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Backup // REM Sleep Cycle of Your Baby

REM Sleep Cycle of Your Baby

Your baby may have your eyes or your lips, but when it comes to sleep, the two of you are quite dissimilar.

Sleep might seem rather simple to you, but there's a lot more to sleep than simply being "awake" and falling "asleep." Our newborn sleep cycle chart shows the 4 different sleep phases:

Stages of sleep

Rem Sleep Cycle Stage 1

The initial stage we're all familiar with where you can feel yourself drifting off to sleep, but don't really feel like you've fallen when your husband is going to sleep on the couch and you nudge him and he says, "I'M NOT SLEEPING!"

Rem Sleep Cycle Stage 2

Considered the first "true sleep" stage. This is where people tend to realize, once woken up, that they had actually gone to sleep.

Rem Sleep Cycle Stage 3

The deep and regenerative stage of sleep. Also known as "slow wave" sleep, this is where the body starts repairing and rejuvenating the immune system, muscle tissues, energy stores, and sparks growth and development.

Rem Sleep Cycle Stage 4

REM (rapid eye movement) cycle sleep. This is where the brain starts to kick in and consolidates information and memories from the day before. It's also the stage of sleep where we do most of our dreaming.


As you can see below, your own sleep looks much different from the newborn sleep cycle. You might be fast asleep from the moment your head hits the pillow, while it takes infants longer to drift into a deep sleep than it does for you.

Your baby will first enter a lengthy period of light sleep from which it is easy for him or her to awaken. 

Adult sleep cycle: how you sleep

Adult Sleep Cycle How You Sleep Through The Night Between REM and Deep Sleep

Second, though you both cycle between periods of deep sleep and shorter stints of light REM cycle sleep, your baby does so many more times throughout the night. For you, deep sleep can persist up to 90 minutes at a time. For your baby, it may not last an hour. Therefore, much of his or her sleep is comprised of light sleep, often accounting for more than half of their recommended 13-18 hours of shuteye.

When adults complete a sleep cycle and shift to the next cycle, we might briefly wake up or come close to waking up. The other difference between our cycles and baby's is that when we're shifting from one cycle to the next we might wake up, but we almost immediately fall back asleep. Think about how you’ll barely wake in the middle of the night and shift positions or open your eyes for a split second before falling right back to sleep.

Infants, however, will wake up during that shift and probably need your help to get back to sleep. This skill is learned, and until your baby can fall asleep independently, they won't be able to sleep through the night. The baby sleep chart below shows how your baby cycles through the stages of sleep much quicker than adults. 

Baby's sleep cycle: how your baby's sleep differs from yours


Newborns and adults have very different sleep cycles. So, how does your baby's sleep cycle work? Our newborn sleep cycle chart shows that newborns (babies 0-3 months old), only experience two of the four stages of sleep: stage 3 and stage 4, or REM, and spend about half of their time asleep in each stage.

As a newborn, you were most likely able to rock or nurse your baby to sleep, and then put her down without her waking.  This is because she jumps right into that deep sleep stage. Around 4 months old, your baby will start cycling through all 4 stages of sleep, instead of just two.

From the experts

“When this change takes place, our little one moves from 50% REM sleep to 25% in order to make room for those first two stages. Although REM sleep is light, it's not as light as these 2 new stages that they're getting used to. With more time spent in lighter sleep, there's more of a chance that baby's going to wake up."

Rachel Turner, Certified Sleep Consultant

As you can imagine, your baby’s sleep is most vulnerable when he or she is in light sleep. Any number of things can cause them to awaken, including hunger, a wet diaper, changes in temperature, an unfamiliar sound, or his or her own startle reflex or moro reflex. Of course, if all is well and your baby is comfortable, he or she might drift back into deep sleep within a few minutes.

A reassuring hand or your presence can always help them through this vulnerable period without waking. Learn more about how to tackle mid sleep arousals here. The Zen Swaddle blanket, that mimics your reassuring touch, will definitely help your baby go from one light sleep phase to the next without completely waking up.

Sweeter Sleep Story

“This swaddle is a sanity saver. I ordered it for my 2 month old daughter after trying traditional swaddles and sleep sacks and not being all that satisfied. Within days of using the Zen Swaddle she went from waking up every 2-3 hours to sleeping 6-8 at night. It's amazing!"

- Tasha K., 4/20/2018

Read more reviews  


Zen Swaddle®: Helping your baby sleep better and
longer in 1 to 3 nights

Shop Zen Swaddles

While the transition between sleep phases can lead to a harrowing night, this light REM sleep is essential for physiological development, physical well-being and safety. It has even been linked to increased blood flow to the brain, learning and height. Therefore, uninterrupted REM sleep has many benefits.

Help your newborn sleep through the night

Newborns express their need to sleep by giving several cues; some fuss or cry while some might indicate with gestures such as rubbing their eyes. Experts say it is best to put babies to bed when they are drowsy but not asleep. That way they are more likely to fall asleep quickly and eventually learn how to get themselves to sleep. Newborns can be taught the difference between day and night by limiting the activity levels, surrounding light and noise levels as night time approaches.


Some tips to help your baby sleep are as follows:

• Observe your baby's sleep patterns and signs of sleepiness
• Place your baby in the crib when drowsy not sleepy
• Place baby to sleep on his or her back in your favorite swaddle blanket or wearable sleeping bag
• To ensure a safe sleep environment for your baby remove loose blankets or soft items near baby's face or head
• Add white noise to help your baby fall asleep to familiar sounds in the womb

Still having trouble getting you little one to sleep? Here are 7 Actionable Steps to Better Sleep for Your Baby.


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