Why is Newborn Sleep so Different?

Here’s what to look out for and what you can do…

 
Newborn sleep
 

Understanding your newborn’s different sleep patterns will help you understand why your little one is waking up and crying at different times and — more importantly — what you can do about it!

This understanding will help you feel that your baby is a little more predictable… when she feels completely unpredictable.

So, let’s take a look at what this all means…

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What is a sleep cycle?

During a period of sleep, your newborn alternates between active and quiet sleep. This is actually akin to our own REM and non-REM sleep… or younger infants who have developed their circadian rhythms (think 4mo olds). BUT these newborn sleep cycles come about very differently because newborns do not have circadian rhythms yet.

So what is this active and quiet sleep in newborns?

Well, in active sleep your newborn will twitch and flail their limbs, grunt, make noise and maybe even cry a little. (I have videos of this in my Mastering Newborn Sleep class). You will also notice their little eyes moving under those tiny closed lids of theirs … which may even open from time to time but, guess what, even if they open, your newborn is likely to still be still sleeping! So don’t be fooled!

And in quiet sleep, babies breathe much more slowly and rhythmically and their little bodies are much more still.

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Why is this so important to know?

During active sleep, newborns can easily wake up because it’s a lighter sleep state. Ever try and move your newborn only to have them wake up when you put them down? ( Well, if your newborn falls asleep in your arms, just know they fall into active sleep first. So…

You are going to want to wait until you see signs of the more quieter sleep, which is a deeper sleep, before you try and move her.

When is that you ask? Well, newborns tend to be in active sleep for the first 25 minutes of sleep, and then fall into the quiet sleep for another 25 minutes. So try and wait for the first active sleep cycle to pass, try and put them down, and maybe get a quick shower in. Then after the first 45 to 50 minutes of sleeping, your newborn has gone through their first active/quiet sleep cycle.

But my newborn wakes up in between cycles — help!

Ok, yes… this is where it can get tricky. When your little one transitions from one cycle to the next she may just wake up. But, before rescuing her and picking her up right away and assuming the sleep period is over, see if she needs your help returning to sleep. (Obviously, if it’s time to feed your newborn, then by all means, feed her — it’s important to fill the belly during the day to eventually get those longer stretches of sleep at night). And if she’s having a harder time getting back down on her own, then of course hold her for the rest of that sleep period. You are not creating any associations in the first several weeks of their life! Love. On. Them. … and all that sweet tininess!

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So, what can you do between sleep cycles?

Offer a pacifier or a little wiggle with some shushing (and turn up that white noise if you need to).

Here’s an important tip, try and avoid too much face to face interaction at this point, as that will be more stimulating for them, possibly waking her up even more— making it much more difficult for her to fall back asleep.

Our faces are still new to them, so seeing you can actually wake them up more.

Here’s another tip, remember active sleep can be very noisy. It’s easy to make the mistake that your little one is waking during this transition because your newborn is falling back into active sleep. So, when you hear the noises and you try to soothe your little one, you actually end up waking them up rather then letting your newborn try and settle back down.

So, try and pause when you hear those noises and see their little eyes open and close and watch them for a moment… your newborn might be waking briefly only to go back to sleep on their own (And yes, I have a video of this happening with a newborn I worked with in Mastering Newborn Sleep too… it’s amazing what happens when you wait a few moments before moving in).

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Last But Not Least…

If you’re needing some help with your little one’s sleep, go here to schedule a FREE 15-minute call with me, and we can chat about it!

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Oh, one more thing!

Every other week I share my newsletter —The Healthy Little Note — where you can get this directly in your in box plus other great curated content to help you and your little can get the most out of their first 5 years of life.

If you have little ones, I’m sure you’ll love it!

You can check out the most recent issue here.

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Susie Menkes, PhD is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute (FSI) and is dedicated to helping families get their little ones to be healthy little sleepers. She serves on the Medical Board for What’s Up Moms (the #1 Parenting You Tube Channel) and has a sleep talk series at Beverly Hills Pediatrics. As a mom of two, she knows and understands what you are going through and is here to support, educate, and guide you on all matters related to sleep... and more!

Susie Menkes, PhD is a Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant through the Family Sleep Institute (FSI) and is dedicated to helping families get their little ones to be healthy little sleepers. She serves on the Medical Board for What’s Up Moms (the #1 Parenting You Tube Channel) and has a sleep talk series at Beverly Hills Pediatrics. As a mom of two, she knows and understands what you are going through and is here to support, educate, and guide you on all matters related to sleep... and more!