Inside The Minds Of Sleeping Babies: 14 Things You Didn't Know

William Shakespeare once called sleep the "chief nourisher in life's feast." We’ll let Moms be the judge on whether this is true for adults, but in the case for babies, Shakespeare may have been onto something. Sleep is prime development time for the first few years of life. When your baby’s asleep, their body grows, dreams, and rests from all the stimulating events their day held.

Every mom wonders what’s going on in their baby’s head at one point or another, especially while their baby is asleep. One of the most common questions is probably, “If they’re so peaceful right now, why can’t they be like this during the day?”

Valid question! But second to this (partially sarcastic) comment are other, more inquisitive thoughts about babies and sleep: Do babies dream, and what do they dream about? Why can’t my baby sleep through the night instead of tiny increments through the day? Should I wake a sleeping baby and, if not, why?

This article addresses 15 intriguing tidbits on your baby and sleep. If you’ve ever wondered why some babies sleep with their eyes open (besides to be creepy) or whether infants know the difference between day and night, read and become enlightened.

14They'll Sleep More Than You Expect, At First

Your baby will likely sleep a lot more than you expect they will, no matter how sleep-deprived you yourself may feel. Babies need a lot of sleep to grow, be rested, and stay healthy. Even though their sleeping habits may be erratic, they add up to a long span of time. Making sure they get that sleep is vital, though unless they have certain disorders, they will likely receive it without too much effort on your part.

On average, newborns sleep about 16 hours daily. This will not be all at once (which is why from your perspective, they may not sleep for as long as you would like). Your newborn will wake up about every three or four hours at first to feed, with longer naps coming later on. As far as sleeping overnight goes, this may not happen for the first year. We said they sleep a lot, not that they sleep at convenient times.

13Do Babies Dream?

The first question on your mind may be, "My newborn seems so peaceful when they're sleeping. I want to know what's going on in their head. Do babies dream at all?"

To that, researchers answer with an emphatic, "Yes, yes they do!"

Coming to this conclusion might seem a little far-fetched to you. After all, we can't exactly ask them, nor can we read their minds (as much as new mothers might wish they could...).  Newborns actually dream even more than adults do: while our sleep is comprised of about twenty percent dreams, babies dream about fifty percent of the time while sleeping. If your newborn sleeps sixteen hours a day, that means eight hours of dreaming!

12Noisy Sleeper? It's Normal!

New mothers often worry about every noise their child makes, worrying that even something simple like a cough or sigh could be the sign of something more sinister. Being vigilant is praiseworthy, but worrying too much is no good for any mother's mental health. Knowing what noises are normal and okay can help you sleep well at night, too... as much as your baby will allow it, anyways...

Making noises while asleep is normal. Unless your baby is choking or making sounds like they are in pain, they are most likely just fine. How a baby sleeps varies depending on their temperament: some may be still and peaceful while others grunt and thrash around. Because of the startle reflex, babies are anything but still while asleep. Keep an eye out for questionable or concerning sounds, but for the most part, you can breathe easily if you have a noisy sleeper.

11Babies Need Darkness To Sleep

You may not be able to provide your baby with a dark, quiet place to sleep every day. If you're on a walk with stroller in tow or are enjoying a car ride, sometimes a light environment is sufficient. Sleep is sleep, and anything is good. But darkness is what we as humans are naturally accustomed to sleep in, and training your baby to sleep when it is dark can have its benefits.

Sleep cycles are learned behavior. If you want your baby to eventually stay dreaming through the night, you need to train them. The best way to do this is to help them correlate light with being awake and darkness with sleeping. With time, their sleeping habits will start to mimic your own. Be patient, and know that regular sleeping patterns take time for babies to learn.

Sleeping when dark also produces extra melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone. Your baby may enjoy deeper, more relaxed sleep the more you can help them associate night with resting.

10Just How Bad Is It To Wake A Sleeping Baby?

Every new mother hears from a well-meaning friend or relative at one point to let sleeping babies lie. Yet if you want to establish a sleeping schedule for your six month old, you may find this advice conflicting to say the least. Eventually you want your baby to develop sleeping habits that match the rest of your family’s, but bridging that gap can seem intimidating.

The balance between letting your infant rest when they’re tired and prodding them into new habits can be tricky, especially if you’ve heard that interrupting this sleep cycle can be detrimental. So, fact or fiction: never wake a sleeping baby?
The verdict is in. Once your baby has developed a good day/night cycle (called the circadian rhythm), they should get the majority of their sleep at night. Naps should still be a staple of their daily habits through their toddler years, but if you need to run an errand, don’t feel like you’re a bad mom for waking up your baby. You’re not. It’s okay.

9Some Babies Sleep With Their Eyes Open

Babies are adorable, but man can they be creepy. Babies who sleep with their eyes open can seem like more zombie than newborn… an odd feeling when, with their erratic sleep schedule and endless needs, you may feel more zombie than them. Before you call an exorcist, though, know that sleeping with your eyes open is normal. Weird, but normal.

In fact, it’s so common that wide-eyed sleepers even have a medical term: nocturnal lagophthalmos. Nobody knows why some babies sleep with their eyes open, but they do know that even healthy babies can develop this characteristic. It’s healthy and perfectly okay.
If it bothers you to see two cute but oddly sinister eyes bugged out at you while trying to sleep, try stroking their eyelids closed.

8Swaddling Makes Lulling Babies To Sleep SO Much Easier

Swaddling your baby is full of positives. Swaddling creates a sensation in your baby that comforts them. The tightness reminds them of living in the womb… a time not too long ago, for them! Anything familiar and safe is great for consoling newborns, and the more relaxed you can get them, the easier of a time you can get them to fall asleep.

Not only is it soothing, but it is also one of the safest ways you can get your baby to bed. Swaddling decreases the chances of SIDS because swaddled babies are unable to move around and accidentally suffocate. You love it for safety, your baby loves it for solace: a win-win from every angle. Just make sure to always lay a swaddled baby on their back to sleep so their breathing passage is clear.

7Fact Or Myth? Babies Should Sleep On Their Side

While you can let sleeping babies lie (you know, within reason), never let them lie on their sides. This applies to newborns above all others, as they lack the muscular strength to turn over. Putting a baby to bed on their stomach or side can increase the risk of SIDS because it increases their risk of suffocating on their bedding.

To reduce this risk, always put babies to sleep on their backs. You may even want to swaddle your baby (especially if they are under six months) to reduce movements during their sleep. While sleeping on their side is less dangerous than their stomach, many babies roll onto their tummy from their side. Your best bet is to swaddle and keep the baby lying on their back. Safest is best.

6Periodic Breathing

Counting your baby’s breaths is not an uncommon practice for newlymoms. You may not even notice that you’re doing it until you hear a pause for one, two, three… ten seconds? With every passing moment, you may grab your phone in a panic and hurry to dial in 911 or your mother (whichever has more authority for you) until with a sigh, your baby begins to breathe again as if nothing just happened.

What just happened, besides your baby giving you prematurely grey hairs? Your baby probably just exhibited what is medically known as periodic breathing. Premature babies and those in the first few weeks of life exhibit this in particular: between breaths, they may pause for a few seconds more than you’d expect, and following this pause comes several rapid breaths. This most often occurs in deep sleep and, while alarming for new parents, is completely harmless.

Periodic breathing usually disappears on its own, so if your baby exhibits it, remind yourself that they are okay. If you’re worried, monitor your baby: if a pause lasts for more than ten seconds, they seem lethargic, or their skin is bluish, call medical attention right away.

5Baby Sleep Schedules Are Uncontrollable

You may think that because you’re the parent, you have the control in this relationship. Think again! You may feed, clothe, and care for your baby, but no matter what you do, you cannot control a newborn’s sleep schedule. You may try all you like, but up through three months, you are at the hands of your infant. If they cry at three in the morning, you’d have better luck reasoning to a rock… and at least a rock won’t scream at you until you feed it.

Newborns will fall asleep when they’re tired (which is often, around every three or four hours) and awaken when they are rested or hungry. For the first few months of life, try your best to note your baby’s cues and respond to them. Later, you can slowly shift to a better sleep schedule.

4Babies Seep In Short, Light Cycles For A Reason (other than to annoy you)

Baby sleep cycles differ greatly from adults, largely because our needs are different. The various stages of sleep come with distinct benefits, and so you’ll notice slight deviations between the two patterns. Not only are infant sleep cycles shorter, but they are also lighter and focused on separate areas of development.

Babies swap between light sleep (REM) to deep sleep (NREM) around every 50-60 minutes. To give a little context, an adult will change sleeping cycles around every 90 minutes. Usually, babies will wake up during the REM stage, which is when they’re most likely to dream.

If a baby wakes up but is still tired, they most likely awoke during this stage. Try lulling them back to sleep and give them comfort if they appear startled or agitated.

3Well-rested Babies Sleep Better At Night

Getting too much sleep can be detrimental if you’re trying to get your baby onto a new sleeping schedule. But a well-rested baby is a happy baby, and happy babies sleep better at night. This doesn’t contradict the earlier points so much as emphasize balance: a little resting during the day can keep your baby healthy, mellow, and ready to sleep longer at night.

This doesn’t have to do so much as sleep yourself as the process of getting your baby to bed. Cranky babies are no fun for everyone. You might try rocking and giving them a bottle, but if a baby is unhappy, they will let you know first and sleep later.

Letting a baby take rests during the day as needed will help smooth over the grouchier areas of their personality and result in more sleep for everyone. Naptime should be a part of your baby's day at least until they are a toddler. Even then, most children need naptime to function until they begin kindergarten. Do what works best for your family.

2What Do Babies Dream About?

If babies spend fifty percent of their sleeping time dreaming, you’d wonder just what is going on in their heads. As it turns out, it might just be more of what they do when awake. During the day, your newborn eats, cries, and begins to explore the world around them. Their range of experience is limited, and so their dreams will likely reflect their simpler understanding of their world.

As they grow older, their dreams will become more vivid and nuanced. People may come more into play in their dreams, as well as specific situations or experiences. By the time they are toddlers, they may be as vibrant as your own.

In the early months, however, it’s safe to say that what they dream about is much like what they do during the day. Life is a lot to take in for a baby, and they do it a little slowly. Someday they'll have dreams about fighting dragons and exploring the seven wonders of the world. Until then, though, they've got a lot of life around them to drink in, and dreaming is a good way for them to explore it.

1Babies Don't Know The Difference Between Day And Night

You may think that babies automatically know how to distinguish between day and night. To you, these two times may seem as obvious and polar as… well… night and day! But this ability to differentiate is a learned behavior, not a biologically-wired instinct. Because of this, your baby may mix up days and nights at first.

Any mother who has been woken up by a playful baby at three in the morning, of course, knows this. Rarely is this discovery a pleasant one. Once your baby’s old enough to learn sleeping habits, you may want to train them early and help them develop a circadian rhythm.

Know that this change can be hard for babies so warm up to it gradually and with a lot of patience. In time, it will click that night is for sleeping and daytime is for playing. Patience is a virtue, but moms of all people know it's not an easy muscle to develop.


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