Stressful Nights: Understanding Your Baby’s Sleep Cycle

The Baby Sleep Book by William Sears et al, with a forward by Dr James McKennaHere’s a well-known fact: Your baby needs more sleep than you do. In fact, babies spend two-thirds of their day sleeping to help their brain make the proper connections. This only happens during sufficient sleep time.

However, your baby’s sleep is often interrupted making you sleepless at night. It’s not because they can’t sleep a full, long stretch but because they need to wake up to be fed or be made comfortable (changing time).

Usually, the average time your baby will sleep is be between 14-16 hours. Their sleeping routine starts out with short sleep and wake cycles with longer wake-up cycles during the night for feeding and changing time. But then as your baby grows older, their sleeping time is gradually reduced, as are their night wakings. By the time that they’re 18-24 months old, their sleeping hours have likely been reduced to 11-13 hours.

The stages of your baby’s sleep

Just like the normal adult, your babies experience different stages of sleep. To understand that better here’s the order of your baby’s sleep cycle:

  1. Drowsiness your baby’s droopy eyes is a good indication that they would go into light sleep.
  2. Light sleep this is just your baby relaxing and preparing to enter into quiet sleep.
  3. Quiet sleep or NREM this is the between stage from light and deep sleep where dreams can also happen. In older children this stage of sleep is where sleepwalking and nightmares usually occurs. As for babies, this stage is mostly a non-dream state that is shorter and is well developed in newborns rather than adults.
  4. Deep sleep by this time your baby will be deep into sleeping and is actually dreaming.
  5. Dream or REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep most babies spend 50%-80% of their bedtime on REM sleep. Premature babies spend a lot more time in REM sleep than full term babies accounting to 80% compared to 50% of the latter. While an adult dreams for an average of two hours, babies can accumulate a total of eight hours of dream sleep alone.

It’s very important for you to understand the stages of your child’s sleep because that is how you will understand their movements while they have their eyes shut.

Babies in REM sleep tend to have the occasional twitch, irregular breathing and eyes darting back and forth under the eyelids while having their bodies completely still. During quiet sleep or NREM, babies will have deep and regular breathing. However, you may notice your babies give a start, move their arms, legs or suddenly suck their fingers or do similar actions during this time, but these movements known as hypnagogic startles and are very normal. Sometimes, your babies will even open their eyes and look like they’re already awake but actually they’re not. They are still truly asleep and only need a minute or two to get back to their sleeping cycle. Don’t disturb your babies right away and let them sleep by themselves.

Usually, after entering REM sleep, your babies will go back again to the deep sleep cycle and quiet sleep before waking up. Unlike adults, who have an average 90 minutes sleep cycle (though it varies through the night), your baby will have a complete sleep cycle of about 50 minutes.

So now that you know exactly how your baby sleeps, the next thing to do would be to develop good sleeping habits and bedtime routines for them to ensure that they get to enjoy a good night’s sleep and that you get enough sleep too.

Eliminate Bedtime Frustration with These Tips to Help Your Child Get to Sleep Faster

no cry sleep soluton by elizabeth pantley happy babies sleeping

(This is a guestpost from the author of

Gentle ways to stop bedtime battles and improve your child's sleep The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers: Gentle Ways to Stop Bedtime Battles and Improve Your Child's Sleep by Elizabeth Pantley, with a forward by Harvey Karp (Foreword) I know I am not the only one who has been played, almost on a nightly basis by my young children at bedtime. You just get them down, tucked nice and cozy in their bed and begin to meander back down the hall with an excitement similar to that of a child’s on Christmas Eve of what you are going to do with the next couple of hours that you have to yourself, and then……it starts:

“I forgot to get a drink, I need to go to the bathroom, I forgot to brush my teeth, I’m scared, I need to say my prayers, I had a bad dream…”  (even though they haven’t even been to sleep yet) and the list goes on and on. The excuses are pretty much the same ones that you used as a kid. So, there has to be an answer to this nighttime nonsense, right? Here are a few strategies that havebeen helpful to me:

  1. Consistent Bedtimes: Kids need to know what to expect. If their bedtime is constantly changing, it will be hard for them to take you seriously when you say it is bedtime. Sometimes events come up that may alter bedtime a little bit, but for the most part, once a time is established, it should be adhered to. Our kids are still in grade school, so we prefer to put them all to bed at the same established time of 8:30 pm., however, staggering bedtimes based on age is another option as well. Providing a little leeway on the weekends, I have found, gives them something to look forward to and even helps them accept the earlier weekday time.
  2. Routines Rule: Establishing a nighttime routine that the child can go through each night will ensure that everything on the checklist gets checked long before the covers are pulled up. It takes some dedication and a small time commitment, but it will go a long way to eliminate the repeated tuck in game. The things that I like to include in my kids bedtime routine are reading a book , getting a final drink, going to the bathroom, brushing teeth, saying prayers, and of course saying goodnight and easing any concerns about open closets or other things that are “scaring” them.
  3. Offer Incentives for Staying in Bed: One that my kids enjoy is being allowed to read in their bed for a few minutes before lights out, or listening to soft, quiet music to help them fall asleep. We also will give them rewards such as special nights of storytelling, or being able to have a slumber party in the living room, or a movie night, if they go to bed well during the week.

If you’re like me, seeing your kids sleeping peacefully is a beautiful sight. Never do they seem more sweet and innocent and wonderful, it’s just getting them there that can be challenging.

Once you find that perfect routine or incentive that will make it happen smooth and seamlessly, you will be able to slip in that extra activity that always seems to take a back seat, like exercise. You could then stop by my blog for some great information on top rated home gym pieces.

How Not to Sabotage Your Sleep Training Efforts

child sleeping peacefully in a single/twin bed with bright blue bedrails on both sides
shows white panel bedroom suite with stripped red bed covers and a teddy bear, plus matching trundle bed
A bed that your child will be comfortable moving to, but that will last many years and be comfortable for you to sit or lie on too, is a great choice, when it's time for your child to move to a room of her own.

When it comes to sleeping arrangement for an infant or a toddler, there are generally two camps: those who prefer to have their baby sleep in the crib or a cradle and those who opt to have a superkingsize mattress for a family bed. Both sides have good reasons for deciding one way or another– convenience, safety, closer bonding, etc. And yet, there comes a time when every parent gets to ask: when does a baby sleep in a youth bed?

Parenting authorities and publications may have various opinions on this, but the bottomline is that each family is different. For instance, some may decide to move the baby to his or her own bed right after weaning from breastfeeding. Others may wait until the child has become agile enough to be able to get in and out of bed on his own. Still others may decide to just preserve the status quo until the child simply grows too big to sleep with the parents, or when another sibling is in the way.

Note that there are certain cultures in which co-sleeping is the norm rather than the exception.

There are various means to success when training your child to sleep on his or her own bed. Much like other milestones such as toilet training, walking or talking, children reach the right level of readiness at different times. Be prepared to be very patient and understanding during the process; some firmness is of course essential, but never be punitive or belittling.

We compiled some tips from veteran parents who have (give or take a learning experience or two) successfully navigated the pitfalls of sleep training:

child sleeping peacefully in a single/twin bed with bright blue bedrails on both sides
Bed rails can help keep your child safe when he first moves to his own bed (and also provide something for you to lean against if you're lying in their with him sometimes!)
  • Prepare your child for the eventuality of sleeping alone on his or her own bed way ahead of time. If time allows, do this months in advance, so that your child understands that it is a necessary and inevitable process rather than something you just arbitrarily decided. You can even make it an exciting event by picking out a new bed and then saving up for it together – carefully timing it so that you just happen to have enough when you think he or she is ready to start sleeping solo.
  • If you are not getting a new bed, you can do the same process with the bed linens, the pillows, or a cool night light, really just about anything that makes it more of an accomplishment. That way, your child will see the event as a challenge rather than something to be dreaded.
  • Once your child has started to sleep in his or her own bed, discourage regression. For instance, if your child is sick and needs extra cuddling and attention during the night, sleep in your child’s bed rather than letting him or her back in your marital bed. Doing the latter will just make it harder and more confusing. This is one good reason to opt for a full-size double mattress and bed frame if your child’s bedroom can accommodate it, rather than an easily-outgrown cot.


Tips For Helping Your Toddler Sleep

The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers: Gentle Ways to Stop Bedtime Battles and Improve Your Child's Sleep, Elizabeth Pantley Author of The No Cry Sleep Solution,

The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers: Gentle Ways to Stop Bedtime Battles and Improve Your Child's Sleep, Elizabeth Pantley Author of The No Cry Sleep Solution,Getting my 2-year-old to sleep was one of the most daunting challenges I ever had to face. It seemed that his energy picked up exactly at the wrong time. With that aside, handling the tantrums that came with waking up in the middle of the night and transitioning back into a peaceful sleep was another issue altogether.

It was time to do some research to find out how to get over this hurdle in his development. With a bit of consultation and advice from my own mother, tips from other experienced mothers and some Internet research, here are a few tips I found that can help your toddler sleep better.

Create a regular sleep cycle/routine

With toddlers, it’s all in the regularity of what happens at sleep time. If you child grows to expect nap time as part of his regular daily activities then rather than fight it afresh each time it comes up, he goes to sleep more willingly which means less stress and better sleep for longer periods. Try creating a pattern such as a slow down period of reading books and perhaps singing quiet songs before naps, and a longer routine before bedtime such as dinner, then a nice bath, followed by brushing of teeth then maybe you can allow your toddler to pick out a nice storybook and his pajamas, as it can make him more willing to participate if he feels involved.

Allow comfort objects in bed

Does your toddler have a favorite blankie or teddy? Let him bring it to bed. If there is any way to make bedtime more pleasant and easier, then make the most of it. At this stage of life, it is a well known fact that comfort is one of the most important needs that one can satisfy in their toddler.

In some instances, co-sleeping is the ultimate form of comfort a parent can provide for their toddler. If a child wakes up in the middle of the night due to nightmares or just for a normal break, it helps to know that someone they trust is nearby and helps them transition back into sleep much faster and more peacefully.

IMPORTANT NOTE: When it comes to comfort objects, pick items that won’t pose a health risk. Teddy bears and other toys may pose a choking hazard if they’re too small or may cause bruises if they have rough/sharp parts. In other instances, blankets and teddy bears may cause respiratory problems if they shed. Allergies to fabric or materials used to make the comfort objects also need to be taken into account. And these objects should be left out of bed when your child is still a baby.

Regulate what your baby has at dinner or for snacks before bed

Sugar only serves to raise the energy levels that are supposed to be bundled up at bedtime. The level of sensitivity to sugar and caffeine for toddlers is such that even healthy yet sugary foods should be avoided before bedtime. This includes fruits and vegetables and sweet nuts. Natural juices should also be checked for sugar levels to avoid giving baby a fresh jumpstart right when he should be settling down. Try warm milk with dinner instead of juice.

These are just some of the simple I learned for how to get your baby to sleep through the night.

Our guest writer for this post, Mary, is a mother of two and a regular blogger at Miracle Maternity

Marital Satisfaction Declines with Kids – But Don’t Worry: It’s Normal

Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up by Harriet Lerner PhDWhen your baby doesn’t sleep well, it can be extremely stressful for the whole household, particularly, of course, the parents. But in truth, many studies have now concluded that marital satisfaction goes down with the addition of kids to the equation, whether they sleep or not! In fact, one eight year long study found that 90% of couples experienced a decline in satisfaction.

That may seem like a depressing statistic, but if you have children, I hope you won’t take it that way.Co-author of that study, Brian Doss points out

The fact that we’ve been largely unsuccessful [in stopping declines in satisfaction] may suggest it’s a really difficult and tough experience and it’s not necessarily a deficit in these couples’ relationships or how they’re approaching it.

Harriet Lerner, clinical psychologist and author of a new book Marriage Rules, suggests waiting it out. “Relationships that appear to be falling apart … may look entirely different down the road,” she says.

One of Lerner’s rules is “Don’t obsess about getting it right”. This fits in well with new research out of Ohio State University by Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, which found that parents show poorer adjustment if they think society expects them to be perfect.

So don’t obsess about getting it all right, remember to nurture your relationship as well as your kids, and wait it out. Anecdotal evidence is that, although martial satisfaction may decline, most parents still feel their kids bring more over-all joy and satisfaction to their life, than they cause stress and dissatisfaction. When your baby is screaming at three in the morning though, it may seem like a fine line!


Note: If your baby doesn‘t sleep well, you might like to read our articles Your Baby’s Sleep: Swaddling Newborns, Eight Sleep Tips for Every Child, from Elizabeth Pantley, and Your Baby’s Sleep: from Birth to Six Months

Swaddling with the Miracle Blanket

The Miracle Baby Swaddling Blanket, blue with green trim
The Miracle Baby Swaddling Blanket

Swaddling has become a standard answer to help calm fussy babies and to help induce sleep, but not all babies are easy to keep swaddled. Either they get loose after a few squirms or they are just get too active to allow wrapping in the first place. Then too, for new parents, overwhelmed and sleep deprived, sometime it’s just nice to have a product that makes things a little easier. That’s where the Miracle Blanket comes into its own.

Fortunately for the swaddling-challenged parent, there is now an easier way of swaddling. The popular method has been modified and made easy with this specially shaped wrap. It is still a baby blanket, it just makes swaddling easy.

The Miracle Blanket looks plain and simple but that’s what it is supposed to be. There are no buttons, snaps, knots, or zippers that can scratch a baby’s sensitive skin. It doesn’t have a hood or extra fabric that can make parents worry about suffocation or the risk of over-heating. Instead, the Miracle Blanket has been made very simple with the baby and parents in mind. The main idea is to help parents easily and effectively swaddle their newborn. A few flaps and fold and the baby will securely be bundled up ready to sleep soundly through the night. Then parents too can have a longer rest and with a well-rested child he or she will be better organised and less fuzzy and finicky the next day.

Swaddling newborns, and older babies up until they can roll, has proven to reduce the incidence of SIDS by making it easier to keep babies asleep on their backs, it reduces the startle reflex, and helps baby feel snug and secure just like in the womb. The Miracle Blanket makes swaddling easier and keeps baby snugly swaddled for longer. When baby is old enough to stop being swaddled, it might be time to consider trying some baby sleeping bags instead.

The Miracle Blanket is very well constructed. It is designed to be washed regularly and used daily. It is also built to apply slight pressure to the stomach to help with gas and colic. It is made from soft, stretch cotton and is over 6 feet wide.

For more help with getting your baby to sleep well, see Elizabeth Pantley’s sleep tips, or read her book The No Cry Sleep Solution.

Eight Sleep Tips for Every Child, from Elizabeth Pantley

The no cry sleep solution

Editor’s note: I discovered Elizabeth Pantley through this review of The No Cry Nap Solution. See below for links for purchasing more Elizabeth Pantley books in the UK.

The no cry sleep solutionUp to 70% of children under age five have sleep problems. Sleep issues are complicated and have many causes. They are hard to deal with because when children aren’t sleeping, parents aren’t sleeping, and that lack of sleep affects every minute of every day for every person in the family because lack of sleep isn’t just about being tired. Sleep has a role in everything ~~ dawdling, temper tamtrums, hyperactivity, growth, health, and even learning to tie his shoes and recite the ABCs. Sleep Affects Everything.

The following ideas are of value to almost any sleeper, of any age. These tips can bring improvement not only in your child’s sleep, but also in her daytime mood and last, but not least – improvements in your own sleep and outlook as well.

# 1  Maintain a consistent bedtime and awaking time.

Your child’s biological clock has a strong influence on her wakefulness and sleepiness. When you establish a set time for bedtime and wake up time you “set” your child’s clock so that it functions smoothly.  Aim for an early bedtime. Young children respond best with a bedtime between 6:30 and 7:30 P.M. Most children will sleep better and longer when they go to bed early.

# 2  Encourage regular daily naps.

Daily naps are important. An energetic child can find it difficult to go through the day without a rest break. A nap-less child will often wake up cheerful and become progressively fussier or hyper-alert as the day goes on. Also, the length and quality of naps affects night sleep – good naps equal better night sleep.

# 3  Set your child’s biological clock.

Take advantage of your child’s biology so that he’s actually tired when bedtime arrives. Darkness causes an increase in the release of the body’s sleep hormone — the biological “stop” button. You can align your child’s sleepiness with bedtime by dimming the lights during the hour before bedtime.   Exposing your child to morning light is pushing the “go” button in her brain — one that says, “Time to wake up and be active.” So keep your mornings bright!

# 4  Develop a consistent bedtime routine.

Routines create security. A consistent, peaceful bedtime routine allows your child to transition from the motion of the day to the tranquil state of sleep.  An organized routine helps you coordinate the specifics: bath, pajamas, tooth-brushing. It helps you to function on auto-pilot at the time when you are most tired and least creative.

# 5  Create a cozy sleep environment.

Where your child sleeps can be a key to quality sleep. Make certain the mattress is comfortable, the blankets are warm, the room temperature is right, pajamas are comfy, and the bedroom is welcoming.

# 6  Provide the right nutrition.

Foods can affect energy level and sleepiness. Carbohydrates can have a calming effect on the body, while foods high in protein or sugar generate alertness, particularly when eaten alone. A few ideas for pre-bed snacks are: whole wheat toast and cheese, bagel and peanut butter, oatmeal with bananas, or yogurt and low-sugar granola.   Vitamin deficiencies due to unhealthy food choices can affect a child’s sleep. Provide your child with a daily assortment of healthy foods.

# 7 Help your child to be healthy and fit.

Many children don’t get enough daily physical activity. Too much TV watching and a lack of activity prevents good sleep. Children who get ample daily exercise fall asleep more quickly, sleep better, stay asleep longer, and wake up feeling refreshed.   Avoid activity in the hour before bedtime though, since exercise is stimulating – they’ll be jumping on the bed instead of sleeping in it!

# 8 Teach your child how to relax.

Many children get in bed but aren’t sure what to do when they get there! It can help to follow a soothing pre-bed routine that creates sleepiness. A good pre-bed ritual is story time. A child who is listening to a parent read a book or tell a tale will tend to lie still and listen. This quiet stillness allows him to become sleepy.
Work with these eight ideas and you’ll see improvements in your child’s sleep, and yours too.

Excerpted with permission by McGraw-Hill Publishing from The No-Cry Sleep Solution (McGraw-Hill 2002).

More books by Elizabeth Pantley