The Science Of Baby Sleep: Better Understanding Sleep Cycles

As a parent, sleepless nights often come with the territory. When we don’t get proper rest, we can feel it the next day (or next month, or year, depending on how long the sleep issues persist). Low-quality sleep doesn’t just impact us- getting solid REM is essential for your baby, too. Baby sleep is imperative to proper growth and brain development. Especially during the first few months, navigating baby sleep can be confusing and difficult. However, when we can begin to understand baby sleep patterns a bit more clearly, it can become easier for the whole family to get solid rest. Today, we will be discussing the science of baby sleep and sleep cycles to help you know what to expect! 

Science of baby sleep

The Science of Baby Sleep

The first step in knowing what to expect from your baby’s sleep cycles is understanding the science behind them. Let’s dive in! 

Why is Baby Sleep So Important?

There is a strong connection between baby brain development and sleep. During the first two years of life, your baby develops at a rapid pace. The majority of your baby’s brain development occurs during sleep, making it essential to ensure that they’re getting adequate rest for cognitive and physical development. Insufficient sleep can lead to difficulties in your baby’s overall temperament, meeting milestones, and feeding. Research has found that infants who get less than 12 hours of sleep in 24 hours on average display less cognitive and language development progress at two years of age than other infants who sleep more. 

What is a Sleep Cycle?

A sleep cycle can mean your baby’s awake and asleep times throughout a given period (typically 24 hours). A sleep cycle can also reference REM vs. non-REM sleep in a single sleep period. Baby sleep cycles are vastly different from adults’ to support proper development. They’re rapidly growing up right before our eyes, so naturally, they need much more sleep than we do. 

Sleep cycles grow and change with babies (especially within the first year), adapting as they become older and require less sleep time. Although they sleep for more time in 24 hours than we do, their sleep periods are typically shorter and include naps throughout the day. This sample schedule below shows the variations month-to-month in newborn sleep cycles:

Sample schedules for baby sleep

How Much Sleep Does Your Baby Need? 

As babies get older, they will begin to drop naps and sleep for less time. Depending on your baby’s age, they will require different amounts of sleep. According to the Sleep Foundation, these are the general guidelines of how much time your little one should be sleeping every day:

  • Newborn: 16-18 hours
  • 4-12 months: 12-16 hours
  • 1-2 years old: 11-14 hours
  • 3-5 years old: 10-13 hours

Remember that you know your baby best- don’t worry too much about rigid timelines. Each baby is different- if you have multiple kids, you’ve likely already noticed how vastly different sleep habits can be from child to child! Make sure that you’re setting your baby up in an optimal sleep environment to support an age-appropriate amount of quality sleep. The chart below lists out average awake times and naps for newborns and infants:

average awake time and naps for newborns and infants

What Age Should You Start Sleep Training? 

If you or your baby are struggling to get the sleep you need, you may want to consider sleep training. There are many different methods of sleep training to choose from depending on your parenting style and your baby’s temperament. Sleep training is life-changing for families to navigate and escape exhaustion. It teaches independent sleep and self-soothing skills to your little one that they will carry with them for a lifetime. Although babies are typically ready to learn independent sleep skills after 4 months, it’s never too late to start. Whether you have a 4-month-old or a toddler, sleep training is transformative in developing healthy sleep habits for the whole family!

Sleep training for better baby sleep

Sleep Shore Sleep Services

Curious to learn more about sleep training or how to feel less tired in general? Sleep Shore is here to help your little one fall asleep, stay asleep, and go back to sleep without the struggle. We offer one-on-one sleep training for newborns, infants, and toddlers. Sleep training is the best gift that you can give yourself and your little one, and we will walk you through each step! We approach each sleep issue differently to cater to your one-of-a-kind kiddo. You deserve to feel well-rested again!

See what this mama had to say about our sleep services: 

“Working with Molly was great! I reached out to her at my breaking point of the 4-month regression – my baby had been an amazing sleeper and then all of a sudden was up every single hour of the night! We also then formed the bad habit of rocking her to sleep so all night long we had to re-rock her and try not to wake her up when we set her down. Long, long nights for us!

Molly was super helpful in helping us to break the rocking habit as well as to set a sleep schedule for our daughter. We have a much more set schedule throughout the day that allows us to better plan and understand our LO’s needs. We have a game plan for the day depending on every scenario thanks to her help. Molly was available any time, any day to help. She was super responsive and understanding of every unique thing I threw her way. Thanks again, Molly!”


If you’re not yet ready to take the plunge on one-on-one sleep training support, check out our Infant and Toddler Sleep Guides for in-depth tips about how to navigate your little one’s sleep schedules. These step-by-step guides will help walk you through sleep training to get your baby sleeping better. You and your baby will both be happier when you’re feeling more well-rested! If you have a newborn, check out our Get My Newborn Sleeping Digital Course to get through the early parenting stages feeling less exhausted. Better sleep is ahead! 

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