Understanding Baby’s Sleep Cycles

As an adult, you may not even be aware that you drift back and forth between light sleep and deep sleep. During periods of light sleep, you typically dream, and might move around a bit, trying to get more comfortable or warm. During periods of deep sleep, your body completely relaxes, your muscles go limp, and you are really “out”. It is normal to drift from light sleep to deep and back again several times during the night. Your baby’s sleep pattern is similar.

The difference, however, is that baby’s sleep patterns come in much shorter cycles. Whereas an adult may switch from light sleep to heavy sleep every hour and a half to two hours, infants’ sleep depth changes every fifty minutes or so. Additionally, many adults can fall immediately into a deep sleeping pattern, but infants generally need to be eased to sleep, going through at least fifteen to twenty minutes of light sleep before falling into deep sleep. Both adults and infants are easily awakened during periods of light sleep.

You have probably experienced this with your baby, whether you were aware of it or not. How many times have you rocked, fed, or otherwise comforted baby to sleep, only to have them wake up and start fussing again as soon as you lay them down or try to walk away? You’ve probably lost count. One of the reasons for this is that baby is still in a light, active sleeping cycle. Try spending another fifteen to twenty minutes rocking her until she has fallen into deep sleep.

It isn’t difficult to recognize your baby’s transition from light sleep to deep sleep. During light sleep, he will make facial expressions, those cute little frowns and smiles we all adore as our little angels drift off to sleep. He may also make noises. But when he drifts into deep sleep, his muscles will go limp and his facial expression won’t change and he’ll sleep quietly. If you wait to lay baby down until he has fallen into deep sleep, you will be more likely to get away for a little shut eye of your own without waking him up.