Crawling and sleep

And now for a subject dear to my heart… I came across a fascinating article entitled “Crawling in and out of sleep”. The authors conducted a study on two sets of 8 month olds – one set were crawling, the other weren’t yet. They measured sleep patterns using computerised movement detectors, and the mothers filled out sleep questionnaires. They found that the crawlers woke more at night than the non-crawlers, confirming similar findings from previous studies.

Why does this happen? The authors proposed that the newly acquired skills of being able to propel oneself forward may extend brief arousals into long awakening episodes. Does this sound familiar? It does in our household! My seven month old has just perfected the art of hand-knee crawling after weeks of “creeping”, or moving forward on her belly, and she has gone from peacefully sleeping through the night to unexplained waking last night, with – yes – “long awakening episodes”!

The importance of sleep in consolidating learning is well known, and the authors also suggest that perhaps certain brain pathways are re-activated during sleep, causing crawling-like movements. Another theory they threw in there was that maybe babies who crawled earlier had different constitutional predispositions (more active and poorer sleep) – although previous studies had suggested that from time to time, infant sleep can become more challenged temporarily.

Another article discussed the changes that occur with the onset of crawling – which include changes in social and emotional development and distance perception. While all developmental milestones, particularly motor milestones, could cause a temporary sleep disruption, crawling seems to be unique in that it is the first time a baby is able to move independently. Among one of the new things they experience is a sense of “glee” on being able to explore and perhaps in getting a reaction out of Mummy when going where he or she shouldn’t!

Here comes Star now, crawling down the corridor towards me, deep in concentration and with the proudest look on her face. I haven’t the heart to feel cross about our sleepless night last night.

References:
Scher, A. (2005), Crawling in and out of sleep. Infant and Child Development, 14: 491–500. doi: 10.1002/icd.427
Campos, J. J., Anderson, D. I., Barbu-Roth, M. A., Hubbard, E. M., Hertenstein, M. J. and Witherington, D. (2000), Travel Broadens the Mind. Infancy, 1: 149–219.

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