Sleep Cycles In babies explained

By Kaleigh MacDonald-Tremblay

January 2, 2019

I am a mom of two beautiful children, Adelia and Alister and two dogs Audrey Hepburn and Kevin Bacon. My husband and our children live in Hammonds Plains, NS and my Mama Coach Territory is Halifax.

Sleep. Something that as adults, we end our days with, usually quite easily, every day of our life. Then, you have your first child and for some reason, sleep starts to mystify us entirely. There is a reason for this and that reason is because infant sleep looks completely different than adult sleep. Not only is there a reason but there is a good reason. Think about the first year of a child’s development. Think about the amount of learning a child does in that year. Learning to eat and drink, roll and crawl, make noise and speak, sit and stand, toddle and walk. Learning to be alive. That’s a lot of work and it all needs to be consolidated to mind and memory. Any idea when that happens? If you said sleep, you would be correct.

Benefits of Sleep

As adults we often look at sleep as a want but not always as a necessity. But, for adults and infants alike, sleep is needed for so many things. Science tells us that sleep plays a key role in brain development, memory consolidation, and stimulates regions in the brain responsible for learning.

As a Mama Coach, I am extremely passionate about sleep. And as a mom I understand from experience how lack of sleep can be detrimental to enjoying motherhood. Because of this, I am committed to helping families find sleep solutions that work for them.  One way I can help is to explain the sleep cycle of babies to provide a better understanding of how to put your baby to sleep.

A Newborn’s Sleep Cycle

During pregnancy, fetuses receive physiological sleep cues from their mother. The hormone melatonin is also passed to the fetus through the placenta thus increasing the need to sleep during their time in the womb. At birth a baby then becomes responsible for their own melatonin production and circadian rhythm, which can take some time to develop.

Newborns, unlike adults or older children, have only two stages of sleep, they are referred to as active sleep and quiet sleep. An infant will usually spend 25 minutes in each stage. That means that an entire sleep cycle for a newborn is approximately 50 minutes. 

Active sleep is REM-like sleep, which is the lightest stage of sleep. An infant spends about 50% of their sleep time in this stage which differs from adults who spend about 20% of their night in REM. Therefore, an infant spends way more time than an adult in a light sleep. During this stage you may notice your baby moves their legs and arms, grunts, fusses and may even cry. If you have ever struggled to put your newborn to sleep at night, it may be attributed to the fact that infants enter sleep through this stage.

Quiet sleep is the second stage of sleep in newborns. During this stage an infant will be still and harder to rouse.

Newborns will go back and forth between these two stages until around six months of age, when sleep stages start to transform to more “adult-like” sleep. Once this happens a baby will begin transitioning through the four stages of sleep. This also means that they will no longer enter sleep through REM so you may notice that they begin to have longer stretches of sleep during the first part of the night. Despite the fact that babies begin to transition through the 4 cycles of sleep around this time, sleep can still look different from that of an adult until around school age.

Because of the nature of REM sleep, infants and children usually wake around 4-5 times per night and this can look different for each child. As a Mama Coach, I am committed to helping your family find sleep solutions that work for you. For a child to develop healthy sleep habits there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration. During a consultation with a Mama Coach you will find that we look at the entire picture and this includes doing a full assessment on your child. If you are looking for help with your child’s sleep, reach out to a Mama Coach in your area. 

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