Understanding Baby Sleep Cycles and How to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night

Last updated: September 19th, 2023

Introduction to Baby Sleep Cycles

As a parent, it is natural to have questions or concerns about a newborn baby's sleep habits. During the first few weeks and months, it may seem like your newborn's sleep patterns are erratic and unpredictable, and your own lack of sleep may make it even more challenging to find relief for your family. Developing an understanding of your baby's sleep cycles and patterns can help you navigate changes through the first year of their lives and beyond.

How Sleep Cycles Are Different For Babies

Babies aren't born with a fully formed circadian rhythm, it develops over time. During their first 6 months, babies undergo a number of changes in their sleep habits before they begin to follow a regular day-night sleep schedule. If it feels like you are struggling with your child's sleep patterns, do not worry — this is common among newborns and babies, and every child differs.

Explaining Baby Sleep Cycles

A baby's sleep cycle involves three distinct phases: active sleep, quiet sleep, and transitional sleep. Each phase is defined by certain body movements, changes in breathing patterns, and variations in brain activity. Throughout a period of sleep, a newborn moves through these phases in a predictable pattern. Referred to as a baby's sleep cycle, this pattern repeats about every 60 minutes over a period of several hours.

A baby's sleep cycle is primarily characterized by longer durations of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which researchers believe is crucial for meeting developmental milestones.

Active Phase

In the active phase, REM sleep occurs. During this phase, babies' eyes move quickly under their eyelids, and their muscles might randomly twitch. It is normal for breathing patterns to become temporarily staggered, even stopping for 5 to 10 seconds before rapidly increasing again.

Quiet Phase

During the quiet phase, babies experience non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. There are no muscle spasms, and their eyes stop shifting beneath their eyelids. This is the longest phase of sleep and generally lasts anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes. It is also common for babies to cry during this phase right before they wake up.

Transitional Phase

The third and last phase of sleep is the transitional phase. This is the time right after babies wake up in which they become increasingly alert and active. During this phase, it is common for babies to start making noises, stretching, and moving their arms and legs around in preparation for the active phase.

Tips For Helping Baby Sleep

You can take action to help your baby sleep through the night in several ways, including sleep training, improving their bedtime routine, and talking with a doctor. Encourage good sleep habits by making the bedroom a comfortable and safe environment. Make sure your baby's room is dark and quiet throughout the night to ensure they are sleeping well.

Also, be mindful of the noise level around your baby's sleeping area, as loud noises like turning on the television or the sound of dogs barking can wake them up. If your baby has allergies or congestion, consider using a humidifier to keep the air in their room moist. Finally, establish a regular bedtime and keep it consistent.

Babies And Snoring

Yes, babies can snore. However, the reasons and considerations for baby snoring can be different than for adults. Here's what you should know:

  1. Occasional Snoring: It's not uncommon for babies to snore occasionally. This can be due to a stuffy nose from a cold, or if they're in a particular sleeping position that might temporarily cause some airway restriction.

  2. Consistent Snoring: If your baby snores regularly, it might be a sign of something that requires attention. Continuous snoring can sometimes indicate an obstruction in the upper airway or other medical conditions.

  3. Possible Causes:

    • Nasal Congestion: A common cause of snoring in babies. When a baby's tiny nasal passages get clogged, it can lead to noisy breathing.
    • Enlarged adenoids or tonsils: These can block the airways, leading to snoring.
    • Laryngomalacia: This is a condition where the tissue above the vocal cords falls into the airway when the baby breathes in, potentially causing snoring or noisy breathing.
    • Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): While less common in infants, it's possible. OSA is a condition where the person stops breathing for short periods during sleep. This can be due to various causes, including muscle tone, brain function, and physical obstructions.
  4. When to See a Doctor: If your baby snores consistently, it's essential to discuss it with your pediatrician, especially if the snoring is loud, if you notice your baby has difficulty breathing, or if there are periods when they stop breathing.

  5. Observations: If you're concerned about your baby's snoring, it can be helpful to record the sounds or take a video. This can provide useful information for healthcare professionals.

  6. Prevention and Management: Keeping your baby's sleeping environment free from allergens, ensuring they sleep on their back, and maintaining a smoke-free environment can help reduce the risk of snoring and other respiratory problems.


Babies' sleep cycles and patterns may seem complicated and unpredictable at first, but understanding their sleeping habits can help parents create an environment which ensures their baby gets the sleep they need to grow. By making the bedroom cozy and comfortable, establishing a bedtime routine, and talking with a doctor, parents can work towards helping their baby sleep through the night.

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