Why Do Babies Twitch In Their Sleep?

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Sleep Twitches in Babies Are Linked to Sensorimotor Development

When a baby twitches in her sleep, it is an amusing thing to watch. Those little jerks and spasms of the arms and legs, fingers and toes, eyes and eyelids, head, mouth, cheek, and brow are common sleeping twitches among babies. Why do you think babies twitch in their sleep?

A professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Iowa and research scientists have interesting answers to this question.

According to Professor Mark Blumberg and research scientist Greta Sokoloff, twitches among babies during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep are linked to sensorimotor development. This is better explained in the way that when the sleeping body twitches, it is actually activating circuits throughout the developing brain and teaching newborns about their limbs and what they can do with them.

In addition, researchers believe understanding early motor development and early sensorimotor development is key to understanding typical development. Furthermore, the study can provide clues to understanding such neurodevelopmental disorders as autism and schizophrenia.

Relationship Between Twitching and Skills that babies Are Developing

The research scientists have also found the link between sleep twitches and the motor skills displayed by babies while awake. To cite an example of this, the researchers found a link between infants’ neck twitches during sleep and their ability to support their heads while awake.

Once the infants are able to support their head while they are awake, the proportion of neck twitches to other types of twitches goes down,” Sokoloff says.

Sokoloff added, “We are looking for relationships like these where we can potentially use twitches to predict the onset of new motor skills and perhaps, in time, detect developmental problems.”

In addition, Blumberg cites they have observed another pattern: twitches in the distal limb like wrists and fingers occurring when babies are starting to display reaching behaviors.

Babies Twitch In Their Sleep.
A sleeping baby.

Who Are The Respondents?

The researchers recruited parents online to share observations of their children’s sleep twitches, as well as their physical activities while awake.

Aside from that, babies too are recruited to this study. The researchers have recruited infants between the ages of 2 weeks and 18 months whose parents are willing to bring them once a month to the lab to be videotaped while they sleep. The families are paid $30 per visit.

Thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the 12 months into an 18-month grant, the researchers were able to launch the study.

Share Your Observations With UI Researchers

If you have a child between the ages of two weeks and 18 months, you can take this questionnaire to share your observations of their sleep twitches and wake behaviors with UI researchers: www2.psychology.uiowa.edu/infant-sleep.

Mina Fabulous follows the news, especially what is going on in the US State Department. Mina turns State Department waffle into plain English. Mina Fabulous is the pen name of Carmen Avalino, the NewsBlaze production editor. When she isn’t preparing stories for NewsBlaze writers, she writes stories, but to separate her editing and writing identities, she uses the name given by her family and friends.