How long are baby sleep cycles?

August 28, 2020 3 mins read
How long are baby sleep cycles?

If you are a new (or soon-to-be) parent, you might be wondering: “How long are baby sleep cycles exactly?” This and other mysteries, such as how long your baby will sleep, what their stages of sleep are like, and how much rest you will be getting are some of the biggest concerns you probably have.

If you’re losing sleep about how much sleep your baby needs or how much rest you’re getting, it is time to stop worrying and take action. Optimising your baby’s sleep cycles is key to optimising your own, and you can start by learning as much as possible.

How long are sleep cycles in babies?

Babies cycle through stages of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep.

There are 4 stages of non-REM sleep: drowsiness, light sleep, deep sleep, and very deep sleep. For the average baby, each cycle lasts for about 40 to 50 minutes, but these will lengthen as your baby grows older.

How are baby sleep cycles different from adults?

What does it mean to ‘sleep like a baby’ and how is it different from the sleep we get as adults? It’s all about our different sleep cycles.

Duration of sleep

Growing babies need more sleep than adults, and usually get 12 to 16 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. Adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep over the same period.

REM stage of the sleep cycle

While adults usually spend between 20% to 25% in REM sleep, babies are in the REM sleep cycle from 50% to 80% of their sleep time. Cycles are also longer in adults and last between 90 and 120 minutes long.

Newborn babies will go into REM sleep immediately after falling asleep, while older children and adults will first go into non-REM sleep before transitioning into REM sleep.

Waking through the night

Babies will typically sleep for one to five hours at a time, waking up in between. They will often wake up as they transition through sleep cycles because they struggle to switch between the stages of sleep and are still learning to stitch their cycles together.

How do baby sleep cycles change as they get older?

Newborn sleep cycles

Newborns sleep in short bursts. They should ideally get between 14 and 20 hours of sleep in total over a 24-hour period. Because newborn babies go into REM sleep immediately, their sleep is generally light, and they can become restless while sleeping.

3-6 months old baby sleep cycles

By this age, babies no longer go into REM sleep immediately after falling asleep and start to experience more slow-wave, deep sleep. As their sleep cycles lengthen, babies start to sleep for longer periods of time at night and start taking fewer naps during the day.

Babies typically sleep between 10 and 18 hours in total over a 24-hour period.

6-12 months old

By this point, most babies tend to sleep for longer periods of time. It is normal for babies to wake up 3 to 4 times a night.

Typically, babies at this age will sleep around 14 hours over a 24-hour period, including napping during the day.

How does sleep affect a baby’s development?

Not getting enough sleep can interfere with proper development. When we sleep, our bodies produce human growth hormone (HGH), which is especially crucial for body and brain development in babies and older children. An HGH deficiency will make it hard for bones and other tissues to grow properly and will cause your baby’s growth to slow down.

So, how long are baby sleep cycles meant to be before you should start worrying about their development? The answer is between 40 and 50 minutes. If your baby is sleeping for less than 40 minutes or no longer than 40 minutes, you can incorporate some changes and try a few natural sleep remedies for babies to improve the quality and duration of your baby’s stages of sleep.