Understanding Newborn Sleep

Understanding Newborn Sleep

Understanding how a baby's sleep changes as they get older is really important for helping them grow and learn better. Babies are always growing and developing, and sleep is super important for this. When they sleep, they can get better at things like remembering stuff, talking, and using their muscles. Research shows that sleep is good for both babies and adults.

Newborn Sleep

Adults experience different stages of sleep in repeating cycles. These stages fall into two main categories: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. NREM sleep has three parts: N1 (light sleep), N2 (deeper sleep), and N3 (deep sleep or slow-wave sleep). REM sleep involves vivid dreaming and quick eye movements. The sleep cycle typically repeats every 90-110 minutes.

Newborns, on the other hand, go through two stages: quiet sleep and active sleep, with about half of their sleep time spent in each stage (we'll discuss this more later).

What to Expect With Newborn Sleep

Newborns have a unique way of sleeping that's different from older kids and grown-ups. Let's look at some important things to know about how newborns sleep:

Sleep Duration: Newborns really need a lot of sleep, usually between 14 to 17 hours a day, sometimes even more. But here's the thing: they don't sleep for long hours in a row like adults do. Instead, they take short naps throughout the day and night.

Sleep Patterns: Newborns have sleep cycles that are shorter than those of older people. They switch between quiet sleep and active sleep. Their sleep cycles typically go on for about 45 minutes, which is much shorter than the 90 to 120 minute cycles seen in adults.

  • Active Sleep: A big part of newborns' sleep is spent in active sleep, which is also known as REM sleep. REM sleep plays a vital role in brain growth, learning, and memory strengthening. During this time, babies often move, wiggle, and make grunting sounds, and their eyes might even be open. This sometimes tricks parents into thinking their baby is awake or hungry when, in reality, the baby is simply in active sleep.
  • Quiet Sleep: This stage of sleep, known as deep sleep, is more rejuvenating compared to active sleep. It's marked by slow and steady breathing, minimal body movement, and no rapid eye movements. Deep sleep is crucial for the physical recovery and growth of newborns.

Sleep Wake Cycles: Newborns don't yet have a fully developed body clock called the circadian rhythm, which helps control when we sleep and wake up based on light and darkness. Instead, their sleep and wake times are mainly influenced by their hunger, discomfort, and the need to be fed. This means they often have unpredictable sleep schedules and wake up frequently both during the day and night.

Nighttime Wakefulness: Newborns often wake up during the night because they're hungry, need a nappy change, or seek comfort. They might find it challenging to soothe themselves and go back to sleep on their own. However, as they get older, their sleep gradually becomes more stable, and they start sleeping for longer stretches at night.

Do Newborns Need a Consistent Bedtime Routine?

Yes they do! A common mistake that parents make is neglecting a consistent bedtime routine for their newborns. At around 8 to 12 weeks of age, babies start to recognise routine. 

Creating a consistent bedtime routine helps a baby understand that it's time to sleep at night, getting their body ready for rest. It doesn't need to be elaborate or involve many steps. It can be as straightforward as giving them a warm bath, putting on pyjamas, feeding or burping them, singing a lullaby, using a sound machine, swaddling if necessary, and then placing them down to sleep.

Can Newborns Sleep Through the Night?

Newborns typically do not sleep through the night in the same way that older children or adults do. Newborns have small stomachs and fast metabolisms, so they need to feed frequently, often every 2-3 hours, even during the night. These nighttime feedings are essential for their growth and nourishment.

It's important to understand that newborns have different sleep patterns compared to older individuals. They tend to sleep in short bursts and wake up for feeding, nappy changes, or comfort. As they grow and their stomach capacity increases, they may gradually start to sleep for longer stretches at night. However, it's common for newborns to have irregular sleep patterns and to wake up frequently during the first few months of life.

Every baby is unique, and sleep patterns can vary from one newborn to another. Some newborns might sleep for longer stretches at night sooner than others, while others may continue waking frequently. It's essential to respond to your baby's needs during this stage and be patient as their sleep patterns mature over time. If you have concerns about your baby's sleep, it's a good idea to discuss them with a pediatrician or healthcare provider.

However, there are ways in laying down a solid sleep foundation from an early age. See my “5 Essential Tips for Better Newborn Sleep” blog.

If you need more information on Newborn Sleep and how to lay a solid sleep foundation for your little one, I have Sleep Guides available for you from Newborn to 24 months of age. These Sleep Guides everything you need to know about baby & toddler sleep and provides you with research-based knowledge and age-appropriate strategies to help not only your little one, but the whole family, have restful nights.

If you’re wanting 1:1 support, I also have packages available for you. Individual babies have unique sleep patterns and needs, and what works for one may not work for another. My 1:1 support will help you in choosing a responsive method that sits comfortably with you and best suits your bub and their temperament. These packages are for 5 months to 4 years old. To book, click here 

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