What is "Sleep Pressure"?!

What is "Sleep Pressure"?!

You might have heard this term bandied about the place and wondered what on earth it meant. Surely being a parent is sleep pressure enough right?!

 

Well... sleep pressure is actually an unconscious biological response that makes us want to go to sleep. Without enough sleep pressure, we (adults and babies alike) won't be able to settle easily or sleep for long. Sounds simple, but there are many factors that affect sleep pressure and we'll explore them in this article.

 

One of the big ones is the light and dark. This is a key body clock trigger. You yourself will know how hard it is to nap in a bright room!

 

It's no different for babies.

 

Our bodies are programmed in specific ways and we fight sleep in a bright room because the sleep pressure is really low in the daylight, due to the hormone responsible for sleep (melatonin) only being released in the dark. This is why we regularly recommend a dark room for your baby's daytime naps; to inject some sleep pressure into the equation. This is also why many hotels have blackout blinds - for those weary jet lagged travellers who need to catch up on some sleep while it's still daylight. Hotels understand that the dark is a key element of sleep pressure!

 

Sleep pressure is also determined by how tired we are. If we're not tired enough to go to sleep, we simply won't!

 

It's no different for babies.

 

If a baby's awake windows aren't spot on for their age or if they've already had too much sleep that day, the sleep pressure won't be great enough to help them drift off. We see this all the time where babies are being offered a nap too early in their awake window and are fighting sleep as a result or when babies have a really long morning nap for example, and then aren't tired enough for more than a quick catnap later in the day (which leads to overtiredness come bedtime that night). If a baby has had a tonne of sleep already during the day, they will really fight going to bed that night. The sleep pressure simply isn't great enough because they're not tired enough.

 

A good example of this is that first nap of the day. This nap is usually always the easiest to get as the sleep pressure is still quite high from the night. This is why many people give their babies a long morning nap; because its the easiest one! As the day goes on, sleep pressure diminishes substantially, which is why naps later on in the day can be a real struggle, especially if your baby isn't quite tired enough from that longer morning sleep.
We always advise a shorter morning nap, rather than a longer one, for this reason. A shorter nap first thing helps maintain an element of sleep pressure throughout the rest of the day, so your baby will be more likely to settle well and nap for longer at their consequent naps and then not be too overtired come bedtime.

 

The environment we sleep in also creates sleep pressure. You and I wouldn't be able to fall asleep in a highly stimulating room where there are tonnes of distractions or where we can hear lots of stimulating noises would we (think aeroplane...)?

 

It's no different for babies.

 

Turn off those brightly coloured musical mobiles and encourage sleep pressure by doing things in a baby's sleep environment like ensuring it is nice and dark, playing loud white noise to help them zone out, removing night lights or other stimulating toys and features. The more sleep-inducing the environment, the more sleep pressure is being created.

 

We can help create some sleep pressure for your baby by ensuring your baby's naps are happening at the best biological times and for the optimum lengths for their age and provide you with the ideal conditions for sleep through our comprehensive, thoroughly researched Sleep Programs.

 

CLICK HERE to download your FREE Better Baby Sleep e-book!

 

And if you liked this article, make sure you read NAPS: the art (and importance) of good day sleeps and Up with the larks: tackling early waking for more baby sleep advice!