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 asleep...like 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
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 to sleep (unless affected by sleep disorders).
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 asleep again.
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 back to sleep independently, they won't be able to sleep through the night.
Though these times can vary due to factors like sleep disorders, this 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.
These are also known as active sleep and quiet sleep - this is because your baby may be more physically active during the former, and more still during the latter.
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 non-REM sleep 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 fall asleep again within a few minutes.
A reassuring hand or your presence can always help them through this vulnerable period without waking. 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
Zen Swaddle®: Helping your baby sleep better and
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 fall asleep 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 and they need to drift off to sleep.
Some tips to help your baby go to 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.
Common questions about baby sleep cycles
What is the average REM cycle length of a baby's sleep?
Rapid eye movement REM sleep totals around half of a baby's sleep stages. A typical baby will sleep for around 16 hours a day spread out across the day and night, and 8 of those hours will be REM sleep. Sleep disorders could disrupt the amount of sleep that your baby receives each night.
Do babies experience non-REM sleep?
As your baby grows older, they will experience less rem sleep and will instead go through an increased amount of non REM sleep cycles. They will also begin to experience 3 stages of non rem sleep, instead of just one. This is all part of slowly transitioning into an adult sleep cycle.
When do babies go into REM sleep?
Babies will experience active sleep first before experiencing REM sleep, which will occur at around 8 months of age. As they get older, babies will experience less REM sleep.
How long is a newborn sleep cycle?
Newborns sleep through active and quiet sleep in cycles that last about 50-60 minutes. Newborns will usually sleep in bursts of 2-3 hours throughout the day. Each sleep cycle will last about 4o minutes so, a baby will experience around 3 cycles in each burst of sleep.
How can I help my baby transition from sleep cycles?
To help your baby transition from sleep patterns, give them lots of affection by patting their backs and sushing them. Ensure that the majority of their feeds are being given during the day and encourage them to empty the breast so that they feel full (if breastfed).
At what age do baby sleep cycles connect?
By six months old, babies begin to link sleep cycles. But the process may start earlier: By three months, babies develop night and day sleep patterns, and they tend to start to sleep more during the night. Babies usually sleep for 12-15 hours every 24 hours. At 3-6 months, babies might start moving towards sleep patterns of 2-3 daytime sleeps of up to two hours each.
When do baby sleep cycles lengthen?
Most babies begin to approximate more adult sleep patterns between three months and one year of age. During this time of life, babies begin to sleep for longer periods during the night and shorter periods during the day.
When do babies start to sleep longer than 3 hours?
By four months, most babies’ sleep cycles start to lengthen, and they may begin to show a preference for longer sleep at night. By six months, some babies may begin to ‘sleep through the night’—meaning that they may go for five to six hours or more without waking up to feed.
Other Sleep Resources
Healthychildren.Org: Swaddling: Is it Safe?
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