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Baby Sleep Science: The Class Parents Snoozed On

In collaboration with Nurse Verse: Written by Jane Swain RNBN, BA

You know how we talk about the high school classes that were never offered but should have been? The ones we would actually use in our everyday lives. One class all parents would have appreciated is ‘The Science of Baby Sleep’. Maybe you’re preparing for the arrival of your little bundle of joy (already a step ahead, good for you!) or maybe you’re struggling at 3 am, wondering what you got yourself into. Rest easy and read on to find out what you need to know about baby sleep, all in one place.

The Newborn Stage

This first stage (birth -16 weeks) is often a shock to new parents. Focusing on feeding, bonding and recovering can help establish your role as a caregiver. You may see a pattern emerge as early as a few days or weeks in your baby’s life: the Eat-Play-Sleep cycle. This simply means that your baby will wake and want to eat. Then, it’s ‘play’ time or time for them to be engaged while awake. Before you know it, playtime is over and it’ll be time to sleep again to close out the Eat-Play-Sleep cycle. Getting into this routine can set the stage for your baby’s next chapter after the newborn stage. An alternative to this cycle may also be that your baby is on their own schedule and will eat ‘on-demand’. Paying attention to hunger cues as well as timing may help you figure out when your baby needs to feed before they really let you know. Again, taking the pressure off and focusing on feeding, bonding and recovery should take priority. Everything else will fall into place when you and your little one are ready to start building routines. My Newborn Guide is the essential tool you need to survive and thrive in this stage! It is possible to enjoy this stage, as those precious early days go by so quickly!

Swaddles & 'Back' to Sleep

As babies spend so much time sleeping, set them up for success by mimicking that warm uterine hug they were used to for the last 9 months. Enter: The Swaddle. There are many different types and options of swaddles. Once your baby has that snug hug, a little rocking from you and they’ll be off to dreamland before you know it. It is essential to remember that as the Canadian Pediatric Society states, laying your baby down flat on their back to begin sleep is the safest for infant sleep. To find out more about the Canadian Pediatric Society’s information on safe sleep, please visit this site.

Safe Sleep: Bassinet vs Co-sleeping

You’ve got your baby fed and entertained, now it’s time for them to sleep. But where do you put them? The safest recommended place to sleep overnight is in the parents' bedroom, on a firm and flat surface. 

Examples of recommended safe sleep surfaces are: 

  • Bedside Bassinet

  • Crib

  • Portable playpen

There are a variety of styles, types and costs of bassinets and playpens. Another sleep choice that some parents make is to have their baby co-sleep or bedshare. It should be noted that the Canadian Pediatric Society does not recommend parents to co-sleep or bedshare. Though separate sleep spaces are highly recommended, knowing how to safely co-sleep is important. Ensure there are no other items around your baby (like blankets or pillows) that could overheat or risk suffocation. For more information, please see the Canadian Pediatric Society webpage.


Your baby’s room (or your room until they are moved into their own sleep space) has a lot of elements that can work wonders in helping your little one fall and stay asleep. Key tools you can implement in your baby’s sleep environment are:

  • Cool room (18-21 C)

  • Dark room

  • Sleep sack or swaddle

  • White Noise (link to blog)

It is important to note that newborns do not need a quiet dark environment to fall or stay asleep. Keeping the environment light, bright and noisy during the day can actually help with something called “day-night confusion”.

Awake windows

You may have heard the term “awake window” trending in your baby news community or online blogs. An awake window is the amount of time your baby is awake. An awake window begins when you take them out of their sleep environment after a nap and ends when you put them back into their sleep environment for their next nap. Appropriate awake windows can be an essential tool in your toolkit of skills used to keep your little one happy and well-rested (AKA not over-tired). See my essential and free Sleep Needs Chart for details on awake windows and how they change as your baby grows as well as the total hours of sleep your baby needs between naps and nighttime.


Regressions sound scary, but they’re actually a good thing! Though they may be painful when you’re in one, on the other side of a regression is a new skill your baby has mastered (like rolling, crawling, babbling or standing). Sleep regressions can last anywhere from 2-6 weeks and may disrupt your baby’s nap and/or nighttime sleep.

Generally, regressions happen at developmental milestones, commonly around:

  • 4 months

  • 6 months

  • 8 months

  • 12 months 

  • 18 months 

  • 2 years

It is important to keep in mind that your child may not go through each of these regressions at exactly this timeframe. For example, the 4-month regression may be experienced by your baby anywhere from 3 -5 months of age. Try not to worry too much about sleep being disrupted during these regressions. Some regressions are easier than others. Though we feel for our little ones (and ok, ourselves too), what they’re going through is normal and it will pass.


That’s it, the basics of the science behind baby sleep. Hopefully, by reading this you’ve had a few “Ah-ha” moments of things you wish you knew before becoming a new parent. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling empowered with this knowledge while you watch your baby grow faster than you thought possible. You’ve made it through the crash course and you deserve an A+, or at least a nap!


About the writer- Jane Swain RNBN, BA

Jane is a former client of Your Sleep Story, mom of two, nurse writer, and a Registered Nurse.

At Nurse Verse, she is passionate about making a positive impact by providing exceptional healthcare writing services. As a nurse content writer, Jane takes pride in delivering high-quality, informative and engaging healthcare content that meets the unique needs and requirements of her clients and their audiences.

Whatever your healthcare writing needs may be, Nurse Verse has the expertise and experience to exceed your expectations. You can read more about who Jane is and the work she does on her website here.


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