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Your child’s growth and well-being depend on sleep quality, and providing a peaceful sleep environment is essential.

Decoding Your Infant’s Sleep Cycle

Decoding Your Infant’s Sleep Cycle

Knowing about your baby’s sleep cycle and the different stages of sleep can help you understand their growth and development. 

Let’s begin with some basics here: what is a sleep cycle? A sleep cycle comprises an individual’s active and quiet sleep patterns. In adults, the sleep duration, on average, shall consist of 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. 

A newborn’s sleep cycle is divided into two parts: 

  • REM, which is Active Sleep
  • NREM, which is Quiet or Deep Sleep

In the first few weeks of life, the infant’s sleep patterns are equally combined with these two sleep stages. As they age, their sleep cycle will become more like an adult’s, consisting more of NREM sleep.

Now, you may question why it is essential to know your baby’s sleep pattern, either active or quiet sleep. Well, if you’re a new parent, you must have found that at times when your little baby wakes up from sleep, they are irritated and fussy; that can be due to the lack of sleep. 

Your child’s growth and well-being depend on sleep quality, and providing a peaceful sleep environment is essential. In this blog, let’s learn more about sleep stages in newborns and how changes appear in their sleep cycle.

Difference between Adult and Infant Sleep Cycle

The sleep patterns in adults are quite different from that of infants. As said before, adults sleep 7 hours in 24 hours on average. Meanwhile, infants require 18 hours of sleep in a day, which gets divided. A baby’s sleep cycle lasts 40 minutes, so a baby waking every hour will be more common.

Newborns do not have a circadian rhythm and sleep around the clock. By six months, they develop a circadian rhythm and sleep 13 hours daily.

A baby’s sleep pattern is unique in the first few weeks, and your little one will be sleeping for more than 20 hours a day, waking up in intervals of three hours. Therefore, a baby waking every hour wouldn’t be so uncommon at this age.

The significant difference between your little one and adults is REM and NREM. For adults, the NREM, which is the quiet sleep, is more common. The breathing gets deep and happens conventionally through the night for extended periods.

On the contrary, REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is common in newborns. They are light sleepers, and it’s relatively easy to wake your little one during this REM sleep.

The REM sleep is vital for:

  • Development of brain
  • To form memory 

Mostly, babies go through REM and tend to become still, with regular and deep breathing. In this sleep pattern, you’ll also notice babies make a lot of noise during lighter REM, like wiggling of toes, fingers, eyelid flicker, and even sometimes kicking.

As they grow older, they will go from less active sleep to deeper sleep. 

Stages of Sleep Cycle in a Baby

There are five stages of sleep that your baby will experience during a sleep cycle.

  • Stage 1- Drift or drowsiness, where you will notice, your baby is starting to doze off.
  • Stage 2- The REM begins. If you notice, your little one would be twitching, flickering, or moving their eyes under closed eyelids more in this phase. You may also find them kicking and opening their eyes. At this stage, the brain is at its peak of activity.
  • Stage 3- This is where your baby’s breathing is regular, and there is less active sleep.
  • Stage 4- Finally, your little one will reach the NREM stage, where you will notice them sleeping through even noise.

The Sleep Cycle Length by Age 

By now, we are able to understand that as your little one grows, their sleep cycle will also change. The most visible change you can see during 2 - 12 months of age is the decrease in daytime sleep. You will notice other changes like them having longer wake periods and sleeping longer through the night.

Let’s go through each period of growth and get a proper grasp of your little one’s sleep cycle at different times of the year.

From Birth to 3 Months

You know that your little one requires sleep for more than 14-20 hours a day. The sleep cycle lasts for nearly 50-60 minutes as they are in active sleep. This sleep pattern is also affected by hunger as they wake up and need to be fed.

After birth, your newborn has a stomach size of a marble, and in just ten days, their stomach size 

increases to that of a golf ball. 

The amount and types of food a baby needs vary depending on their metabolism, stomach size, and brain development. By 2-3 months, they develop night and day sleep patterns.

From 3 to 6 Months 

This is when your baby develops a day and night sleep pattern influenced by light and dark. They have less active sleep between 3 and 6 months, and the sleep length reduces to 12 to 15 hours.

There might be a few naps during the day, each lasting up to 2 hours. Some babies are able to sleep up to 8 hours a night, while others are not.

From 6 to 12 Months

Babies tend to sleep less with growing age. By this time, your baby will sleep for 11-14 hours daily. 

Usually, they sleep all night long and might not wake up during the night, but it won’t necessarily be the same for all. Some babies wake up 3-4 times and may require their adults to settle them. However, most babies at this age are ready for bed by 6 p.m. or 10 p.m.

Babies generally fall asleep within 40 minutes, but it could be longer for some. In addition, babies at this age tend to nap 3 or 4 times during the day.

During this age, your child will be going through developments that can affect their sleep patterns like:

  • Physical development, like crawling
  • The emotional development, like being able to manage separation anxiety
  • The social development

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How do you soothe your baby between sleep cycles?

Knowing your baby’s sleep cycle will help you soothe them quicker. For instance, babies often open their eyes, move around, and make noises during REM sleep. You may think they are waking up, but they are not. So, try soothing them during such times, and they will doze off sooner than you realize.

2. How do I make sure that my baby gets enough sleep?

Ensure your baby has a bedtime routine, a quiet, dark room, and a comfortable bed. Avoid overstimulating your baby before bed and wake them at a similar period each day.                 

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