If you’re in the midst of those exhausting, hazy newborn days, you might be desperately trying to figure out how to help your baby sleep longer.
The bone-crushing tiredness of life with a baby can come as a shock to new parents.
If you spend your nights fantasizing about eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, you might wonder why your baby doesn’t sleep longer than for 45-minute stretches. It’s hardly much of a stretch, is it?
How much sleep do babies need?
Although it might not feel like it to parents, newborn babies sleep a lot. Newborns sleep for around 16 and a half hours each day.
By the age of three months, your baby will still be sleeping about 14 to 16 hours a day. So why are you so tired?
It’s because babies don’t get all of this sleep in one stretch. Instead, they sleep in short cycles during the day and slightly longer stretches at night. It’s important to mention this isn’t always the case; some babies wake more frequently at night.
Newborn babies will usually nap for two to three hours at a time in the day. This is where the mantra ‘sleep when your baby sleeps’ comes in useful.
If you’re at home and your baby is sleeping somewhere safely, you can grab some shut-eye during these chunky naps, and it will top up your sleep bank. It’s not always possible if you have guests or are out of the house.
How long is a baby sleep cycle?
When they’re a couple of months old, babies will sleep in one cycle for up to an hour. At the end of a cycle, your baby might wake up grizzly and need help getting back to sleep.
As babies grow, they will spend more time asleep during the night and enjoy longer wakeful periods during the day.
All babies are different, and it’s important to understand there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to your baby’s sleep. Although you probably don’t feel like one just yet, you’re the expert in your baby’s sleep patterns.
You’ll soon notice your baby’s sleep pattern, which will help you make the most of those sleep times. Pay attention to nap times and wakeful periods. Jot them down if it helps you to remember. For example, if you know your baby will have a huge nap mid-morning, you can plan to be home for it and limit guests so you can take a nap if you need one.
Baby sleep cycles by age
In babies who are younger than three months old, there are two distinct sleep stages. These are Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM). Babies spend a similar amount of time in both sleep stages.
REM sleep is often referred to as active sleep. During this sleep phase, your baby might twitch or move her limbs when in active sleep. On the other hand, NREM sleep is called quiet sleep, and your baby will not move during this quiet sleep phase.
By the age of three months, babies will develop two further sleep stages.
- NREM 1 and NREM 2: These are light sleep phases, and your baby might wake easily during these cycles
- NREM 3: This is the deepest stage of sleep, and it could be tricky to wake your baby during this stage
- REM: This is the dream sleep cycle. This important sleep cycle occurs around 90 minutes into sleep in adults, but babies often experience this important sleep stage soon after dozing off. As babies grow, they spend less time in REM sleep.
When do babies sleep cycles lengthen?
As babies grow, baby sleep patterns will lengthen and change.
Babies also develop a circadian rhythm that will help them sleep longer stretches during the night. As a result, their sleep habits will become more similar to those of adults, and their baby sleep patterns will change.
You can do nothing to speed up this developmental process; you need to wait it out and remind yourself that it won’t last forever. The exhaustion that makes your teeth hurt now will be a distant memory very soon.
In the meantime, reach out for help. Make sure your partner is doing a fair share of night wakings. If you’re breastfeeding and feel like all the night wakings rest on your shoulders, ask your partner to take the baby for a few hours each morning so you can catch up on sleep.
Ask friends and family to help out so you can rest. They will be thrilled to look after your gorgeous baby and grateful to be able to help you out at this time in your life. Send them out for a walk, or ask them to cuddle your baby downstairs while you sneak off for a nap.
Why does my baby wake up after 30 minutes?
Many parents complain their baby wakes up 30-45 minutes after falling to sleep.
Unfortunately, this can potentially end the nap, leaving parents with an overtired baby for the day. Overtired babies also seem to find it even harder to get to sleep when it’s time for their next nap.
Babies often wake up prematurely because they’re shifting from light sleep into a new sleep cycle and need help resettling.
Make sure your baby is sleeping in a calm environment; this might help you get your baby back to sleep gently. Lots of parents swear by white noise machines for exactly this reason.
Baby wakes after first sleep cycle at night
Many babies do the same thing at night: waking shortly after falling asleep. This can be frustrating if you’ve finally settled down to relax after a tiring day. Unfortunately, it’s simply one of those things. Your baby will grow out of it soon enough.
In the meantime, ensure your baby is in a good sleep environment with no bright lights or loud noises. If you have other children who might disturb your baby, a white noise machine might prevent background noise disruption.
Use a baby monitor to listen to or watch your baby while she sleeps. If she wakes, give her a minute to see if she resettles herself back into a deep sleep.
On the monitor, you might see your baby stir, and then rush in and totally wake her up. On the other hand, if you hang back and wait, you might see your baby expertly resettle and fall back into a deep sleep.
Why do babies cry between sleep cycles?
Babies cry between baby sleep phases as they pass from deep sleep into light sleep. This is usually when they haven’t yet figured out how to get into another sleep cycle without help.
For example, they might need a quick reminder you’re nearby, or they might simply cry out momentarily before drifting straight back to sleep.
At what age do babies connect sleep cycles?
Newborn babies enjoy mammoth naps, and you might think you have a good sleeper. Don’t feel too smug just yet, though.
By the time the four-month sleep regression rolls around, you could be thinking quite the opposite. This is because at around four months old, babies might start waking between sleep phases, and it’s not always easy to get them to fall back to sleep.
However, by the time your baby is six months old, she might be learning to connect baby sleep phases and should soon start sleeping for longer stretches.
All babies are different. Your baby might master these skills earlier or later than her peers.
If your baby was born prematurely, you should expect her to master this skill around six months after the due date rather than the date she was born.
How to help baby connect sleep cycles
Some parents are desperate to help their baby connect cycles of sleep. As frustrating as it is for you to wait, this is something your baby will achieve when she is developmentally ready.
Some parents disturb their babies just before they usually wake up in an attempt to get them to transition to a new sleep stage sooner. This could be something as gentle as laying your hand on baby’s back or kissing her on the forehead.
If this doesn’t work, however, you run the risk of waking her up entirely.
Baby sleep cycles in the womb
Can you imagine a better sleep environment than a warm and cozy womb with a reassuring heartbeat gently drumming away in the background?
As research has discovered, after 7 months gestation, babies sleep for as many as 20 hours a day in utero. Babies are active sleepers, so those kicks and prods you feel don’t necessarily mean your baby is awake.
Your baby will start experiencing REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. Unborn babies sleep most during the day when the motion of your daily activity lulls them to sleep. You’ve probably noticed your baby wakes up and starts acrobatics sessions as soon as you lie down to fall asleep.
What is a baby’s typical sleep pattern?
All babies are different and baby sleep patterns vary between infants. You might think you’ve cracked it with your first, only to end up with a second baby who fights sleep despite you doing everything the same.
You’re the expert when it comes to your baby sleep patterns, even though you might not have the confidence to trust your knowledge just yet.
Many parents want to know exactly how much sleep their babies should be getting. Some experts feel putting arbitrary numbers forward simply adds to the stress and anxiety new parents face.
If you want to know more about how much sleep most babies need, take a look at our in-depth article How Many Hours Of Sleep Does A Baby Need?
When do babies sleep 12 hours straight?
When will my baby sleep through the night? This is the million-dollar question. It must surely be one of the most Googled phrases during the early hours of the morning.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google doesn’t know the answer. All babies are different and you won’t know when your baby will sleep through until it happens.
Remember, most babies don’t sleep all the way through the night. When smug parents tell you their babies sleep through, remind yourself their interpretation of ‘sleep through’ might be different from yours.
Most babies wake to feed during the night, even at the age of 12 months. Sorry if reading that made you cry.
As your baby grows, she will enjoy long stretches of sleep at night and, eventually, will make it through a whole night without waking. When that will be is anybody’s guess. Maybe tonight?
How do I teach my baby to self-settle?
You might be wondering how to help your baby sleep. Babies learn to self-settle as they grow.
The best thing you can do is be there to reassure them and help them settle as long as they need you to. By helping your baby to feel safe and attached, you are laying the foundations for self-settling in the future when your baby is developmentally ready.
In this busy world, self-settling sounds like the gold standard of baby development.
‘If only my baby could soothe herself back to sleep’, you might say, ‘so that I can enjoy my evening or finish that work or clean the kitchen’.
Sleep training might sound like an appealing option, but it might not be in your baby’s best interests.
Take a look at Cry It Out Method | 6 Baby Experts Who Advise Against It to find out what 6 baby sleep experts think about sleep training.