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Facts About Baby Sleep

Probably the number one thing people will ask you about your new baby is: is he/she sleeping? And the short answer is yes, of course. Babies sleep all the time. The reason that people ask this question so frequently is that teaching babies to sleep for long periods (or the highly-coveted ‘through the night’) has fascinated, infuriated and stumped people all over the world since the beginning of time. So, let’s start with what we do know. Here are some baby facts, to help give you a solid foundation when navigating the sometimes-bewildering world of baby sleep and naps.


Newborns get confused between day and night

A fun fact about babies is that newborns can’t tell the difference between day and night. Your baby has just come from a cosy residence inside the womb, where frankly there were more pressing things to do. In fact, the internal mechanisms that allow your baby to differentiate day from night, don’t really develop until around 2 months of age. For the first months, your newborn’s main concerns are sleeping and eating. At this early stage, the time of day has little influence on your baby’s sleep cycles or body clock.


Baby sleep cycles are different to adults

Newborn sleep cycles are around 40 minutes long, whereas adult sleep cycles are approximately 90 minutes long. Typically adults have around 4-6 sleep cycles per night.  Adult sleep is characterised by 4 different phases of sleep, whereas baby sleep is characterised by just 2 phases.


Babies transition from light sleep (REM) to deep sleep (NREM) around every 40 minutes. It’s during the light sleep phase that babies tend to wake up and may need help to resettle until they learn to do it for themselves.


Babies learn and grow as they sleep

There is so much information for your baby to absorb from the moment they arrive. When babies sleep, their brain is not only growing, but consolidating the information they’ve learned so far. It can be quite a profound moment when your baby appears to have ‘grown up’ while they were asleep.


Babies have a phase of light sleep known as REM (rapid eye movement). This stage is thought to help your baby’s brain develop by preventing it from resting. During the light sleep phase, blood flow to the brain increases and the body increases production of some nerve proteins that are known to promote brain activity.


Baby sleep matures with time

With the help of bedtime routines, baby sleep matures quickly. At around 3 months, a baby’s sleep phases will extend from 2 to 3, and by the age of 6 months, your baby is capable of joining their brief sleep cycles together. Encouraging and supporting your baby to self-settle is an important step in evolving your baby’s sleep patterns.


Bedtime routines work

Bedtime routines provide your little one with important sleep cues and help them understand what to expect each day. While bedtime routines may take some time to establish, the repetition and regularity will help your baby begin to understand the process of bedtime.


Bedtime routines may be simple, but as long as they are performed regularly and in order, they can become an effective daily tool. Bedtime routines also help reinforce your baby’s circadian rhythms, help during sleep regressions and can help lessen the need for sleep aids over time.


Sleep regression is normal

After you’ve put in the hard yards to get your baby into a sleeping pattern that your household is comfortable with, something changes. Sleep regressions for babies are completely normal and are usually related to developmental milestones, illness, a change in routine or travel. Whatever the cause they can be frustrating all the same. Sleep regressions are characterised by:

  1. More frequent night waking
  2. Extra fussiness
  3. Resisting naps and difficulty falling asleep


Understanding that sleep regressions are a very natural part of your baby’s development can reduce the likelihood of you scratching your head, wondering what went wrong. The best course of action is stick to your bedtime routine (or begin one if you haven’t). Within the first year there are predictable developmental times your baby may experience a sleep regression. These are:

  1. 4 months
  2. 6 months
  3. 8-10 months
  4. 12 months


Sleep deprivation is dangerous

New babies and sleep deprivation often go hand-in-hand. While we’ve all experienced what it’s like to miss out on a bit of sleep, the constant nature of tending to your baby on a 24-hour clock can take its toll, no matter how prepared you might think you are. Sleep deprivation can cause you to do some funny things, but it is a serious issue and should be treated as such.


Sleep deprivation left unchecked can leave you feeling depressed, cause memory lapses, have you feeling unable to cope and make day-to-day tasks a challenge. If you or your partner are suffering the effects of sleep deprivation, reach out to your doctor, or trusted family or friends for support.


Postnatal depression can happen to anyone

Regardless of whether you’ve suffered from depression before, postnatal depression can happen to anyone. Although you may have prepared and consider yourself a highly capable person, the life changes you go through after having a baby can be profound and also confronting both emotionally and physically. Postpartum hormones may cause extreme mood-swings and leave you feeling depleted or unable to cope.


Perhaps the experience of childbirth or the early days of having a baby aren’t what you thought. Maybe you’re having trouble with feeding or things aren’t going according to plan. If you or your partner are feeling overwhelmed, there is plenty of support available and you shouldn’t hesitate to call on help whenever you need it. Talk to your GP, trusted family or friends or contact one of the helpful services in our Support Directory.


At Love To Dream™, we know that every child is different, and we’re committed to helping you to find the right solution for your family. With you at every step, Love To Dream™ believes today’s little dreamers are the shapers of tomorrow. For further advice from our experts, visit our sleep library.