Babies, just like adults, go through periods of light and deep sleep. The major difference is that babies’ light sleep periods tend to come more frequently and last longer. Babies are also more prone to waking during light sleep periods, largely because they lack the ability to soothe themselves back to sleep on the level that adults can. Adults may briefly wake several times per night without even realizing it.
Babies, on the other hand, often have trouble sleeping through light sleep periods, largely because they are a lot more likely to have genuine needs at night than adults are. For example, newborn babies need to eat every two to four hours. Breastfed babies in particular need to eat often. Babies’ stomachs are very small, and their liquid diet digests very quickly. As babies grow, their stomachs are able to hold more (you’ll notice by the larger amounts of breast milk or formula she consumes). The best way to help babies sleep longer is to meet as many of their needs before they fall asleep as possible, including feeding, changing, and ensuring that they are warm enough without being overheated.
You can recognize a light sleep period in a baby because by the fact that he is moving about, making noises, gurgling, perhaps opening and closing his eyes, and making faces. If you know that your baby’s feeding needs have been met, and baby doesn’t need a diaper change, you can often help your baby fall back into a deeper sleep by gently rubbing her arms or legs and speaking or singing very softly. The familiarity of your voice will, in most cases, be very soothing to babies. One of the major things that causes babies to wake up from light sleep is the sudden realization that mom or dad is no longer there right beside them as they were when she fell asleep. Your voice assures your baby that you are right there, and may help her to drift back into a deep sleep.
Make sure that your baby is warm enough, but not too warm. If baby is too cold or too hot, he will wake up for certain. Generally speaking, babies should sleep with one more layer of clothing or covers than adults would use at the same temperature. If you make sure baby is comfortable, you are much more likely to help her fall back into that still, quiet sleep that babies so need and parents so adore.