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Active Sleep and Newborns

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Cara Dumaplin

newborn yawning and moving in active sleep

Parents, will you watch this video? Turn on the sound. I want you to see what newborn sleep can really look like! Newborns can be SO active while they sleep.

If you heard that in the night, would you hop out of bed and immediately pick up that baby? Did you know that doing this could be unintentionally waking your baby at night? 

Let me explain. Newborns go through two different sleep cycles: quiet sleep and active sleep, and they spend about half of their sleeping time in each. Active sleep is similar to REM sleep for adults, but there is one huge difference:⁣

For adults, our skeletal muscles are paralyzed during this stage — for young babies, they are not. Instead, babies move around, make noise (grunts and cries), and sometimes even open their eyes, all while they're actually sleeping!

What does this mean? 

Well, if you mistake this active sleep period as baby being awake, and you jump in right away, you may accidentally wake your baby!⁣ 

Watch the babies in these videos. Notice how they cry out, move around, and even open their eyes.

These babies are moving and may even cry out. But...they are all ASLEEP! This is active sleep. Active sleep can be why you swear your baby is awake from 3-6am “fighting the swaddle” or struggling with gas. ⁣

Wait, Cara! Are you telling me not to go help my crying baby in the night?

No! Not at all! If your baby needs you, you will respond.

But before we respond, we simply stop and observe.

Take a moment to listen to your baby before you react. Give your baby 30-60 seconds before you rush to pick her up. This will help determine if your baby is just transitioning between sleep cycles and going through that active sleep or if your baby is ACTUALLY awake!⁣ 

Here, watch this:

Need more help than just one quick strategy? In my no-cry Will I Ever Sleep Again? newborn class, I teach you so many step-by-step techniques and strategies to help lay a healthy sleep foundation.

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