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. After the age of about two or three months, babies slowly start adopting your adult sleep cycle, which looks a little bit like this:
Awake. 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. 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.
Dozing. This is the sort of sleep you have when you nod off briefly in front of the TV. In adults, it tends to last five minutes in every sleep cycle. Babies struggle to get used to this – and if they are going to wake, it’ll probably be during this stage.
Light sleep. You’ll spend half your night in light sleep. In this stage, you’re properly asleep. But it’s another stage babies are still practising.
Deep sleep. Think full snores and serious grogginess if you’re woken. In each sleep cycle, you get about half an hour of deep sleep. It’s 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.
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.
From about two to three 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 two months, babies are still practising stages two and three. Instead of the classic five-stage adult sleep cycle, babies 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 twitch 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 50-60 minutes – and usually they’ll have a period of waking 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.
The alertness cycle?
By the way, you might have heard of the 90-minute sleep cycle baby program, created by the baby sleep guru, Polly Moore.
The sleep cycle apart, she reckons babies have a 90-minute alertness cycle – meaning their little brains can only handle being awake for about 90 minutes at a time.
After that, they might need to be encouraged to go back to sleep. It’s a handy thing to bear in mind, because when babies get a good amount of nap time, it can help their sleep during the night.
When should you start a sleep schedule for baby?
At about the age of two months, baby will usually be ready for a sleep schedule (before this, everything’s a bit random). From this age on, their sleep cycle will likely be a little more predictable, with a more reliable bedtime and wake time.
See how things go. Every baby is different, but, very roughly, a two-month sleep schedule could look a little like:
Wake up: Sometime around seven is a decent bet. But every baby does their own thing. 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.
Naps: There’s room for about two to three naps a day at this point, although this will differ from little one to little one. Remember, 90 minutes of waking might be followed by a small snooze as baby gets a little less alert.
Bedtime: Night sleep can start at around 10. 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 14 hours. But it depends.
And then, just when it was going all so well: sleep regression. This moment when the sleep cycle goes all up in the air again happens somewhere between three and four months, when baby has a growth spurt and discovers they can roll over. 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 signs of sleep-readiness. 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:
Managing The 4-Month Sleep Regression: Your Expert Guide
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?
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