Sleep pressure comes up a lot in my conversation with the clients I work with and I imagine you might have heard it mentioned and wondered what on earth it means. Oftentimes the first time I mention it to a new client I get a questioning look, and I don’t blame you. This would have been me before I became a sleep consultant!
What is sleep pressure?
In a nutshell, without enough sleep pressure, we won’t be able to fall asleep long or be able to go to sleep as easily. This means that it is a biological response that causes our bodies to fall asleep. Your sleep pressure builds the longer you are awake and releases while you sleep. As a general rule, it is at its highest at night (though babies and toddlers have periods during the day when their sleep pressure increases too).
What influences sleep pressure?
One of the biggest things that influences sleep pressure is our environment. Highly stimulating environments make it harder to fall asleep – imagine how hard it is to fall asleep in a brightly lit room with too much activity. It is almost impossible past the newborn stage.
This is why I always suggest parents prioritize an environment conducive to sleep. This includes using blackout blinds to producing an incredibly dark environment and a sound machine to block out noises that can distract or prematurely wake you up.
The second biggest thing that influences it is how tired you are. In babies and toddlers sleep pressure is a lot stronger and builds quicker – hence why they nap. They are building up pressure to sleep over a shorter period of time. This is why having a sleep schedule is so important – times your baby will go to sleep consistently for naps and at bedtime so that you are making use of their sleep pressure. This is also why it can be okay to wake a sleeping baby from a nap – if keeping them asleep will cause them to not have enough sleep pressure at their next nap time. Alternatively, if your child accidentally dozes off for a few minutes in the car as you try to get them home for naptime they will have caused their sleep pressure to wear off a bit.
I hope this helps you understand what sleep pressure is, and what you can do to harness your little one’s pressure to sleep to ensure they sleep well in a 24-hour period. My biggest advice to you is that you make sure their circadian rhythm timing and sleep pressure marry up so that they will be primed and ready to fall asleep when they need to.
If you need help with your child or baby’s sleep, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a get-acquainted call to discuss how Little Big Dreamers can help you or head straight over and check out our packages. Happy sleeping!