It’s one thing to get your little one off to sleep, but keeping them snoozing until morning is another matter! However, understanding your baby’s sleep cycles will help you get her to sleep through the night sooner, or at least make her night-wakenings shorter and less painful for you.
There are two types of sleep:
REM (rapid eye movement) sleep
This is very light – a baby may twitch, smile, or even coo during this stage and it’s also when dreaming occurs.
This has three stages: light, deep, and very deep. Babies and children need lots of very deep sleep (this is when your little one is so deeply asleep he doesn’t react if you try to wake him or move him from one spot to another).
Children aged 18 months and older experience night terrors during non-REM sleep. During these episodes, a child wakes up panic-stricken and can’t be consoled (she also doesn’t remember the episode the next morning.) One way to solve this problem is to wake your child up 30 minutes before the nightmares tend to happen, avoiding that part of the sleep cycle altogether.
While adults tend to go through the above stages in gradual cycles, babies flit in and out of them more quickly, with shorter and more numerous cycles. They also spend more time in light sleep than adults (newborns spend the majority of their time in REM sleep). Basically, this means babies wake frequently throughout the night, which is absolutely normal. But whereas adults drift back off to sleep pretty quickly when they wake, babies can have difficulty doing this by themselves. For example, if your baby associates rocking or feeding with falling asleep at bedtime, he’ll come to believe he needs that to fall asleep all the time – even at 3 a.m. That’s why it’s helpful to teach your baby how to soothe himself to sleep at bedtime. It’s also a good idea to stick to a set bedtime, day in and day out, to help keeping your baby’s body clock in check and establish regular sleep cycles.