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The Science of Infant Sleep

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That old “sleep like a baby” metaphor takes on a whole new meaning when your own sleep is dependent on theirs. So what exactly is it that those little baby brains are doing at those 12am, 2am, 3am, and 4am wake times?

Adults’ brains have learned nighttime behaviors and often shut certain centers of the brain down to start the restful light sleep process well before you even close your eyes. Babies need to be parented and these bedtime routines help their brains to ready the night for rest.

If you have a light sleeper, know that that drowsy infant may have its eyes closed and it may seem like it’s dreaming away with twitches and sleepy, elvish grins, but this is still active sleep. Some babies need those few extra moments with you before they unfold their fists, their breaths deepen, and their limbs become limp. This is now their deep sleep, or non-REM sleep, and it lasts about 45 minutes to an hour as opposed to adults’ longer 90 minute phases.

REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) is a very active sleep, and also can be a very light sleep. The brain is firing away and literally getting your body to work with twitches and eye movements. Adults can wake from this, use the restroom, and immediately re-enter the dream they were in. Babies can easily be triggered to wake from this.

That baby’s need for twice the amount of active sleep as an adult allows it to recognize key triggers for survival needs. Those tiny tummies and rapid metabolisms long for nourishment, or those stuffed up noses are affecting their breathing. Feed, adjust, clean, rest, and be ready to do it all over again the next night.

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