BREASTFEEDING FACT: No one sleeps all night
The reality is, no one, including adults, sleeps all night all the time. Older infants and toddlers are no exception. They often wake multiple times a night, but as they mature, they learn to put themselves back to sleep. We all go through multiple sleep cycles in a night, and toddlers actually go through more of these sleep cycles than we do. Which means they have more opportunity to get woken up from a light sleep.
Generally, there are 2 sleep stages in newborn babies and 4 sleep stages in babies over 3 months old. Newborn sleep stages are rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). Newborns spend close to equal amounts of time in REM and NREM while they sleep.
REM is an active sleep state and NREM is a quiet sleep state. During REM, a baby can be seen making small movements. The baby’s eyes move around (while closed), their arms, legs and fingers might twitch or jerk, their breathing might speed up, and they may move their mouths. During NREM, the baby is still and doesn’t move. Around 3 months, babies begin experiencing the same sleep stages as adults.
Adults go through 4 sleep stages. These sleep stages include three stages of NREM sleep (which happen first at night) and one of REM (which happens last). The first two are lighter stages of sleep, during which a person can be easily awakened. The third stage of sleep is the deepest stage, and it is very difficult to wake someone in this stage. The fourth is REM, where dreams happen. Although babies begin experiencing 4 stages of sleep around 3 months, it is not until closer to 5-years-old that children’s sleep actually begins to mirror that of adults. As babies, they experience a short REM stage almost immediately after falling asleep instead of last in the cycle. In contrast, adults do not experience REM until they have been asleep for around 90 minutes. As a baby’s sleep schedule changes, so do their sleep cycles. Baby REM sleep is one part of the sleep cycle that changes over time. However, there is no simple chart outlining sleep cycle length or REM by age. Know that it is normal for your baby and toddler to wake frequently at night, and as they age, they will get better and better at putting themselves back to sleep.