The Science of Sleep: Understanding Newborn Sleeping Patterns

Sleep is essential for a newborn’s physical and mental development. The only problem is that infants have an erratic sleeping pattern which can be quite frustrating for a parent. This can leave you wondering whether you are doing anything wrong. Understanding the sleep science of a newborn can help you support your little one’s sleep development.

This piece will explore the intricacies of a newborn’s sleeping patterns from sleep cycles to safe sleep practices. The ultimate objective is to help you streamline your baby’s sleeping habits and ensure they are getting adequate rest.

Newborn Sleep Needs

A baby’s brain develops rapidly, and sleeping is necessary for smooth neurological and cognitive development. They also have an immature circadian rhythm that requires adequate sleep to develop. Once you understand these differences, you can adjust your expectations and promote healthy sleep habits for your little one. 

According to Hopkins Medicine, infants can sleep for 16-17 hours during the first two weeks. But after that, they start waking up every few hours. 

Infants also have several sleeping cycles. This includes the active and quiet sleep phases. Depending on the sleep phase, your baby could be restless or grizzly. Sometimes, they might cry, and you need to calm them down. 

Active Sleep Cycle

The active sleep cycle is also known as REM which stands for Rapid Eye Movement sleep. It accounts for half of a newborn’s sleep. And its main characteristics include rapid eye movements even behind closed lids.

REM sleep cycles in children last for 20 to 30 minutes. Your baby will exhibit various muscle movements, such as jerks and twitches, during this sleep cycle.

Newborns dream more over this phase, spending about 8-11 hours in REM. Even though you may feel like this sleep phase is not restful enough for your baby, it plays an integral role in their growth. For instance, REM supports children’s development of short-term and long-term memory. 

Other benefits of REM sleep in newborns include brain development especially when it comes to neural connections. 

Quiet Sleep Cycle

Infants also go through a quiet sleep cycle. During this phase, your baby will lie still and sleep peacefully. Their eyelids will not move rapidly. Also, your baby will not move around and make noise.

Factors that Affect a Newborns Sleep

A couple of things will affect how your child sleeps. For instance, hunger may determine your infant’s sleeping pattern. Newborns have small stomachs, and they need to eat frequently for nourishment. This explains one of the reasons why your baby will wake up after every two hours. 

The other factor is discomfort. Since the newborn spends a significant amount of time in the womb, adapting to the new environment takes time. Specific temperatures and sleeping positions could be tremendously discomforting. There is also the issue of gas and reflux, which will disrupt the baby’s sleep.

Environmental factors may also dictate your newborn’s sleeping pattern. For example, they might find it hard to sleep if there is so much light in the room.  If it’s cold, noisy, or warm, your child may struggle to fall asleep. 

Babies are different. And it’s upon you as a parent to find out what your child is sensitive to and protect them.

Settling your Newborn

An image of a baby sleeping
Photo by Ivone De Melo:

One of the challenges you are going to face with a newborn is settling them. They’ll need help settling and eventually fall asleep when they are tired. The best approach is to hold your baby and talk to them gently. When your baby is drowsy enough, put them in their cot, and they’ll fall asleep.

Tips and Tricks for Healthy Sleeping Patterns in Infants

As a new parent, establishing healthy sleeping patterns in infants is critical for their growth and development. Here are some tips and tricks to help you promote better sleep for your little bundle of joy.

  • Establish a consistent bedtime routine – Set a consistent bedtime routine that includes calming activities such as a bath, a lullaby, or a story. This routine can signal to your baby that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
  • Create a conducive sleep environment – Ensure that the baby’s sleeping environment is quiet, dark, and cool. This can help create a conducive atmosphere for sleep.
  • Avoid overstimulation before bedtime – Avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, such as watching television, playing video games, or engaging in high-energy play. These activities can make it difficult for infants to settle down and fall asleep.
  • Watch for sleepy cues – Pay attention to your baby’s sleepy cues, such as yawning or rubbing their eyes. Putting them to bed at the first signs of sleepiness can make it easier for them to fall asleep.
  • Consider swaddling – Swaddling can help calm infants and make them feel secure. However, it’s essential to ensure that the swaddle is safe and doesn’t restrict breathing.
  • Avoid feeding or rocking to sleep –While it may be tempting to feed or rock your baby to sleep, this can create a sleep association, making it difficult for them to fall asleep without assistance.
  • Consistency is key – Be consistent with your baby’s sleep routine, even on weekends or holidays. Consistency can help your baby establish healthy sleeping patterns and make it easier for them to fall asleep.

By implementing these tips and tricks, parents and caregivers can promote healthy sleeping patterns in infants, which can positively impact their physical and mental development.

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