Baby Sleep Cycles Change Over Time-No Really, They Do!

baby sleep cyclesAre your under-eye bags and dark circles bigger than your diaper bag? If this is the case, you must have a new born baby! When babies are born, their sleep cycles are not cued to the natural night and day cycle. It can take some time before your baby becomes adapted fully to having twenty-four hours in a day. Your tiny infant is not likely to settle for long periods at night until she is good and ready. Because they have not developed more advanced circadian rhythms, young babies are notorious for waking and sleeping at the strangest times.

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Awkward Timing

The type of sleep your baby has is just plain different. This is actually the real reason that your baby sleeps with such awkward timing. Babies spend much less time in deeper kinds of sleep than adults do. Plus, the sleep cycles of babies are shorter. This is why your new baby wakes up easily. So. Easily.

Baby Sleep Cycles Are Just Plain Quirky

The sleeping patterns of babies are a simple affair compared to the sleeping patterns of adults. There are two sleep states that babies have: quiet and active. They also have shorter cycles of sleep for the 1st nine months, being only about fifty to sixty minutes long.

The baby-equivalent of REM sleep is active sleep. Babies who are in the state of active sleep easily awaken just like adults in REM. Your child will also exhibit vocalizations, occasional body movements, fluttering eyelids and irregular, relatively rapid breathing.

Babies then pass from active to quiet sleep about halfway through the cycle. As suggested by its name, quiet sleep is characterized by no eyelid fluttering, little movement and rhythmic breathing. While in this stage, there is less of a likelihood for babies to be awakened by disturbances such as noise or even a sudden oxygen supply reduction.

The end of a baby’s sleep cycle is represented by quiet sleep. Babies wake up at the end of it or they begin the cycle again, re-entering active sleep. As your child grows, quiet sleep starts turning into distinct stages of NREM or non-active sleep. Aside from this, the sleep cycle is longer, spending less time in REM or active sleep.

This is a gradual change, however, and it takes a lot of years before the sleep pattern of your child becomes more like yours. Even if sleep stages of NREM emerge at about six months, this does not reach the 100-minute sleep mark until your child is around school-age. Plus, kids spend a lot of time in REM sleep throughout their earlier childhood. Adults spend just twenty per cent of their sleep in REM and this represents thirty per cent of sleep time in 3-year olds and fifty per cent of sleep time in newborns. Here is an article called How to Get Your Baby to Sleep So You Can Get Some, Too that gives you more information about getting your baby to bed.

Changes in Sleep Cycles

Many developmental milestones change your baby’s sleep cycles. Mastering new motor skills can sometimes disrupt sleep. When kids get their milestone feats done such as walking or crawling, feeling excited about this can cause sleep interference. During periods such as this, babies might experience more night awakenings or resist bedtime.  Around the age of six months, the brain of your child becomes more mature and strong attachments to the primary caregiver start to happen. This explains why previously peaceful babies now feel anxiety when bedtime comes, since this means separation. Your baby will get upset if you are not around and will start protesting if you as much as brush your teeth for a minute.

Sleep cycles also change due to circadian rhythms. Your infant won’t be very tuned to the natural cycle of each day the moment they are born. A new-born baby sleeps at round-the-clock intervals. Gradually, however, they tend to start adapting to the twenty-four hour day rhythms and sleep more at night. Other babies get to this point around three months of age. At this time, babies start to sleep all night, or five hours at a time. Others get to this point at five months. Here is a course called Sane Parents Guide: Getting Your Home Ready for Baby that helps you learn how to get your home ready for your newborn.

States of Sleep

Compared to older kids and adults, babies sleep more lightly. They spend more time proportionally in sleep that is ‘active.’ After first falling asleep for twenty five minutes or more, babies are particularly easy to awake. That is why it can be so difficult to move sleeping babies without them waking up. Every fifty minutes or so, babies might experience arousal. If these go your way, these are only partial awakenings and your child goes back to dreamland without a lot of fussing. On the other hand, if things don’t go your way, your baby becomes totally awake and lets you know very clearly that this is the case. Active sleep might sound like a bad deal for parents who have a hard time sleeping a full night. However, there is evidence that this is important for the brain development of the baby. There is also a possibility that active sleep is less of a risk when it comes to SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Infants in good health and not at risk for SIDS that have breathing problems during active sleep are more likely to wake up than during quiet sleep.

On the other hand, active sleep is associated with more risks for babies predisposed to SIDS. Active sleep is related to more frequency of sleep apnea and heart rate irregularities which are life threatening conditions for babies that don’t wake up.

The point is that babies who are more easily aroused have lower risks for SIDS.

Sleeping Through the Night

You might wonder how it is possible for babies to sleep through the night when the sleep patterns of babies are characterized by shorter fifty to sixty minutes cycles of sleep. The answer is: it’s a myth. That’s right. Sleeping through the night does not exist.

Various clinical, historical and anthropological evidences show that both babies and adults are not designed for sleeping through the night. Babies experience more opportunity for waking up with their short sleep cycles. Plus, their small stomachs will need more frequent eating than adults. So when parents say that their child sleep straight through the entire night, what is really happening is that they are no aware of their child waking up at night. In other words, their child does not make enough noise to wake up the parents. Depending on your baby’s age, this blessed state does not last more than five hours.

Not the Same for Every Baby

From one baby to the next,  sleep patterns do vary. Various studies indicate that the temperament of your child and how he or she regulates emotions and responds to stimulation is related to patterns of sleep. Here is a course called Bringing Baby Home that shows you expert hints, tips and demos on caring for children aged 0-6 months.

For examples, babies that have temperaments considered ‘easy’ are less easy to distract, more approachable and more adaptable. These babies are in a good mood, generally, and do go to sleep earlier than those with temperaments considered more ‘difficult.’ Other studies show that babies who were kept very active daily had more frequent night awakenings.

Sleep Cycles across Cultures

Depending on your culture, the total amount of time babies spend asleep does vary. Some reports show that Dutch infants that are three months of age sleep two more additional hours compared to same-age infants from America.

Differences such as this somewhat also reflect the difference in attitudes when it comes to stimulation. While in America, parents feel that they are responsible for filling their children’s days with experiences that are developmentally stimulating; parents that were Dutch emphasize regularity and rest. Babies getting a lot of stimulation each day might have a harder time staying and even falling asleep.

And Now A Word about Sleep Training

Generally, sleep training experts warn parents against letting their children fall asleep in their parents’ arms or at the breast. They also warm against singing or rocking babies to sleep. Sleep trainers argue that babies need to learn how to ‘self soothe’ and fall asleep alone even if this means crying themselves to dreamland.

On the other hand, sleep scientists say that this approach needs to be monitored and must not be applied to babies less than six months old. Trainers, however, encourage parents to let their babies sleep alone.

This is an unusual scenario from an anthropological point of view.  Throughout the evolution of human beings, infants sleep while being nursed, carried or held. Many times, this happens in the middle of daily activities. Babies even sleep next to their mothers lying in bed.

In Turkey, babies sleep while nursing and are rocked to sleep and swaddled in their cradles. Mayan babies share the bed of their mother and go through breastfeeding at night until they are three years of age. In the South Pacific among the Ifaluk, babies sleep beside their parents until three years of age and are rocked to sleep during the day. A special bedtime is usually assigned to babies in Italy. Many times, babies sleep before their parents put them to bed. In their first year, Italian babies frequently sleep in the bedroom of their parents. In Japan, members of a family sleep in the same room, traditionally and the children sleep in the beds of their parents. If the babies happen to have their own beds, parents lie down with them until they sleep. Among the Cote D’Ivoire village farmers, babies spend their day on the back of someone, either a designated baby carrier or their mother. This technique of carrying a baby is considered a great way of getting them to sleep. In Bali, children sleep with their moms until the age of three. They are carried on slings during the daytime as their mother works. The babies even sleep in the sling. From the Arctic to Africa, modern day hunting and gathering tribes keep their children in physical, close contact with moms usually sleeping with them at night. Babies usually experience skin to skin contact as they sleep, and this usually happens as they breastfeed.

Obviously, evidence across cultures suggests that from an evolutionary standpoint, babies do not necessarily sleep by themselves. Here is a course called Baby Massage- The Gift of Loving Touch that helps you bond with your child as you learn massage techniques from head to toe that may just get your baby to sleep.