If you’re a new parent, you might not have realized before now just how much babies sleep, or how sporadic that sleep is. It’s ironic that we use the term “sleeping like a baby,” because as new parents know, babies don’t really sleep all that well. They may sleep soundly, but the don’t sleep for long.
To understand a little bit about baby sleep, you need to understand a little bit about how people sleep in general. As adults, after you dress for bed, you relax before going to sleep through any number of rituals. For some folks, it’s reading a chapter of a book. For others, it’s listening to some jazz or watching TV. For couples who probably don’t have a newborn in then house, it might even be having sex.
As you drift off to sleep, the higher centers of your brain start to rest. This lets you enter the deep sleep stage that experts call “non-REM sleep,” “deep sleep,” or even “quiet sleep.” During this stage of sleep, your mind and your body are getting the most rest. Your body will be still, your breathing will be shallow and your muscles will be loose.
After you’ve been in this kind of sleep for about 90 minutes or so, your brain kicks into gear. It starts working, which will bring you up out of that deeper sleep and put you into a stage of sleep that’s known as REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. It’s called REM sleep, of course, because your eyes will move around underneath your eyelids as you sleep. This is the stage of sleep that you dream, turn over and may even wake up to go to the bathroom.
Your sleep cycles between deep and REM sleep throughout the night. As you grew and developed, you learned to put yourself back to sleep during those lighter sleep stages. That’s something your baby hasn’t yet learned to do.