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Written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
7 July 2020

How to get your baby to be a deeper sleeper?

The truth is that all babies are in fact both light and heavy sleepers. This is true of adults too.

Several times a night, we all go from light sleep to deep sleep and back again. Some babies spend more time in light sleep stages before descending into a deeper sleep, while others go from light sleep to deep sleep in almost no time at all. However, everyone goes through these cycles when they sleep.

The NREM or "deep" sleep we get in the middle of the cycles is the most restorative and provides the most health and immunity benefits. Some people can get by on less sleep than others because they get more NREM sleep than those of us who spend more time in light sleep stages.

So, when someone says their baby sleeps lightly, they probably mean that their baby spends more time in light sleep than deep sleep, which is the easiest stage to wake up from. It's when we dream and are more aware of what's going on around us, so we are more easily woken by noises.

Babies' sleep cycles are also shorter than those of adults, so they spend almost twice as much time in light stages of sleep as adults do. So, if your baby tends to wake up a lot, it's partly because they awaken at inconvenient times.

So what can you do about it? You cannot prevent your baby from emerging from a sleep cycle. But you can teach them to put themselves back to sleep when they find themselves awake. It's an amazing gift to give your little ones, and your whole family will benefit from it for many years.

There are many ways to teach a baby to go to sleep on his or her own, but the most crucial one is to get rid of sleep props. By this, I mean anything that a baby can't do on their own but which they are reliant on to help them fall asleep.

Sleep props are anything external out of your baby's control that your baby is reliant on for sleep. They include pacifiers, rocking, and being fed/nursed/carried to sleep.  If you eg rock them to sleep, they learn to depend on that motion as part of the process. This means that if they wake up at night, they can't go back to sleep until you help them again. This is usually followed by a lot of crying and fussing to get your attention, which makes them even more wired and alert - which in turns means they will need more soothing to get back to sleep.

But babies who are called "good sleepers"  or "deep sleepers" have the same sleep cycles as babies who cry when they wake up. They just learned how to go to sleep independently, so when they wake up, they move around a bit, maybe talk to themselves for a while, and then go back to sleep happily.

So, you can't stop your baby from waking up at night, but you can teach them how to get back to sleep on their own. You and your baby can then look forward to full nights of deep, unbroken and restorative sleep.

Article written by Lavinia
Certified Paediatric Sleep Consultant
Based in Singapore
Trained in the Sleep Sense Program

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