Understanding your baby's sleep cycles will help you deal with challenges in establishing a healthy sleep pattern. Your baby's sleep is composed of light, or Rapid Eye Movement (REM), sleep, and deep, or non-REM, sleep. During the light sleep phase, your baby's brain is exceptionally active, processing the day, storing information and dreaming.
Somewhere between 20 and 45 minutes, your baby eases from one sleep cycle into the next. For some babies, digestive issues wake them around the 20-minute mark. For others, the process of passing from light sleep to deep sleep (around 45 minutes) wakes them. It is during the deeper sleep cycle that vital growth hormones are released.
Babies who do not progress beyond the threshold of light sleep often fall into a pattern of short sleep cycles (catnaps) and frequent feeding cycles. For example, a baby may sleep for 45 minutes or less, then wake up crying. New parents often respond by getting them up to feed — assuming that sleep time is over rather than giving them a chance to resettle. Catnaps and frequent feeding inevitably produce an overtired, over-stimulated baby, which compounds sleeping and feeding issues.