Understanding and Accommodating Newborn Sleep Cycles

Newborns can be hard to read. One minute they’re yawning, and the next they’re suddenly crying inconsolably. Despite their major differences from adults, understanding newborns’ behaviours in sleeping is important for both their health and ours. 

In this article, mothercare introduces the basics of newborn sleep and ways for babies – and naturally, parents – to catch some much-needed z’s. Learn to recognise the patterns and cycle of sleep in your child, and get them to truly sleep like a baby in no time.

How Good Sleep Benefits Babies 

Clocking in quality slumber for babies is vital to their growth. Studies have shown that deep, sufficient sleep is directly linked to infants’ cognitive development, including memory, language and executive function. Even naps serve to help them encode specific memories, thereby improving information transfer and learning. 

The physical benefits of sleep are just as significant. Sleep can be restorative by triggering the release of human growth hormones (HGH), responsible for muscle repair and tissue growth. This is especially important for children still in their formative years, let alone the first few months of their lives. Experts have also stated that inadequate sleep is associated with issues such as irritability, poor health and obesity.

Sleep Patterns of Newborns

Babies sleep a lot because it supports their robust development. Generally, newborns from 4 to 6 weeks of age sleep between 16 to 20 hours per day, which can occur in short and intermittent bursts of 2 to 3 hours. 

In between these periods, newborns wake up to feed and change. This happens frequently through the day and night. According to Stanford Medicine, most babies only learn to sleep through the night at about 3 months of age.

Crying is among the most obvious signs that your child is awake. Babies use this as their language to communicate their needs such as when they’re hungry, soiled or require soothing. Newborns also cry when they are tired and may require comforting to settle down before sleeping. 

Sleep Cycle of Newborns

Two kinds of sleep govern the sleep cycle of newborns: active sleep and quiet sleep. 

During active sleep, babies are prone to making small movements such as moving slightly, opening their eyes shortly, or even making noises. It’s considered a light form of sleep. 

During quiet sleep, on the other hand, babies are engaged in deep sleep. This is characterised by steady and even breathing, stillness and occasional sucking movements.

Each cycle has both active and quiet sleep, and will continue until babies reach at least 3 months of age when they begin to adopt the sleep cycle of adults.

Newborn vs. Adult Circadian Rhythm

The circadian rhythm pays attention to the sleep/wake cycle regulated by our bodies. This phenomenon synchronises the external environment’s light conditions with our internal clock and can influence important functions within our bodies.

While adults follow a circadian rhythm, babies are mostly unable to differentiate day from night. Rather, they present four known stages when in quiet sleep, simplified as below:

  • Stage 1: Drowsiness and dozing, beginning to fall asleep.
  • Stage 2: Light sleeping, easily woken up by interruptions such as sounds.
  • Stage 3: Deep sleeping, still, minimal movement. 
  • Stage 4: Extremely deep sleeping, no movement at all. Also referred to as dream sleeping.  

A more technical term for quiet sleep is known as the non-rapid eye movement (NREM) stage. Meanwhile, active sleep is known as rapid eye movement (REM). Babies have less NREM sleep and thus are easily roused.

Tips to Ensure Good Sleep for Babies

While babies take about 3 to 6 months to regulate their biological clock, there are some ways to facilitate better sleep for them. This should not be mistaken as sleep training, which should only be introduced when they’re at least 4 to 6 months old. Ensuring good sleep for infants involves fostering healthy habits for better rest.

  • Make Use of Light: Introducing light in the day and keeping it dark at night can help your baby gradually adapt to the day-night cycle.
  • Place Them in Their Cot When Tired: Newborns express tiredness using signs like yawning, fussing, grizzling, crying and looking away. Reacting to these cues by preparing them for sleep may teach them how to self-soothe and develop more consistent sleep patterns.
  • Create a Comfortable Environment: Making sure of a safe, snug and warm environment is crucial for quality sleep. Put together a cot that facilitates refreshing and restful sleep using supportive infant pillows, thermoregulating blankets and breathable swaddles. mothercare has tips on how to arrange a cosy and nurturing nursery here.
  • Encourage Positive Associations and Routines: Avoid reinforcing negative sleep associations that make your child rely on you to sleep. Instead, gently establish consistent routines that help them fall asleep on their own, such as listening to white noise and swaddling.
  • Use Back-Sleeping: Infants should sleep wholly on their backs and away from loose items that pose a suffocation risk. There are also mattresses that minimise the danger of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Final Thoughts

Sleep might be the least of our worries as busy adults balancing parenting, working and other responsibilities. But for our little ones, this process forms an integral part of their lives in order to get bigger and stronger. On this note, we would like to stress that no matter how hectic our schedules as new parents get, sleep and self-care are dually important for your family’s well-being. Remember, that one can’t take care of others without first taking care of themselves — and we know we only want the best for our children!

Here at mothercare, we’ve been the trusted partner of parents from all over the world for more than 50 years. This means that we’ve seen and dealt with it all, from the highs and lows of pregnancy to the obstacles and chaos of toddlerhood. 

No matter where you are in your parenting journey, mothercare serves as a reliable all-in-one store where safe and quality care is guaranteed. From our knowledgeable nursery advisors to our proprietary Sparkle Clean service and extensive catalogue, let us help you in everything you need.

Browse our online store or visit us at our experiential stores at Tropicana Gardens Mall and Suria KLCC today.

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