May 19, 2022

Sound sleep is vital for any individual’s health, but in babies and young children, it also has a direct impact on their development. Think about it; a baby goes through several developmental milestones in terms of their brain, body, behavior, and emotions – and all this growth largely occurs when the baby is asleep. If the quality of their sleep is poor or they are not getting sufficient sleep, it can hinder the child’s development.

In light of this, it’s normal for parents to want to ensure that their baby is getting the sleep they need. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Sleep Foundation (NSF), a newborn (0–3 months old) needs about 14–18 hours of sleep; an infant (4–11 months old) needs 12–15 hours, and a toddler (1–2 years old) needs 11–14 hours of sleep every day.

The ranges are for total sleep including any naps. These are broad recommendations and they can go an hour up or down depending on your baby. Just use these times as a guideline while understanding that a healthy amount of sleep may vary from day to day or among different babies.

How Sleep Affects Your Baby’s Growth

Babies obviously spend the majority of their day (and night) sleeping. If you have ever wondered why that is, it’s because this period is paramount for healthy development of brain and body. Good, uninterrupted sleep leads to brain development, building networks, and engaging in activity that facilitates learning, thinking, language development, and behavior formation.

Sleep coupled with nutrition allows a baby to go through all the physical developmental stages as well; this includes learning motor skills, identifying objects correctly, making sounds, growing bigger, and more developmental milestones.

It’s normal for newborn babies to nap for 3–4 hours during the day. Research shows that frequent napping allows infants to bring together certain memories and improve the baby’s development. Naps also enable a more generalized memory as the baby grows, which is important for learning and infant development.

Here are some of the health aspects that are directly linked to sleep in newborns and infants:


Generally speaking, babies double their birth weight by 5 months and triple it by their first birthday. This is obviously a lot of growth in such a short period of time, and quality sleep plays a vital role in this.

There is a growth hormone, somatotropin, which is released in the body throughout the day. However, about 80% of this hormone is released soon after babies reach non-REM stage of sleep. Not receiving adequate sleep can stunt their physical growth.

A study recently demonstrated the link between growth spurts in body length and increased bursts of sleep. It concluded that growth spurts not only occur during sleep, but are also heavily influenced by it. Health professionals and researchers believe that this is due to the release of somatotropin during sleep.

Mental Development

The brain roughly doubles in size in the baby’s first year. Their mental growth and development occurs rapidly, and most of their learning is done while they are asleep. In one study, researchers found that children who slept normal hours had higher developmental scores, and kids who slept less had more “difficult” temperaments.

Just like adults and big kids, babies need sleep to build memory consolidation. Sleeping is how your baby strengthens their memories (about identifying familiar objects and people), and things they have learned while awake. It also helps them process and explore their environment at their own pace.

Healthy amounts of sleep, especially during the first year, is extremely important for a baby’s development because this is when your baby is learning all about their bodies and their surroundings. While no two babies of similar ages are going to have the same experiences, the first year is important for all children in terms of development.

Unhealthy Weight Gain

Research also shows that in most babies, short sleep duration can lead to childhood obesity. Studies have found enormous correlations between sleep and babies development in the first 6 months. Another study found that most children who received daily sleep of less than 12 hours were at increased risk of being overweight in pre-school.

Immune System

A baby’s immune system is still immature and not as robust as adults’ immune systems. Sleep plays an important role in developing their immunity. If your baby is sleep-deprived – particularly if they were born prematurely – they are more prone to infections and diseases, and it can affect their recovery.

If your baby is not getting some much-needed, uninterrupted sleep, it’s going to place a lot of strain on their body. While asleep, their immune system produces disease-fighting cells and antibodies. Sleep deprivation means their immune system doesn’t get the opportunity to develop these forces. If they don’t get enough sleep, their immune system will be lowered and they will be far more likely to get common cold or flu.

Make Sure Your Baby Is Getting the Sleep They Need: Schedule a Consultation Today

At VNA Health Care, we have board-certified pediatricians and nurse practitioners who provide preventive, chronic, and acute medical care to children from birth through age 21. After the age of 21, care is transitioned to a VNA family practice provider. We also provide pre-natal care throughout the pregnancy. After giving birth at the hospital, one of VNA’s hospital liaisons will visit you to schedule your baby for their first visit with a pediatrician.

Our healthcare providers can provide support to manage your child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being as they reach certain milestones, such as making sure their vaccinations are up to date, assessing for developmental delays and behavioral problems, conducting school and sports physicals, and more.

With the goal of providing quality and compassionate health care to all, VNA has been the leading community healthcare provider serving the suburban Chicago area since 1918.

We hope the above guide helped you understand the importance of sleep for your baby. If you have any questions about any other baby topics or you are noticing warning signs regarding their lack of sleep, please schedule an appointment online or call us at (630) 892-4355.