8 Facts Parents Need To Know About Babies And Sleep

8 Facts Parents Need To Know About Babies And Sleep

The phrase ‘sleeping like a baby’ is often used to describe a long, deep sleep.

It’s certainly not a phrase used to describe the sleep of a real baby, which is anything but long and deep.

After spending most of your life not really thinking about sleep, it will become your greatest obsession once you become a parent.

Nothing can prepare you for the exhaustion of caring for a newborn baby.

However, understanding more about your baby’s sleep can help you to cope with the tiredness, or at least know that it won’t last forever.

Here are some important facts about babies and sleep:

Baby Sleep Fact #1: Babies Have Different Sleep Patterns To Adults

Your baby’s sleep habits do not follow the same pattern as yours. As your baby grows older, her sleep patterns will evolve and she will eventually adopt sleeping patterns similar to yours. Adult sleep cycles are longer, but the sleep cycle of a baby will last less than one hour.

Every hour, your baby transitions to a period of light sleep. During this transition period, your baby is vulnerable to night wakings. If your baby experiences feelings of hunger or cold during this period, she may wake up. If you are near your baby during this period, you can help your baby transition back into a deep sleep state without waking.

Baby Sleep Fact #2: Babies Take Longer To Enter A Deep Sleep

This painful scenario is repeated night after night in bedrooms across the world. You have been putting your baby to sleep, and once she finally succumbs, you try to gently place her in the cot, and as soon as she leaves your arms, she wakes up again. Back to square one. What many parents don’t realise, is that it takes up to 20 minutes for babies to reach a deep sleep, meaning the baby was sleeping very lightly when she was disturbed, causing her to wake up.

You can work out which sleep state your baby is in simply by observing her. If her eyelids are fluttering, and her breathing is irregular, her hands are flexed, and she occasionally startles, twitches or smiles, she is in a light sleep. If you attempt to move her during this sleep state, she is likely to wake up and you will have to start all over again.

Instead, wait for her breathing to become more regular, and for her muscles to completely relax, and for her grimaces and twitches to stop. Now she is in a deeper state of sleep, meaning you can more easily put her down and leave the room.

Baby Sleep Fact #3: Night Wakings Are Important

Sleeping through the night is seen as the holy grail of parenting, but night wakings have an important role to play for your developing baby. Night wakings are important because:

  • Your baby’s tummy is tiny, so she needs to wake during the night for feeds to ensure she is getting enough milk.
  • Your baby needs to be able to wake easily in order to fulfil her basic needs. This is a survival skill to ensure your baby wakes up easily to alert you that she is hungry, too hot or in pain.
  • They may serve as a protective mechanism against SIDS

Baby Sleep Fact #4: Babies Learn In Their Sleep

Sleep researchers believe that the period of light sleep, also known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, helps the brain to develop by preventing it from resting. During REM sleep, blood flow to the brain increases dramatically, and the body increases production of certain nerve proteins that are considered to promote brain activity. Some researchers believe sleep is key to allowing proper brain development in babies.

Baby Sleep Fact #5: Babies Do Sleep A Lot

The bags under your eyes may disagree, but babies actually spend the overwhelming majority of their time sleeping. Newborn babies sleep for between 16 and 19 hours a day.

Babies tend to sleep for two to four hours, followed by a wakeful period lasting anywhere up to two hours. This will be repeated throughout the day. Newborn babies don’t understand night and day, so you may find yourself awake during the night for the first few weeks.

By the time she reaches four months old, your baby will be sleeping between 12 and 14 hours a day with longer stretches at night. She is unlikely to be sleeping through yet though, and will probably wake at least one or two times during the night.

Baby Sleep Fact #6: All Babies Are Different

Your baby probably hasn’t read the same parenting manuals as you, therefore she is unlikely to meet the milestones according to the timeline set out in your books. Try not to compare your baby to other babies. Remember, all babies are unique, and parents may exaggerate how well their baby sleeps.

As your baby matures, she will sleep for longer stretches. She will also wake less easily during the night, and may find it easier to enter the deep sleep state. These are things that will happen as your baby matures, and there’s not much you can do to hurry this process along.

Even when your baby masters sleep maturity, she may still wake during the night. Teething pains, illness, developmental leaps, growth spurts, separation anxiety and overstimulation during the day are examples of things that could cause your child to wake during the night.

Baby Sleep Fact #7: You Can’t Force It

Your baby will eventually sleep through the night, but it’s not a process you can force. You are probably inundated with advice whenever you mention that you haven’t had much sleep, but bear in mind that some of this advice will be useless.

One popular myth surrounding sleep, is that weaning your baby early will help her to sleep longer at night. This isn’t true. The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends waiting until your baby is six months old before offering solid foods. Your baby’s digestive system reaches maturity at around six months, before then your baby is not ready to digest solid foods.

Another popular myth is that leaving your baby to cry it out will help her to sleep through the night. Experts believe that controlled crying can affect how babies brain’s develops due to the exposure to stress hormones caused by being left to cry alone.

It is also believed that this practice could have long term effects on the emotional development of babies as they miss out on the vital lesson that emotions are manageable. Rather than learning to sleep, controlled crying actually teaches your child not to cry out, because no-one will come to soothe her.

Baby Sleep Fact #8: It’s Normal

Life is exhausting when you are a new parent, and that’s ok. Rest assured that other new parents are in exactly the same boat as you. Don’t try to do it all. Focus on looking after yourself and your baby.

Take time out each day to spend some time focusing on you, this can help you to avoid burnout. Don’t worry about non-essential housework, and instead focus on being a mother. Accept all offers of help from friends and family. Make sure you sleep when your baby sleeps as much as possible to let you catch up on those missed hours of rest.

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Fiona Peacock is a writer, researcher and lover of all things to do with pregnancy, birth and motherhood (apart from the lack of sleep). She is a home birth advocate, passionate about gentle parenting and is also really tired.


  1. Wait! How do I help baby “transition back into a deep sleep state without waking?” HELP! You can’t leave me hanging!

    1. Dream nursing. Your baby nurses lying on its side next to you. You both don’t really wake up during these feedings.

  2. I feel better reading this. I’m thankful that my husband is so helpful with my son and will actually take him when I ask.

  3. My drama isn’t my daughter’s night sleeping pattern, it’s her daytime pattern, or lack of. I can’t ever seem to get her back to sleep when she wakes from her sleep cycle, I know she isn’t hungry or dirty, she will wake after 45 mins and then will be awake for HOURS, I can’t put her down, she screams, it just goes on and on, then by the time she starts to go back to sleep it’s been 3-4 hours and she is hungry, the cycle doesn’t end.

    1. A lot of babies just want to be awake during the day. That’s a good thing. My daughter is the same way

  4. I have always thought my babies are angels when it comes to sleeping at night because they go sleep at roughly 8pm and will only wake up once during the night or not at all!!! Now i am feeling worried think i will be setting alarms for feeding times

    1. I dont want to tell you what to do or what not to do, follow your mommy instincts, but know that your baby will definately wake up when hungry or in need. So rather enjoy that baby sleeps so well!!! It is a blessing.

  5. Very well written!! Its my second baby and for both I’ve been told “let him cry it out” even my husband forced me to but I never did believing that my baby is crying because he needs attention and I was always there to attend them which makes me feel much less guilty!!

  6. HELP! My son wakes at 7am takes nap at noon.. Wakes bout 2, then nap again about 5pm, depends on how loud the house is he wakes bout 7-8… Heres the fun part. He doesnt go back to sleep until 1 or 2 AM!!! IVE TRIED ALL I CAN THINK OF. Waking him from his nap earlier, rocking him, playing with him, bathing him, he will be 5 months on the 15th. He is already in the rocking/crawling stage.. What do i do???

  7. My 4 week old sleeps so well at night in his bassinet. 4-5 hour blocks but wakes between 6-7am and then I spend all day trying to get him back to sleep. He is either feeding or crying or even screaming at some points of the day cause i think he is just so tired but won’t sleep any longer then about 20 mins when ever I put him down. I can never nap in the day cause he won’t is this normal? What can I do?

    1. I suggest wearing him during the day. Walking around with your body movements will lull him to sleep or comfort him by being close. This is about the time of a HUGE mental leap and they are different babies then they have been before. You’ll probably find that by wearing him he’ll cry and fuss less. πŸ™‚

  8. I think my 2 and a half month old is having nightmares. She seems to be scared and whimpers, almost cries in her sleep. I’m always there to soothe her but this worries me. Anything I can do better ? Thank you !

  9. Thank you so much this article was kust what I needed. Proud and exhausted mom of a 7 week old girl. I struggle daily with putting her down and then she wakes up again. And she is now more alert and only sleeps 45 mins during the day

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