It’s all down to what’s going on inside your growing baby’s brain and body as they develop. Read on to learn six fascinating facts about your baby’s sleep — including a few tips that might help them to drift off more easily!
The phrase ‘sleeping like a baby’ is misleading!
We often say that we ‘slept like a baby’ to mean we've had a very deep sleep, but most babies are actually extremely light sleepers. This is because infants have a much shorter sleep cycle than adults. Our cycles are 90–100 minutes long and consist of several different phases, but your baby’s sleep cycle lasts just 45–60 minutes, and there are only two phases: active sleep, and quiet sleep. During the first six months of their life, an infant’s sleep is mostly active, as this helps them to wake themselves up when they’re hungry and need feeding.
You can usually tell whether your baby is in quiet or active sleep by watching them carefully. During active sleep, your baby’s eyelids will flutter, their breathing will be irregular, and their body will be very still. During quiet sleep, their eyelids will be still, and their breathing should be even. You should try to only move your baby to their cot once they’ve progressed into quiet sleep, as this will help to make sure they don’t wake up as soon as you lay them down.
There’s no point trying to tire them out during the day
You could be forgiven for thinking that a baby will sleep better through the night if they’re tired out during the day — after all, that’s how it works for adults, right? But this isn’t the case for infants. Skipping naps during the day will make your little one overtired, and a cranky baby is much harder to settle. So, don’t be tempted to overstimulate them to keep them awake during the day. The theory is that a well-rested baby is less likely to resist sleep, so let them nap when they’re drowsy during the day and be sure to lay them down to sleep early in the evening.
Movement can soothe babies to sleep
Most babies like to fall asleep when they’re being rocked, cuddled, and held. It’s thought that this is partly because the gentle movement reminds them of being in the womb — this is also why many babies seem to sleep soundly on car journeys. But, while skin contact and lots of cuddles are important for bonding, you sometimes need a little break to get things done, or just catch some sleep yourself.
The gentle motions of a rocker or bouncer are thought to help emulate the gentle movements babies experience in the womb, helping them to drift off. This can be especially helpful if you struggle to put your little one down to sleep, or they only want to fall asleep in your arms. So, if you want some time to yourself (or are fed up of driving around the neighbourhood) then it could be a good idea to invest in a rocker or bouncer for during the day.
Silence isn’t always golden
It’s not just movement that's thought to help babies doze off: soft background sounds are also understood to help lull infants to sleep. So, if your little one sleeps deeply when you’re out in the car, or when the TV or radio is playing during the day, it might be time to invest in a white noise machine. It’s believed that white noise helps to recreate the muffled sounds babies hear in the womb, which has a soothing effect. Soft background noise can also help to disguise sounds that might wake them up, like floorboards creaking or doors closing in other parts of the house.
Naps are key to a healthy sleep routine — but time them carefully
As we mentioned earlier, it’s good for your baby to nap during the day, especially before the age of three months when shorter, more frequent sleeps are a normal part of healthy development. But, while frequent rest throughout the day can help your baby sleep more easily at night, you should be careful about letting your little one nap too close to bedtime. Once they reach three months, this can prevent them from settling down to sleep, so you should make some effort to get your baby into a routine of napping at the same time each day.
When planning their sleep routine, try to settle your baby for a nap early in the afternoon, when they’re more likely to be naturally drowsy. The average nap time is around 1.5–2.5 hours, which allows time for your baby to enjoy two or three full sleep cycles — if you’re lucky, you might even have time for a quick snooze yourself!
It can take 6–12 months for your baby to sleep through the night
As long as you take care to establish a healthy sleep routine when your baby is a newborn, with any luck, your bundle of joy should start to sleep through the night at anywhere between six and 12 months old. If you're not sure where to start, you can read our guide to planning a newborn's sleep routine to learn all about it.
This might seem like a long time to wait for a solid 8-hour sleep, especially if you’re still waking up to feed four or five times a night during the first three months of your baby’s life. But hang in there and stick to your schedule as best as you can — the new normal is just around the corner, we promise!
During the first few months, your baby's sleep patterns can seem like a complete mystery. By learning as much as possible about how your little one’s sleep cycles work, you can create a healthy sleep routine. If you want to find out more about your little one’s growing body and check that they’re on track to hit the right milestones, take a look at our guide to your baby’s first eight weeks.
Babies have much shorter sleep cycles than adults, which means they tend to be much lighter sleepers