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Sleep Like a Baby
by Rebecca Garland

The expression “sleep like a baby” is often used to describe something desirable. Many parents who are sleeping exactly like their baby know that “sleeping like a baby” is anything but desirable. Infant sleep patterns are very different from adult or even older child patterns. It is brain development and sleep cycles that are responsible for all of those late night feedings and noisy sleep.

Infant Sleep Cycles
Even in the womb, it has been determined that infants sleep in roughly two hour cycles. This means that the entire sleep cycle, including the deep sleep and light dreaming sleep, occur in a two hour stretch followed by a period of slight awakening. Adults have similar cycles, but the cycle is longer in most adults, which is why waking up after only two hours is so painful.

Infants also fall asleep backwards. When adults and older children fall asleep, they drift right off into a solid sleep. When infants fall asleep, they begin with the light REM (rapid eye-movement) sleep. This is why rocking a baby to sleep offers you such wonderful smiles and facial expressions. Your baby is dreaming as she falls asleep.

The downside of this initial light sleep is that when you lay your baby down in her crib, she immediately pops awake – she wasn’t deep enough asleep to not notice the change in position or scenery.

The initial REM period lasts about twenty minutes, so to avoid the popping awake syndrome, you can rock your baby for at least twenty minutes before putting her down, or work to help her fall asleep unassisted after she wakes in the crib.

Brain Development
Obviously infant brains are not fully developed. If they were even close, the baby would never pass through the birth canal. A huge amount of brain development occurs in the first year – including development related to sleep. And like all things baby, brain development in sleep occurs at different rates in different babies.

The brain development is what is primarily responsible for the number of times your baby wakes at night to eat. Thanks to the long night hours of infants, they can wake to eat twice in a twelve hour period and still be considered right on track developmentally until they are close to nine months. Some babies wake at least once to eat even longer than nine months.

Solids and other tricks might gain you an hour or two, but until your baby is developmentally ready to sleep all night long, there is not much you can do about it. Some forms of sleep training force the issue, but healthy, normal babies simply are hungry at night for a long time.

Really Sleeping like a Baby
So to really sleep like a baby, or the parent of a baby, you should be waking up slightly every two hours. Then, if you happen to enjoy the company of others or are a newborn, you might cry to let everyone know you need some attention. You might also cry every two hours if you’ve never learned to go back to sleep on your own.

After you go to bed, you wake up once or twice during the night for a full feeding lasting up to forty-five minutes. And no matter what your personal preference, you must sleep on your back as it is the safest method of baby sleep thanks to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Ask any bleary-eyed parent about preferred sleep, and they will tell you they’d take typical adult sleep any night of the week.

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