sleep in babies and children | The benefits of sleep | baby sleep | baby sleep schedule | #babysleep #babyslseeptraining

This post was originally published on this blog in January of 2010.


29 thoughts on “How Sleep Benefits the Brain and Physical Development”

  1. I loved that book when my boys were little. I used it along with the GKGW books. I need to do a refresher for my 3 1/2 yo since I think he transitioning away from his nap. My boys were better sleepers when they were babies and as they got older they had periods of not sleeping well. My 6 yo sleeps well but my 3.5 not so well anymore esp. since some days he doesn't nap. My 3.5 yo has night terrors and we can't seem to find out what causes them to try to lessen them. We always heard comments about how well behaved and happy our boys were when they were babies and that they slept alot. I have always been "strict" about their naps and bedtime since they are much more enjoyable when they are rested. Great books for new moms!

  2. I definitely need to get this book before I have another child, these are some great points! People are always remarking on how calm, laid-back, and happy Tobias is and I attribute 90% of that to his sleep and overall environment. I've seen him without sleep, he's not such a happy kid then, lol! I've seen him compared to other children his age and he's definitely more even-tempered and able to handle disruptions than most. When he pinches his fingers in a cabinet he cries for a minute but once he gets picked up and hugged he's fine almost right away. Even if he's a bit hungry but we're still in the process of making dinner he's better able to handle that discomfort because he's well-rested. In fact, thinking back all of the most even-tempered and resilient children I've known well also consistently get good sleep. I doubt it's a coincidence!

  3. People are always remarking on how happy, alert, and calm my baby boy (11 months) is. And he takes regular naps and is very well-rested. And he did it all without being abandoned to scream by himself. Babies are meant to be close to their mothers. CIO leads to physical damage and even death. Gary Ezzo is an idiot with no medical training, and your advocacy of his system (which is destructive to the all-important breastfeeding relationship and mother-child bond) is irresponsible and ethically wrong. While I have more respect for Dr. Weissbluth, I disagree whole-heartedly that you can teach tiny babies to "self-soothe" long before they are physically/emotionally/developmentally able to do so. If I was able to shut down this blog and burn every copy of those horrible books, I would do so in an instant.

  4. Thank you, Rebecca, for proving the point of this post. Happy, alert babies are ones who take regular naps. As to your other claims…First off, you can't use one source to both prove and disprove your claims. Have you ever studied writing arguments or debate? If so, I think you need a refund. That just doesn't work. Second, of all the thousands of moms I interact with who use Babywise, none have had babies die…not even from CIO. That is actually a new one. I haven't ever heard someone say CIO causes death. I don't think I will be adding it to my list of myths to refute just yet since you are the only one…In case what you actually meant to say was that the Babywise book kills babies, I still don't know any moms who have had that happen. I am currently 3 for 3. Also, as a friend's husband put it, "What, do they die from paper cuts?" I also don't think you are God or anywhere close, so I won't leave it to you to decide what is morally or ethically wrong, but from other comments from you, I don't think I would be taking lessons from you anyway.I also doubt you have the credentials to declare Ezzo an idiot. There are lots of authors out there I disagree with, but I wouldn't ever feel like I was in a position of declaring them idiots.Finally, lucky for us all that you have no such power.

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with this post. My son slept constantly as a baby. I thought he was just a good baby, but when he turned two, he started displaying classic signs of autism. His tantrums were insane! We had him tested for everything, but it wasn't until we went to an ENT and he looked at my son's tonsils and asked us if he had sleep apnea, did we get some answers. He did indeed. My son stopped breathing every five or six seconds while he slept. He didn't just love sleep, he wasn't getting quality sleep. After we got his tonsils out, the tantrums ended, and, unfortunately, so did his naps. Sadly, his brain development didn't progress as it should during the first few years of his life. With a lot of speech therapy, etc. he is doing a lot better. Still, I think had we caught the sleep apnea earlier, he wouldn't be developmentally delayed.

  6. I love your blog! It has been sooooo helpful these past 6 months! I love how you and Dr. Weissbluth both point out how important quality sleep is for children! We seem to realize it's important for adults to function and do their 'jobs' well…but not necessarily for children. I whole-heartedly agree that helping your children establish healthy sleep habits is definitely important! My boy has been a babywise baby since birth and doing great! He sleeps well at night, naps well, and we are still exclusively nursing. We definitely have our ups and downs, but this blog is such an encouragement after all the negative comments you can find on the web! Whenever we have our 'really off' days, I'm so thankful it is not the 'norm' for us, and that we have a schedule and routine to get back to! Thanks, Val, and keep up the great work!-Jessie

  7. "Sleep begets Sleep"….My 4 month old Rebecca, was doing wonderfully: not eating through the night since 3 months and aboout 2 weeks ago she dropped her DF and stopped waking at all through the night (10 hours sleep).Then I screwed it up. With company here for the holidays and not wanting her nighttime sleep to go away I started letting her stay up and missing her ques. "The more she stays up during the day, the better she'll sleep at night!?.." WRONG!Now, company is gone and with help from your blog, we have gotten quickly back on track. My question is this: she is typically on a 3 hour schedule with 80 minutes of waketime. Over the holidays her naps shortened and stopped. Now that we are back on track she is happy to nap for longer (ie. at least 2.5 or longer instead of 1.5)Of course this throws off our original schedule…what would you suggest? I dont want to waste time training the wrong schedule.Thank you for your blog…I am searching it like crazy!

  8. I love Babywise! We started when my son Braylen who is now 2, was 2 weeks old. He started sleeping through the night at 10 weeks and now sleeps 11-12 hours every night AND takes a 3.5 hour nap everyday!!! I really believe that it is sooo important for babies to be on a schedule. Braylen seriously is one of the happiest babies and we have so much fun with him. He is energetic, easy going, and lovable. We really believe that if it wasn't for his schedule things would be much different. Great blog and great information for mom's who need sleep!!

  9. Val, I have been reading your blog for some time now and I have never posted a comment before. After reading what Rebecca M. posted, I wanted to write and tell you thank you for your blog. It's sad that someone who doesn't agree with the Babywise methods takes the time to post such a negative comment. I for one don't have the time or energy to go around commenting on everything that I disagree with in this world. I would suggest Rebecca M. find a blog that is more suited to her needs. :-)Thank you again for your blog. My son was born 5/4/09 so I appreciate reading your posts on McKenna's weekly progress.

  10. I have been getting updates from this blog since my baby was 5 months old. I read Babywise and Baby Whisperer. For some reason, my comments never get to the author of these super blogs!! Riley is now 14 months old, and still does not sleep well. For instance, last night he finally went to sleep around 9:30, woke at 2:30, fell back to sleep finally after 4AM, woke again shortly after 5AM and was up for the morning. When I checked on him today, ( my mom babysits during the day) he had taken a 2 hour nap and I don't know if he took another later this afternoon. But he normally does better when he takes 2 naps a day, and that's rare. Do you have a blog on pointers for toddlers? Many of your posts helped with his naps but he's not been a good night time sleeper, ever. Today I seriously considered trading in my mommy card for a pass for a good night's rest. Haven't had one of those in nearly 2 years now, since I had trouble sleeping while I was preggers too.

  11. Alexis, have you seen my pots on night mares/night terrors? Brayden got them around age 2. My husband had them as a child, and he remembered things like being too hot or too cold caused it. When we were mindful about those two things, they stopped…see that post for some ideas on it. Good luck!

  12. And, by the way, I have truly enjoyed your posts. Although we couldn't use CIO, Riley had reflux, so we used some methods from BWise and from Baby Whisp. I just wanted to thank you for your efforts to help other mothers and share your personal experiences.

  13. Manda, great point about getting hurt! I hadn't thought about that before. It is a good book. You should definitely own it as a reference.

  14. Thanks Jessie! It is interesting how we acknowledge the importance of sleep in adults and not necessarily in babies/children. I think our modern culture kind of ignores the importance of sleep, though. We have too much to do to sleep!

  15. Kelly, that is tricky. 2.5 hours is long for a 4 month old, so I think you can rule that out for yoru first and second waketimes. She could do 2, but you don't want 2.5. If her sleep is back on, then you can try out a four hour and see how she does. Just be prepared to go back to three if she needs it. But also, Kaitlyn never had sleep cues and would be happy for long periods of time without sleep…but that didn't mean she should stay up for long periods of time…just that she could.

  16. Susan, you are right! I don't get notified of your comments. That is so strange. I don't know why it does that to some people. I know of a few it does.That is rough! I don't have experience with toddlers and sleep…I have a couple of suggestions. Read the posts on sleep problems if you haven't and try to apply them to a toddler age. Then, join the chronicles yahoo group or BBC BW group to get advice from lots of moms. There is a good chance someone has some experience for you!And thanks for your thanks!

  17. Really, Rebecca M? Far be it from me to defend Val when she obviously did so well for herself, but when you attack her you are also attacking every other mother who abides by Babywise principles. I don't know why you would even waste your time with such a comment since clearly you will find no one here regularly who supports you. I'm so, so glad I'm free to implement all the hours of CIO with my daughter when she was a tiny baby. Just so you know, she had severe reflux that was likely excruciatingly painful for her, which gave me all the more reason to follow my medical doctor's advice and stop feeding her in the middle of the night and let her cry, so that she would stop waking, stop eating, and then stop being in such excruciating pain. By all means, however, keep criticizing Valerie who has dedicated endless hours to producing this truly indispensable blog. You have nothing to contribute that I care to hear about and I'm so glad I don't have to endure you and your rubbish in person.

  18. Val, being my nosy self, I had to look for "the comment". I almost fell out of my chair laughing. This is one of those situations you just have to sit back, laugh, thank GOD you have your head on your shoulders and that you aren’t as ignorant as some people. I don't do CIO with my son because we have never needed to, but man-oh-man even I know how absolutely absurd and ridiculous that comment is! I have commented before, but I use Babywise for more of the moral training and we are a little more flexible with our schedule! However, your blog is an amazing resource! Thank you!

  19. I have a question about my 6 month old's sleep habits. Since I work two days out of the week, it's really hard to get her on a consistent schedule. The lady who watches her on two days I'm at work isn't very good about following a schedule, so it ends up beind different each day. Do you have any tips for this? Also, it seems that sometimes no matter if her waketime is one hour or two, she will wake up after only 1 hour of nap and just be talking in there. Because of this she ends up taking more naps during the day because I can't get her to sleep longer than an hour. What can I do?Thanks,Becky

  20. Becky, Are the two days in a row? If not, then I think you can make it work. Babies can learn to adapt, so your baby should be able to be fine with 5 of 7 days on your routine. You will need to be super consistent, though.If it is possible, you might want to try to find someone to watch her who can/will be consistent.For the waketime, have you only tried one hour two hours, or everything in between? And if it is everything in between, have you given each waketime time to take effect? I suggest you see the many posts about this for lots of ideas on fixing it. See 45 minute intruder blog label. See "naps:troubleshooting revised and updated". See optimal waketime length blog label…good luck!

  21. My 8 week old is STTN, which is great. However, I still wake up sometimes once an hour after I've been asleep for a few hours. At first it was because I was scared I was sleeping through his crying, but after a hundred times of waking thinking he was crying only to find him sound asleep, I stopped waking up thinking that. Now I just wake up for no reason at all. Any advice on how moms can learn to sleep through the night again? I'm waking up at 130, 230, 330, 430, 530, and finally DS wakes up at 630. I'm glad when he does because its finally a decent enough hour to be awake. Another question… I used to put him straight back to bed after his 630 feeding, but lately it hasn't worked…should I start letting him have waketime after it?

  22. Caitlin, I had that same thing happen to me. It was awful.I called my OB and he offered to give me a prescription sleep aid, but I am not really into taking drugs that can be habit forming. So I talked with him and decided to go with Tylenol PM. I took one each night and it helped me sleep, but I wasn't so sleepy that I couldn't hear. Once the baby was STTN, I could stop taking it without a problem. See the post called "Early morning feedings before waketime" for info on your 6:30 AM feeding issue.

  23. Those quotes from that book are true and very useful. Do you have quotes on the benefit of power sleep or power nap?


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