Everything You Need To Know About Baby Sleep Cycles

Everything You Need To Know About Baby Sleep Cycles

Navigating the world of newborn sleep can feel like uncharted territory for first-time parents, and it's no secret that your baby's sleep needs are quite different from those of an adult. Join us as we delve deeper into your baby's sleep patterns.

How much will my baby sleep?

Your baby can sleep up to around 16 hours within a 24-hour period. This won't occur in one consecutive stretch, as your little one will need to wake for feedings. Particularly during their first three months, their cycle will consist of sporadic sleep-wake periods throughout the day and night. The length of these periods depends on the baby, but often looks like a couple of hours at a time during the day and a few more at night.


What is a sleep cycle?

A sleep cycle refers to the natural internal process, or our circadian rhythm, that enables us to sleep and wake at routine intervals. Newborn babies spend approximately 50% of their sleep time in REM (Rapid Eye Movement), experiencing only two sleep stages: REM and non-rapid eye movement sleep. As newborns can sleep up to around 16 hours per day, they typically experience up to nine hours of REM every 24 hours. As babies grow, they gradually spend less time in the REM stage of sleep and begin to adapt to the same sleep stages as adults.

Our sleep cycles can be distinguished by the four different stages of sleep, which also apply to babies from around 3 months onwards:

Stage 1

This is the lightest stage of sleep, just as we begin to doze off. In your baby, this might look like startled movements and kicks, eyes moving beneath their lids, and irregular breathing or gurgling for a few minutes. While the instinct for many may be to comfort or soothe, it's important to simply observe. Familiarize yourself with your baby's natural sleep cues to avoid waking them as they nod off.

Stage 2

Following the initial fidgeting of the first stage, your baby will transition into a more mellow state. This stage signals a drop in temperature and heart rate, as the eyes stop moving and brain activity begins to slow. This new pattern is punctuated by short bursts of activity that help deepen the state of rest, meaning your baby is less likely to be woken by external stimuli.

Stage 3

In this stage, muscles begin to relax and breathing slows. Stage 3 is when the deepest sleep occurs, and is thought to be the most restorative stage of sleep for the immune system, growth, and recovery.


REM Sleep

The fourth and final stage, REM makes up roughly 20% of adult sleep. This is the stage during which our brain is at its most active, and when we're most likely to dream. The REM stage of sleep is thought to be essential to creativity, memory, and learning. It's also thought to play a vital role in brain development, which is why newborns and infants in particular spend so much of their sleep time in the REM stage.

Recognising sleep regressions

As your baby grows and learns to crawl, and develops an awareness of people and things that exist outside of their sight, they may find it more difficult to settle. They may even begin crying out for you more often, or develop separation anxiety. This natural change, often referred to as the 4-month sleep regression, usually occurs between 3 and 5 months. As your little one's sleep cycle transitions to closely match that of an adult’s (extending to 90 minutes), you may notice their sleep pattern becomes more erratic.


Understanding Your Baby's Sleep

A better understanding of your baby's sleep cycles and patterns can help you better support them as they adjust to the change. Ensure their sleep space is dark and quiet, with the exception of white noise sleep aids to encourage relaxation. The ideal room temperature for your baby to sleep in is between 60.8-68°F. Layer their sleepwear as needed, or use baby sleeping bags in varying togs to help regulate their temperature as they rest.

Allow time for frequent naps throughout the day to support their nighttime sleep and consider implementing a regular bedtime routine to help them wind down beforehand. This can include a bath, baby massage, and changing them into their sleepwear as lullabies or white noise play gently in the background for added ambience. By doing this, your baby can start developing sleep associations that will support them in dozing off into a restful night's sleep. Explore more helpful articles on Sleep Talk and find the peaceful moments when you need them most.