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Infant Sleep Cycles: How Are They Different from Adults

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Up to date
Update: June 30, 2023
5 min read

Written by

Arun Das
Content Writer
Baby'S Sleep Cycle

Baby’s sleeping patterns differ from adults’ sleeping patterns. Sleep patterns in a healthy adult are easy to anticipate. In contrast, a baby’s sleep cycle and patterns are influenced by their moods and desire to wake up and go to bed at different times.

But these different sleeping patterns and cycles are essential for their body growth and cognitive development. New parents worry about their baby’s sleeping patterns and their lack of sleep. They want them to have enough peaceful sleep for their proper growth. Therefore, parents must understand a baby’s different sleeping patterns and cycles.

What Are the Sleep Patterns of a Newborn

The newborn sleep schedule and patterns are mostly the same in all babies. A newborn baby gets to sleep for 14–17 hours throughout 24 hours or one day. For a period of one to three hours at a time, they are awake. Generally, the baby’s sleep cycle is 8 to 9 hours during the day and 8 hours at night. However, until they are 3 months old or 13 pounds, babies rarely sleep without waking up at night (6 to 8 hours). 

How long is a baby’s sleep cycle? Newborns have tiny stomachs and typically wake up to get fed after just a few hours of sleep. Usually, infants will sleep for three hours at a time before needing to be fed again.

How Is an Infant’s Sleep Schedule Different from an Adult’s

The amount and timing of sleep vary between newborns and adults. Adults generally get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted, peaceful sleep at night and wake up in the morning. Whereas a newborn sleeps for 14–17 hours a day, every 24 hours, and is split into many short intervals. A baby’s sleep cycle becomes shorter after six months, averaging 12 to 16 hours per day, and they sleep for a longer period. 

The majority of parents prefer that their newborns sleep through the night. Both they and their baby’s sleeping patterns will benefit from it in the future. However, for the first few weeks, a newborn will most likely wake up multiple times during the night; therefore, we must realise that we cannot expect them to sleep through the night. 

This is because a baby’s circadian rhythm isn’t developed, making them feel tired at night rather than during the day. Between three months and a year, they begin to adapt from a newborn sleep schedule to a more adult one. When does a baby’s sleep cycle get longer? They sleep longer at night and take fewer short naps in the morning. The newborn sleep cycle chart varies according to their growth and development.

What Are the Sleep States of a Newborn

The term “sleep cycle” refers to the amount of time spent awake and asleep within a specific time frame, such as 24 hours. The two categories of sleep that also make up a baby’s sleep cycle are REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement) and non-REM sleep (as in the case of adults). The only difference is that your baby has more REM sleep cycles than adults do. 

Preterm infants spend 70–80% of their time in REM sleep, which reduces to 50% for newborns, 30% at six months, and 20–25% for adults by the time they are five years old. Adults only experience 20–25% REM sleep over their entire sleep cycle.

In REM or active sleep, babies can make small movements and noises, such as twitching their fingers, and their breathing may speed up. Newborns have close to equal amounts of REM and non-REM sleep.

Baby is in his deep sleep cycle during non-REM or quiet sleep, and there are no visible body movements. 

The five stages of a baby’s sleep cycle are as follows:

  • Stage 1: Your baby will start feeling drowsy and close their eyes to fall asleep.
  • Stage 2: REM sleep, often known as the active phase of sleep, during which your infant makes minute movements.
  • Stage 3: Light sleep during your baby’s less active REM phase.
  • Stages 4 and 5: The phase of quiet, or non-REM sleep, is when your child is asleep and not moving during deep sleep.

What Are the Different Alert Phases of a Newborn

Here are the different phases of a newborn:

Quiet Alert Phase

Your baby enters a quiet alert phase after waking from a deep sleep cycle. Your baby is taking in the environment during this time but isn’t making noticeable movements. While awake, they still respond to sounds and motion and focus on the nearest objects. After some time, they shift to an alert state, actively responding to sounds and actions. 

Crying phase

The crying phase comes after the quiet alert phase. The baby begins to move erratically and cries loudly. They are overstimulated when crying, making it challenging to soothe them. By cuddling the baby and improving their environment, you can calm them down. It’s preferable to feed them before they start crying.

How Do Sleep Cycles Progress as a Baby Grows

The baby’s sleep cycle grows according to their age. Here are the baby’s sleeping patterns and cycles according to their age at birth:

Birth to 3 Months

A newborn can fall asleep at any moment, day or night. The newborn sleep schedule demands 14–17 hours of sleep every day between 0 and 3 months. They only get short periods of sleep since they need to be fed and changed frequently.

Three to 6 Months

At this age, babies may take three 2-hour naps during the day. Most of them sleep for an average of 14 hours per day, with some babies sleeping for 6 to 8 hours at night. They start to follow a sleep pattern similar to an adult’s and spend more time in non-REM sleep than REM sleep. They still awaken at least once during the night.

Six to 12 Months

At this age, the baby’s daytime naps will decrease to two, lasting 1 to 2 hours daily. When does a baby’s sleep cycle get longer? After six months, babies sleep longer during the night and take two naps in the morning.

After 12 Months

After 12 months, a baby’s sleeping patterns are mainly similar to those of adults. They may take one or two naps in the morning but wake up less often at night. They generally get 8 to 12 hours of sleep during the night. 

How Can You Help Your Baby Fall Asleep

Babies and newborns cannot fall asleep on their own. When it is bedtime, your baby may want to get breastfeeding or play (if they are not a newborn). However, a newborn or young infant enjoys being held and might fall asleep happily in your arms. They fall asleep more quickly and peacefully when playing white noise. Prepare a good sleeping environment, so they don’t get awakened by disturbing patterns.


Baby’s sleeping patterns differ from adults’ because of their growth and development and their not fully developed circadian rhythm. How long is a baby’s sleep cycle? Newborns can sleep 14–17 hours a day, with 8–9 hours during the day and rest at night. Their sleeping hours and timing become similar to adults’ after six months. You can seek sleep training after six months.


How do I know what stage of sleep cycle my baby is in?

Newborns have five different sleep stages that are identical in their body movements and sleep cycles. In the first stage, they just feel drowsy and start to fall asleep. After that, the baby makes small movements throughout the next two stages of REM, or active sleep. In the fourth and fifth stages, the baby enters a deep sleep stage and sleeps peacefully. 

How long does it take for a baby to go into a deep sleep?

Newborns can go into a deep sleep in just 20–30 minutes. REM and non-REM sleep cycles are equally present in the baby’s sleep cycle after a few weeks. Non-REM is the deep sleep stage for both adults and infants.

Do babies have sleep cycles?

Yes, babies have two different sleep cycles, i.e., REM and non-REM sleep. REM is an active sleep phase where you can notice your baby twitching their fingers, moving their mouth, and speeding up their breathing. On the other hand, non-REM is the stage of deep sleep when the baby sleeps comfortably.


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Written by

Arun Das
Content Writer
With a Master's Degree in Mass Communication and nearly two decades of professional expertise in crafting healthcare articles, he possesses a wealth of experience and knowledge in the field.

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