How does a baby's sleep cycle work?

You wake up in the middle of the night because your baby needs your attention. Before you know it you are rocking and soothing your sleepy head. As a new parent, nights can sometimes be incredibly tiring. How exactly does that happen? What happens in your little one's sleeping brain. In this article you can read exactly how a baby's sleep cycle works and why it is so difficult to link two sleep cycles. . 

As always, I would first like to emphasize that every child is different. What works for one child does not necessarily work for another child. The information in this article is especially useful to get a general idea of ​​how the body and brain of a newborn baby works, so that you can better understand your child.

Transition from womb to bed

In the safe womb, your baby had no sense of day or night at all. The womb provided a constant environment, where your baby received little stimulation and was sometimes awake and sometimes took a nap. Now, in your world, he is confronted with a new rhythm. It can take a long time for your baby to get used to this! Because a baby cannot adapt to you in the beginning, you will have to adapt to your child. You will automatically notice when your baby needs food, attention or sleep.

A baby's sleep cycle

What exactly does a baby's sleep cycle look like? Unlike adults, a baby's sleep cycle only lasts about 45 minutes. It's like a short sleep adventure in which they go through 4 different sleep stages: light sleep, slightly deeper sleep, deepest sleep and dream sleep (REM). This is different from adults. We go directly from light sleep to deep sleep and then end up in REM sleep (dream phase) for about 20 minutes. Your baby therefore goes through multiple phases and the phases are also shorter..

As the baby gets older, that cycle grows to about 50 minutes. That's also the time when you'll notice your baby getting better at linking those sleep moments together, meaning they can sleep longer without waking. Only when your child is 1 year old does the sleep cycle start to resemble that of an adult. The cycle is also shorter: about 60 minutes. Some studies conclude that a sleep cycle does not fully develop as we are used to until the age of 5.

Linking sleep cycles

To sleep through the night, you need to link sleep cycles together. Connecting those sleep cycles is still a bit of a puzzle for babies. Babies often wake up after one cycle and have trouble transitioning smoothly to the next. That explains those short naps. A new cycle starts with light sleep, which means your baby will wake up more quickly. This is also because babies often move a lot. They are then unable to connect the cycle properly and then wake up. The ability to link those cycles develops over time. So the best thing you can do as a parent is to be patient! Your child really needs time to learn this.

Tip! Quietly enter the room 5 minutes before the end of a cycle. If your child wakes up a little, he will feel safe and may fall back asleep. Also try to limit your little one's movements so that it becomes easy to connect the cycles.

Tips for better sleep

Unfortunately, there are no tips or products that will directly ensure that your baby sleeps better, but you can create optimal conditions! This is how you do it:

1. Cozy sleeping environment

Provide a cozy and cozy sleeping environment. Keep the room dark, as this can help with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. If necessary, choose soothing sounds or white noise to help your baby relax.

2. Wait a moment when you wake up

If your baby wakes up after a nap but doesn't cry, give him a few minutes to fall back asleep on his own. Sometimes they just need some time.

3. Create a sleep routine

This may include a quiet time before bed, such as a warm bath, a story, or soft music. A routine helps your baby understand that it's time to sleep.

4. Learn to fall asleep yourself

There is a good chance that your baby will fall asleep on top of you more quickly than in the crib. Still, your baby has to learn to fall asleep on his own. Let your child get used to this slowly. Put him in the crib, but stay with him at first. Place your hand on his head or stomach so that he feels safe in the presence of mom or dad. Try to gain a little more distance step by step. For example, first sit next to the bed and at some point stay in the room, but at a distance. Give him the feeling that you are always near, so that he slowly develops the confidence to fall asleep on his own.

Tip: with it NUNKI sheet you can imitate the safe and familiar feeling of the womb in bed. The elastic fabric provides gentle pressure on your child's upper body, making him feel safe and relaxed and making it easier to fall asleep. The sheet cannot come loose, so your child will wake up less quickly.

Every baby is different

When it comes to your baby's sleep habits, patience is key. Every child develops at his or her own pace. Understand your baby's needs and use the tips to make it easier. This way you contribute to a better night's sleep, for both your little one and yourself. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution in the world of parenting. It takes a bit of trial and error and discovering what works best for you and your baby. Good luck!



Frederieke Meihuizen

Owner Fedde&Kees®

Ik ben Frederieke, getrouwd met Ewoud en mama van 4 kindjes. Na op veel plekken gewoond te hebben, ben ik gesetteld in Nieuwkoop. Ik werkte in de commercie tot mijn vierde kindje geboren werd. Fedde was een huilbaby en vanuit deze wanhoop heb ik de producten van Fedde&Kees bedacht. Ik gooide mijn leven om en begon met ondernemen. Sinds 2018 help ik andere ouders naar een betere slaap!