All About the Baby Sleep Cycle

All About the Baby Sleep Cycle

Want to try to make some sense of the baby sleep cycle?

Looking for some order where it simply doesn’t seem to exist?

Are you googling baby sleep as your little one wakes you up for the second, third, fourth time tonight?

Well, here we’ve got the basics to understand about your infant’s sleep cycle.

The first important point is it’s different from yours – as if you needed telling.

In this article: 📝

  • The sleep cycle
  • When should you start a sleep schedule for baby?
  • How do I get my baby to sleep through a sleep cycle?

The sleep cycle

As you might have heard before, there are five stages in the sleep cycle.

That’s the adult sleep cycle, which older babies may share.

But there are actually only four stages of the infant sleep cycle.

After the age of about two or three months, babies slowly start adopting your more mature sleep cycle, which looks a little bit like this:

  1. Wake.

You’re awake now – and sometimes through the night you’ll wake, roll over, and sleep again (or go and comfort a fussy baby).

This is stage one, and babies have this too.

The thing is that they’ll probably want to let you know when they’re awake – and that can be at any time during the night.

  1. Light sleep.

You’ll spend a good portion of your night in light sleep.

In this stage, you’re properly asleep - but still with an awareness of the world.

But it’s another stage babies are still practicing.

  1. Deep sleep.

Think full snores and serious grogginess if you’re woken.

This is the body’s restorative sleep, when you are very still and difficult to wake.

Babies are deep sleep pros from the get-go – they just might struggle in getting there.

But it helps to develop their immune system, heals bumps and bruises, and helps baby to grow.

  1. REM sleep.

The “most famous” sleep stage is when your brain is going all over the place with dreams.

For you, this is about 20% of your sleep.

For your newborn, REM sleep is about half their total sleep.

This is all about the brain, memory, neuropathways, and all that good learning!

This is where memories are sorted into short-term and long-term, where your child processes all they learn while awake.

From about 3-4 months, baby will start sleeping a little bit more like mama, as their sleep cycle slowly adjusts.

Before that, though, things look a little different.

The baby sleep cycle

Before the age of three months, babies are still practicing stages two and three.

Instead of the classic five-stage adult sleep cycle, newborns keep things simple.

Beside being awake, there are normally just two stages of a newborn sleep cycle:

  • Active sleep. That’s your newborn REM sleep. They’ll squirm a lot, their eyes will move, and their breathing might change pace. That’s all normal. In this stage, they’re easily disturbed. Active sleep makes up about half of the baby sleep cycle.

  • Quiet sleep. That’s the baby equivalent of deep sleep. They’re still and quiet. This makes up the other half of the sleep cycle.


How long is a baby’s sleep cycle?

The baby sleep cycle is about 40-55 minutes – and usually, they’ll have a period of stirring at the end of each cycle.

But (you’ll have noticed) this can be highly unpredictable.

Meanwhile, your adult sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes – or roughly from 70 to 120.

So, you and baby are not exactly in sync (and if you’ve just made it to deep sleep yourself, it can be particularly tough if baby decides right then to hit a waking moment).

Overall, babies want to sleep as much as 18 hours a day.

This’ll get shorter as they get older.

And, the good news: the baby sleep cycle will get a bit more predictable too.

When should you start a sleep schedule for baby?

You can try to start healthy rhythms right away.

It’s best to follow baby’s wake windows vs a schedule until baby is on one nap.

Once baby’s body clock is developed (around 10-12 weeks), then sleep can become more reliable.

From this age on, their sleep cycle will likely be a little more predictable, with a more reliable bedtime and wake time.

Every baby is different, but around 2-months and older, baby may be more accepting of a strict sleep routine.

Very roughly, a two-month sleep schedule could look a little like:

Wake up:

Sometime around seven is a decent bet.

Although every baby does their own thing, babies need their parents to facilitate their sleep rhythms for them.

Once baby has developed a body clock, it’s best to gently wake baby at the same time each morning.

Play it by ear and find a time that works for you both.

Here are some ideas for what to do if baby’s waking up too early.


There’s room for about four naps a day at this point, although this will differ from little one to little one.


Night sleep can start at around 8-10pm.

You may be able to get through the night with a solid block of sometimes five hours of sleep, as the baby sleep cycle stabilizes and they become less fussy when they wake.

Total sleep at two months?

Something around 12-16 hours.

But it depends.

And then, just when it was going all so well: sleep regression.

This happens somewhere between three and four months, when baby has a growth spurt and discovers they can roll over.

This is also the point where 2 more phases are added to baby’s sleep cycle.

Baby then often needs to learn how to navigate drowsiness and light sleep, which they struggle to do if they don’t know how to fall asleep without the help of a parent.

The regression messes with sleep for about a week if baby does know how to fall asleep without direct help, and lasts much longer if baby has yet to learn how to do that.

But they will settle again.


How do I get my baby to sleep through a sleep cycle?

Baby sleep is a difficult thing to manage. We feel ya.

But you can help get your baby through a sleep cycle by:

  • Recognizing your baby’s sleep cues.

When babies want to snooze, they yawn, rub their ears and eyes, and get cranky.

Putting baby down for 40 winks when you notice these signs can make sure their sleep cycle is trained.

  • Patting, shhhing, and calming.

The world can be a scary place – particularly for a newborn.

A bit of reassurance and calm, with lights low and everything quiet, can help baby resettle and drift off.

  • Ensuring they have fed fully during the day.

Babies can often wake up during the night because they’re hungry.

Making sure they’re full before they sleep can improve the chances that they’ll sleep the whole night through.

Knowledge is power, mama.

Now you know what’s going on, over to you. You’ve got this!

😴 You might also like:
When to Stop Using a Sleep Sack for Your Baby
Your Guide to Baby Sleep Regressions
What to Know About the 12 Month Sleep Regression
5 Things I Wish I Knew About Baby Sleep as a First Time Mama
Newborn Sleep Schedule: Patterns and Timings
Babies Waking Up Too Early: What to do
How Much Do Newborns Sleep? A Rough Guide
The Bedtime Routine: The Foundation for a Good Night’s Sleep
How Many Swaddles Do I Need?
When to Stop Swaddling
Is White Noise for a Baby Good?
How to Dress Baby For Sleep
How to Get Your Baby to Sleep in a Crib
When Do Kids Stop Taking Naps?
Bassinet vs Crib: What to Know
10 Best Baby Cribs of 2022
10 Best Baby’s Bassinets of 2022 Chosen By Real Moms
Can Babies Have Nightmares?
How to End Co-Sleeping: Your Quickfire Guide
What Do Babies Dream About?
When Can a Baby Sleep With a Blanket?
Can Babies Sleep on Their Stomach?
Can Newborns Sleep on Their Side?


Close accordion
Popular on the blog
Trending in our community