Here’s a scenario just about every parent on the planet has experienced: You have, through arguably Herculean effort, mixed in with the patience of Job, finally managed to get your fussy little bundle of joy to fall peacefully asleep in your arms. It’s taken what seems like hours of rocking, singing, feeding, burping, and otherwise tending to her needs before those eyes finally closed and she’s nodded off to sleep. Thinking you are home free, and can now take a nap yourself (or get caught up on housework), you gently lay the baby down in her crib, only to have her eyes immediately pop open. Giving you a look like you’ve somehow betrayed her, she starts to cry again, and you start over, from square one, it seems, to put her back to sleep….again.
Failing to recognize the difference s between light sleep and heavy sleep, and how to deal with each, is one of the major mistakes parents make with their babies. Fortunately, it’s also one of the easiest to correct. In the situation above, the baby probably needed another ten to fifteen minutes before she would have been sleeping hard enough to lie down without waking her up.
Everybody has heavy and light sleep cycles. During light sleep cycles, we move about to get more comfortable, dream, make noises, and otherwise try to soothe ourselves back to heavy sleep. Or, we wake up. Usually, when an adult wakens during light sleep, she will fall back to sleep so quickly that she will not even remember having wakened.
Babies, on the other hand, spend almost twice as much time, percentage wise, in light sleep than adults do. About half of all baby’s sleep is light sleep. You can recognize light sleep in several ways. As with an adult, a baby in light sleep might move about or make noises. She may make facial expressions or suckling movements with her mouth.
When your baby is in a period of light sleep, try not to move her. If you are holding her, keep her in your arms until she falls into a deep sleep. If she is lying in the crib, leave her there. Even if she is in a car seat, it’s best to let her lie there until she falls into a deeper sleep. While baby is lightly sleeping, you can talk softly or sing to her, rub her back, or otherwise soothe her.
You will recognize deep sleep because baby will stop moving about and making noises. Her body will relax, the muscles losing all their tension. This is the time to try laying baby down, taking a nap for yourself, or getting something else done because during deep sleep, your baby will sleep through most normal household noise.