The Science of Baby Sleep and How to get your baby to "Sleep Like A Baby"

on June 09, 2020

The secrets to baby sleep

Newborn sleep patterns usually include sleeping for 16-18 hours in every 24-hour period. When they're not sleeping, they're probably eating.

Until they reach 8-10 weeks old, most newborns will spend most of their days sleeping. As your baby gets older, their wake windows get longer and they spend more time awake and fewer hours sleeping.

Types of Sleep

To really understand newborn sleep and why they sleep so much (and why they have no concept of night and day), you need to know about the two different types of sleep: REM sleep and non-REM sleep,

REM sleep (rapid eye movement) is light sleep, where dreams occur. Your eyes move rapidly back and forth. About half of the sleep that newborns have is REM sleep. 

Non-REM sleep has four different stages:

  1. Drowsiness, drooping eye, dozing
  2. Light sleep; babies may startle or jump when they hear a noise
  3. Deep sleep; babies are quiet and don't move much
  4. Very deep sleep 

Baby sleep patterns include cycling through non-REM sleep during the night. Once they get through stage 1, they cycle through stages 2-4 several times during their sleep. As they pass from one stage to another, they may waken slightly and find it difficult to go back to sleep. This is why some babies wake many times during the night, even if they aren't hungry. 

Sleep All Day, Party All Night? 

If it seems like your baby doesn't know the difference between night and day, it's because they don't. Adult sleep is controlled by circadian rhythms, which babies haven't yet developed. Circadian rhythms govern our 24-hour internal clock and tell our body when it's time to wake up and wind down. 

Because newborns spend 9 months in the womb, where it is dark all the time, they aren't born with these rhythms. Instead, it takes time to teach them when it's time to sleep and time to be awake. 

You can help your baby develop their circadian rhythm by doing the following: 

  • Reduce stimulation at night (keep lights to a minimum during bedtime and night feedings; try a nightlight or a red bulb in a lamp)
  • Make sure to expose your baby to plenty of daylight during the day—get outside, open the blinds and curtains, etc. 
  • Create a bedtime routine that is the same each night

Even if you get your baby to recognize the differences between day and night and teach them that night time means it's time to sleep, it still may take months (or even longer) for them to sleep through the night. 

Babies, especially newborns, have small stomachs and often need to eat every 3-4 hours. These stretches get longer as they get older, but it will take some time to get there. Your pediatrician may also have you wake your baby to feed them if they aren't gaining enough weight.

Sleep Like a Baby?

Whoever came up with that saying must not have really known how babies sleep! Now that you have a bit more insight into the answer to "how much do newborns sleep," you can start working on helping your newborn learn circadian rhythms and know what's going on as they cycle through non-REM sleep. 

To help you keep track of your baby's sleep, check out Wunder. We have a new product coming in summer 2020 that uses AI to help keep track of everything about your baby and assist you in parenting. For now, you can ask a Wunder coach from the comfort of your home) about sleep or download the Wunder app with over 600+ activities you can do with your baby to help them reach critical developmental milestones!



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