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Why Do Newborns Wake UP?

Updated: Feb 19

Note: None of the following means that is ok to put cereal or food into a babies bottle, but I’ll address that in a separate post.


There is a recent viral post going around about not putting cereal in a baby’s bottle the post states “babies are biologically engineered to wake up at night to prevent them from getting into too deep of a sleep which can lead to SIDS.”


I’ve been asked to clarify is that true? That babies wake up so they don’t get into too deep of a sleep and die of SIDS?


The short answer to this is NO it’s not true, but lets take a deeper look into this to help us understand why this is not true.


First we do not know why babies die of SIDS we have theories and we know that certain things have been proven to reduce the risk of SIDS, but when it comes down to it we do not know for sure why it happens.


One theory is that a cause may be that there is damage or a malfunction in the part of a baby’s brain that helps control breathing and waking during sleep. Typically if a baby has a build up of carbon dioxide in its blood because the baby has been breathing recycled air or the air they have already breathed out. Then the brain will trigger the baby to wake up and then cry to take in more oxygen. This is not why babies wake up at night though. To understand this a bit better, lets take a look at how a babies sleep cycle works.


While adults have 4 different stages of sleep that they cycle though, Newborns up to 4 months of age typically only have 2 stages of sleep that they cycle through REM (Active sleep) and Non-REM (quiet sleep). For adults each sleep cycle takes an hour and half to two hours. For newborns up to 4 months it takes about thirty to forty minutes.


So now that we understand this, lets look a little closer at why babies wake up, every twenty minutes or so babies are entering a different sleep stage, when babies move from Non-REM sleep back to to REM sleep they will often wake up (adults do too we just don’t usually remember it!) When they wake up during this transition sometimes they put themselves back to sleep with out issue other times they will realize that they are hungry (remember tiny stomaches), their diaper is wet, they are uncomfortable etc. and this is when they call out for someone to help them by crying.

Babies up to 4 months spend about half of the time they are asleep in REM (Active Sleep) during this stage of sleep they are in a pretty light sleep and are easy to be woken by things like, an unusual sound, hunger, a wet diaper, being uncomfortable etc. and they will wake up and call for someone to help them with these needs by crying.


Once a baby is around 4 months old they are starting to develop all of the 4 stages of sleep, but they still don’t have them under control and they still don’t know how to put themselves back to sleep in most cases, but they are starting to eat less frequently at night and by about 6 months old they are able to sleep much longer stretches.Remember that number 6 months, you’ll see it again in the next post where I address why it is not ok to put cereal or other foods in a babies bottle while using correct terms and science based facts


.Photo Credit: Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash






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