Understanding Your Baby's Sleep

Most babies can sleep through the night from an early age, but that doesn't mean they do. Studies show that many babies wake up during the night but can go back to sleep on their own. Just like you, your baby goes through cycles with different types of sleep, but as he grows older, he'll gradually be able to sleep for longer and longer.

The different sleep phases in babies

Like adults, babies go through different phases during their sleep. From drowsiness to light sleep, dreams and deep sleep. Then the opposite: dreaming, light sleep, drowsiness, etc. The dream phase is also known as REM sleep. Adults and children experience an average of five sleep cycles per night.

  • REM sleep in babies

REM sleep is a stage of sleep characterized by a decrease in body movements and sensitivity to external stimuli. These sleep phases are visible in babies long before birth. Dreaming occurs around the sixth or seventh month of pregnancy. You can easily distinguish dream sleep from restful, dreamless sleep. When dreaming, the baby's eyes move back and forth under his eyelids, the rest of his body is motionless except for occasional spasms, and his breathing is irregular.

Baby's REM sleep

Newborns dream much more than adults. In adults, the REM phase accounts for 25% of sleep. According to several experts, fetuses spend 80% of their sleep time in REM sleep, and this figure rises to 50% after birth. This drops to 33% by age 3, and to 25% between the ages of 10 and 14. REM sleep is therefore thought to be an important period for the integration of experiences. It is therefore important for a growing and developing baby.

  • Baby's calm sleep phase

During the dream-free, restorative sleep phase, the baby breathes deeply and regularly. Sometimes, he may even let out a deep sigh. He's almost motionless, and may sometimes make sucking noises with his mouth or jerk awake. These sudden body movements are known as hypnagogic jerks and are perfectly normal. They occur in older children and adults too, often at the moment of falling asleep. This phase of restorative sleep in newborns is more intermittent than regular as in children or adults. During the first month of life, this phase becomes more and more constant, and snoozing disappears.

Why are dreams so important for babies?

A baby smiles in his sleep

Your baby naturally wakes up between sleep cycles, probably five times a night. Rarely do his cycle changes and awakenings coincide with changes in your cycle. You may have woken from a deep sleep or a dream. Such waking is very uncomfortable, unlike the gentle, natural awakening between cycles. You may feel disrupted and disturbed throughout the following day, especially when you've woken up from a dream.

What impact does sleep deprivation have on parents?

A father asleep on the sofa with his baby

Lack of sleep can make you feel confused, disoriented and irritable. The consequences can be felt at work (when your maternity leave is over) and even at home. You may get angry with your young child and blame him or her for your fatigue. The limits of your patience are far exceeded, you're irritable and the atmosphere at home can be tense.

How do you cope with sleep deprivation as a parent?

It's important to cope with sleep deprivation as a parent by trying to get as much sleep as possible. Once paternity/maternity leave is over, the effects of sleep deprivation are felt at work and even at home. You may become angry with your toddler and blame him for your fatigue. Your patience limits are far exceeded, you're irritable and the atmosphere at home can be tense.

A father rests with his baby on his stomach

A good way to combat sleep deprivation is to take every opportunity to catch up on sleep (and dreams!) during the day. If possible, take several short naps a day. Take inspiration from your baby's naps as often as possible!

Why does my baby wake up in the middle of the night?

Although it's normal for babies to wake up during the night, some wake up more often than others. Babies' sleep patterns can be disrupted by a number of factors: illness, vacations or changing habits. Developmental reasons also explain why babies who were heavy sleepers suddenly start waking up at night between 6 and 10 months.

A baby sleeping with a stuffed toy

  • Try to determine the reason for this awakeningIs it colder at night, for example? Do your new neighbors leave an outside light on that might disturb your baby, who is used to sleeping in total darkness? Is he afraid of an object or a stuffed toy? Dress your baby warmer or darken the bedroom window with a blackout blind.
  • Aren't night-time awakenings the result of illness or a vacation period? Perhaps they also coincide with a developmental stage? For example, if your baby has acquired a new skill, such as crawling, he'll certainly want to take every opportunity to practice, even in the middle of the night. Other babies get up in their cribs, but then can't go to bed on their own.

The golden rule for dealing with night-time awakenings is to be consistent. Don't suddenly change your bedtime routine or the way you rock your baby to sleep. Just keep doing what you've been doing for the past few weeks. This will help your baby fall back asleep when the temporary problem is resolved. Rituals soothe babies, don't forget!

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