From Wide-Awake to Fast-Asleep: Baby’s Sleep Patterns

While awake and asleep, your baby goes through different stages. Knowing what happens during these stages can help maximize your child’s sleep, while helping you make the most of her waking hours.

The Alert Phase

Babies also have differences in how alert they are during the time they are awake. When a newborn awakens at the end of the sleep cycles, there is typically a quiet alert phase. This is a time when the baby is very still, but awake and taking in the environment. During the quiet alert time, babies may look or stare at objects, and respond to sounds and motion.

This phase usually moves into an active alert phase. You’ll notice your baby is more attentive to sounds and sights, and moves actively.

After this period of active alertness, your baby enters a crying phase. Her body moves erratically, and she may cry loudly. Babies can easily be over-stimulated during the crying phase, so it’s usually best to find a way of calming her down. Holding her close or swaddling (wrapping snugly in a blanket) may help lull her. She is not likely to respond to the same stimuli that she did when she is actively alert.

It is usually best to feed babies before they reach the crying phase. When in the crying period, your baby can be so upset that she refuses the breast or bottle. In newborns, crying is a late sign of hunger.

While She Sleeps

Babies, like adults, have various stages and depths of sleep. Depending on the stage, your baby may actively move or lie very still. Infant sleep patterns begin forming during the last months of pregnancy—active sleep first, then quiet sleep by about the eighth month. There are two types of sleep:

  • REM (rapid eye movement sleep)
    This is a light sleep when dreams occur and the eyes move rapidly back and forth. Although babies spend about 16 hours each day sleeping, about half of this is in REM sleep. Older children and adults sleep fewer hours and spend much less time in REM sleep. Your baby may startle to and awaken from noises during REM sleep that she will barely respond to during Non-REM sleep.

  • Non-REM sleep
    Non-REM has four stages:

    • Stage 1: drowsiness—eyes droop, may open and close, dozing

    • Stage 2: light sleep—your baby moves and may startle or jump with sounds

    • Stage 3: deep sleep—your baby is quiet and does not move

    • Stage 4: very deep sleep—she is quiet and does not move

A baby enters stage 1 at the beginning of the sleep cycle, then moves into stage 2, then 3, then 4, then back to 3, then 2, then to REM. These cycles may occur several times during sleep. Babies may awaken as they pass from deep sleep to light sleep and may have difficulty going back to sleep in the first few months.

Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Jovino, DO

Date Last Reviewed: 4/6/2010

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.