First-time parent and long-time industrial designer Andrew Elliot created this stunning visualization from six-months’ worth of his daughter’s sleeping habits.
The graph had huge success on Reddit, and it’s easy to see why — it looks awesome. But it’s also a very good representation of what scientists know about sleep cycles in infants. Elliot built this chart to help him better keep track of his daughter’s sleeping patterns — which might sound easy now, while you’re sitting comfortably in your office chair pretending to be productive. It is however anything but that when you’re a parent.
“I was recording her sleeping times because as a first-time parent I thought I would do whatever it took to keep her alive (so far so good),” Elliot wrote (she’s now two years old).
“When you’re a new, sleep-deprived parent, it’s hard to notice changes in patterns like this, but the visualizations make it very clear.”
So here’s how to read the chart. Elliot used a circle because it best represents the thing we associate with time — a clock. Each concentric circle represents a 24-hour period with midnight centered at the top. The chart starts with day 1 in the middle.
Waking hours are marked in tan. Periods of sleep and inactivity are blue.
Her first days were spent mostly sleeping, as most newborns do. They usually clock in about 18 hours of sleep a day, in several bouts. As they grow, sleep occurs less frequently but in longer intervals at a time. One nap during the day and a long sleep at night is common by the time they’re toddlers — this is less sleep overall, but better consolidated.
One month into it
The first month-ish period in the middle of the graphic is a hectic mix of tan and blue. The sleep patterns are erratic here because newborn babies don’t have a fully mature circadian clock, or sleep-wake cycle. Usually, this fully develops when the child is around four months old. It’s the bane of all fresh parents‘ sleep time, and the bout of many a sit-comm.
“I especially like the flip in the early months where she mostly slept through the day and (was) awake at night,” Elliot wrote.
“It was terrible going through that stage. I didn’t know whether my mind was over-exaggerating it, but when seeing it here it is clear.”
Elliot’s daughter suffered from acid reflux when she was very young, so she could not lie on her back to sleep. He and his wife took turns holding the baby upright on their chest so she could sleep. She thus got most of her rest during the day while they were awake — which is the reason the chart is tan-heavy on the top during that period.
For Elliot, the his daughter’s early days at home were especially challenging. She suffered from acid reflux when was really young, which meant she could not lie on her back when sleeping. Elliot and his wife took turns holding her upright on their chest to let her sleep. Therefore, she got most of her rest during the day while they were awake.
“We were prescribed some medication to give her for the reflux and this started to clear it up within a few days and that is where her sleeping patterns suddenly settled out into a more logical and consistent pattern,” he says.
So is this chart representative of all babies? To an extent yes, but it’s really hard to generalize starting from a sample of one. It does show, however, just how hard a time parents have until their child’s circadian rhythm settles into a more conventional mold.
Elliot now plans to carve the graphic into a piece of wood and use it as a clock-face to hang in his daughter’s room.