Baby Sleep Cycles and Patterns Explained


Sleep is important for your baby, who needs plenty of shut-eye for healthy growth and optimum development. Understanding the different baby sleep cycles can help you ensure your little one is getting enough rest at every stage, from birth to toddlerhood.

Your baby’s sleep is closely related to your own health and well-being—when your little one’s sleeping, you can, too! Plus, learning about your baby’s unique sleep patterns can help you set schedules, anticipate when it’s time for a nap, and figure if he’s crying because he’s tired (or wet, or hungry). Now, you’re speaking your baby’s language!

How Long Should Your Baby Sleep at Every Stage?

The amount of time your baby spends sleeping will vary from day to day and will change as he gets older. The newborn and baby sleep chart below can help you get a better idea of how long your baby’s sleep cycles may last, the average amount of time he will sleep in a 24-hour period, and how many naps he will typically take.

Baby Sleep Chart

Remember, these are merely averages, and every baby is unique. Speak to your baby’s healthcare provider if you have any concerns or questions regarding sleep.

What Is a Sleep Cycle for Babies?

The term sleep cycle is often used broadly to describe patterns of wakefulness and sleep in a given time frame, such as 24 hours. Baby sleep cycle may also refer to a single sequence of two types of sleep: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep, also known as active and quiet sleep.

In REM, or active, sleep, your baby may move around more and make noises. In non-REM, quiet sleep, your baby sleeps more deeply.

Babies, and especially newborns, have general sleep cycles that are different from your own. They sleep for short periods of time, similar to the length of naps adults have. In part, that's because they have smaller stomachs, and wake up frequently because they're hungry and need to be fed.

There are typically five stages that make up a baby’s sleep cycle:

Stage One:Your baby feels drowsy and starts to drift off to sleep.

Stage Two: REM sleep, or active sleep phase.

Stage Three: Light sleep where your baby’s sleep becomes less “active.

Stages Four and Five:Deep non-REM sleep, or quiet sleep. Your baby doesn’t move as much during this stage and it can be more difficult to wake him.

Pay attention to signs your baby is getting ready for sleep. This can help you soothe him to sleep when he needs it and get him to drift off more easily:

  • He may start rubbing his eyes

  • He may yawn

  • He may exhibit signs of fussiness, which include crying.

Newborn Sleep Cycle

After your baby is born, you may find yourself feeling quite exhausted. That's completely normal: you have a new addition to the family, and that can change many things in your life! On the one hand, a newborn does spend most of her time asleep. However, her sleep cycles are quite short: she may only sleep for 40 minutes to an hour or two during a sleep cycle. And when she wakes, you’re up too.

This can make it seem as though you’ll never get a good night’s sleep again. Constantly at your baby’s beck and call, you may not even know where to begin when it comes to setting a sleeping schedule, let alone a feeding routine. But these do make your life easier. Your baby benefits from the routine, better ensuring she’s getting the right amount of sleep on a daily basis, which means you’re one step closer to getting more sleep yourself!

In other words, don’t despair! Your baby’s sleep patterns are emerging, and with the right tools you can better set a more predictable schedule.

Don’t miss these must-watch sleep tips from a pediatric sleep consultant.

Setting Up a Newborn Sleep Schedule

Implementing a sleep schedule for your infant usually revolves around her circadian clock, so you may not know precisely when and how to make adjustments. Tracking your baby’s sleep patterns can help you gain the insights you need to better set a schedule and know if your little one is getting the right amount of sleep every day. While it’s normal to be focused on overnight sleep, it is important to note that it’s what happens during the day that sets your baby up for a great night, and naps play a critical role in unlocking your baby’s optimal routine.

To help you establish the best routine for your baby (and you), check out the the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers App. Powered by science, backed by experts and designed just for you. It equips you you with the tools and knowledge to get more Zzzz’s, turning you and your baby into a dream team. Take this FREE Sleep Assessment and get your personalized plan when you start your 7-day FREE trial!

Peering into this deeper level of your baby’s development will allow you to better identify if he is hungry, needs a diaper change, or if it’s time for a nap. Expert advice delivers personalized routine tips to keep your baby’s sleep on track, letting you know when to make adjustments and if he’s getting the right amount of sleep at every stage—possibly helping you sleep better, too!

What you can expect at the newborn stage of your baby’s sleep patterns:

  • For the first few weeks after birth, your little one sleeps most of the time, with one- to two-hour periods of wakefulness

  • At about six to eight weeks, your baby is settling into a routine and may show signs of drowsiness to signal when it’s time for a nap

  • Your baby's sleep pattern may change—he may now fall asleep around 6 or 8 PM, with his longest period of evening sleep being about three to five hours long

  • He may cry when he’s tired, signaling it’s time for sleep; if he does, try to soothe him right away so he can get to sleep more quickly

  • Once a routine is established, he may begin to soothe himself to sleep, as he gets older.

There are additional factors to consider when you’re trying to help your newborn get to sleep and stay asleep longer. Comfortable and safe sleep is always crucial. Don't overdress your baby and keep his crib bare. If you are swaddling your newborn, be sure you swaddle him just right—if he's wrapped too tightly or too loosely he may be waking up more frequently than needed.

Check your baby’s diaper before putting him down to bed; a wet diaper may not be comfortable and can keep him up at night. Pampers offers super absorbent diaper options specifically designed for nighttime. So, you may not have to worry about changing your baby’s wet diaper when he’s already deep asleep.

Your baby will also sleep better if he’s well fed. After all, no one likes to go to sleep hungry!

3- to 6-Month-Old Baby Sleep Patterns

As your baby grows, it may become easier to recognize when she’s tired and ready for rest. Naps become less frequent and your baby may begin to sleep for longer periods of time at night.

Continue to soothe your baby when she’s tired and maintain a safe and comfortable sleep environment. At around 4 months old, your baby may begin to learn how to self-soothe. You can help facilitate the process by gradually giving her less attention at night. Your baby will recognize that you won’t come running to her crib every time she cries, and in turn she may soothe herself to sleep by sucking on her thumb, rubbing a sheet, or rocking her head—it’s all part of growing up!

As a parent of a newborn you may feel that a good night’s sleep is a far-away dream, but with the right expectations and tools in place, that dream can become a reality sooner than you think. Understanding your baby’s unique sleep cycles and patterns can help you set a schedule that works for everyone—how’s that for a bedtime story with a happy ending!

About Mandy Treeby | Co-founder of the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™Read More