How is my baby’s sleep organized? Will baby sleep tonight? Will he wake up tonight? Is baby afraid of the dark? Questions that many parents may ask. If you understand your baby’s rhythm you’ll have a better understanding of why baby wakes up and be able to give help as he changes.
Sleep is essential for your newborn baby; it’s necessary for growth and the development of the brain and also for recovering all the energy spent during the day.
However, each baby’s rhythm is different!
At the beginning of your newborn’s life, he or she sleeps a lot, on average 16 hours a day. Some babies can even sleep 20 hours a day. For your baby, there is almost no difference between day and night.
During the first few weeks of life, your baby sleeps in 3-4 hour periods interrupted by wakefulness. These awakenings coincide with feeding periods followed by a small phase when awake and generally very quiet. This is when interactions with parents often begin, with lots of those first smiles. Babies’ rhythms are described as “ultradian”, meaning that they wake up several times a day regardless of the day/night rhythm. It takes a month for the baby’s body clock to gradually adjust to the 24-hour rhythm.
The pattern of sleep cycles varies very greatly according to age, and also according to the needs and characteristics of each individual. Precise sleep cycles can be observed, in several stages. Between cycles, your child spends periods awake.
When your baby is very young, there is a very short period awake in each cycle change, usually after 50 minutes of sleep. It is very important how you handle this phase (where your baby may make little noises, move about, have the eyelids half open). If you can resist taking your baby too quickly in your arms during this “awakening from between 2 cycles”, your baby will naturally start a new sleep cycle and later, and will more easily go back to sleep alone. These very short periods awake are normal. Cycles lengthen as your baby grows.
From birth to 2 months, sleep cycles are short, about 50 minutes, and in only two stages, restless sleep and calm sleep.
As baby grows, from 2 to 6 months, sleep periods become a little longer. Cycles shorten slightly and remain short (about 60 minutes). As in the older child and the adult, there are 3 stages: a phase of light slow sleep, followed by a phase of deep slow sleep and then another of restless or paradoxical sleep. Between cycles, your baby will always be awake for a short time.
For the child to settle down to quality sleep, it’s important not to come in between 2 cycles. The baby may be moving about then, making noises and seem awake. The child will go back to sleep again on his own, into what we call the second cycle of the little slumber train.
Follow the cycles
1st TRAIN 2nd TRAIN
Going to sleep
Light deep sleep
From 2 to 6-9 months
The child goes to bed
First he has dreams, then goes into deep sleep
A phase awake, which may mast 2-3 minutes, before getting on the train again
Finally, from 6 months to 1 year, the child’s sleep periods will be even longer. The child will need to eat less often and will gradually learn to sleep through the night.
Each stage of sleep has its own characteristics. During the slow or calm sleep phase, your baby is motionless and calm with eyes closed. This phase is important because it is when growth hormones are secreted and baby grows! It is quite different during the phases of restless or paradoxical sleep. Then, your baby moves, blinks, fidgets and sometimes smiles angelically. Your baby is fast asleep, but this is an equally important stage of sleep during which brain activity is intense. Baby’s brain is building! This is also one of the reasons why it is important not to interrupt your baby by being too hasty to cuddle him.
In conclusion, as you’ll have understood, it is up to you to carefully observe your baby so as to understand what sleep cycle baby is in and let him settle in. Every child has its own sleep cycle, and there are both good “big” and “little” sleepers. It’s up to you!