Could science be on the edge of a breakthrough discovery about your toddler?

Researchers of a recent study found a significant drop in REM sleep occurring in children at around 2.4 years of age. Although it’s not yet known why REM sleep exists in the first place this study could be an important step towards a new discovery. Non-REM sleep is assumed to be the sleep phase where our brains essentially tidy up, meanwhile no definitive reason has been found for REM sleep although we think it has to do with the brain reorganising information. 

The study found that between two and three years of age children are going through a sleep developmental stage that causes this sudden drop in overall REM sleep time. Although they tried to see if the same drop ocurrs in other mammals nothing noteworthy has been found. Regardless this new data could tell us something interesting about humans and sleep and importantly, the purpose of REM. 

Meanwhile it’s interesting to me (and I’m sure other parents) that the “terrible twos” appear to line up with this developmental stage in our children’s sleep. Like many baby stages before it, the toddler period clearly shows some changes that we, as parents, need to pivot for yet again. I wonder if as the reason for this phenomenon becomes clear we might simultaneously discover more information about the way our two and three year olds are experiencing the world and how their sleep might be improved during this period. 

Of course good things take time and the answer isn’t there yet so while we’re waiting here’s what science can already tell us about your two year old’s sleep needs:

  • Over 24 hours (a day) a two year old needs 12 hours total of sleep, a three year old needs 11.
  • After three years old you’re heading towards phasing out day time naps, if your child is resisting bedtime removing naps might be your answer.
  • Routine, routine, routine. By now your child has entrained their system to become reliant on their routine. Maintaining more or less consistent wake, eat, play and sleep times daily will make that strong entrainment a positive thing
  • If your toddler is getting up too early, go into their room at their undesirable wake time and find the light, it’ll be somewhere, that’s what’s likely waking them up. Cover up the intruding light with a black out curtain or by removing any artificial lights and after a few days your child’s wake time should become more reasonable.