Baby Movement During Sleep : Should You Be Worried?

When your baby is born, you would expect this small little bundle of joy to sleep soundly at night. The term “sleep like a baby” gives parents to be the impression that babies will sleep through the night without any movement. But this cannot be farther from the truth! Babies, even newborns move a lot at night and sometimes they stay still and sometimes they do not! This can worry a lot of new parents but we want to put your worries at ease and tell you the WHY behind the movement.

Some parents of newborns notice their children twitch and move a lot during sleep. They can even make an abundance of facial expressions from big grins to the saddest of frowns in seconds of one another. Other older babies that have been taught sign language are said to sign in their sleep, almost like they are replaying their day. Whatever the case may be, babies are misunderstood, they are actually quite active during sleep and this can surprise many parents!

Tips from a sleep expert

From facial expressions to moving arms and legs to even signing, babies continue to surprise us, even during sleep! We asked expert sleep consultant Jenn Kelner from My Baby ZZZ why babies move so much during sleep and is it a cause of concern.

Jenn reminds us that even though we may see a lot of movement from our baby and even a bit of fussing during sleep that this is not a cause of concern. To better understand why babies are moving in sleep, we have to understand how sleep works.

Sleep itself is divided into two distinct states:

  1. RAPID EYE MOVEMENT- Better known as REM or REM sleep. Our heartbeat becomes irregular as does our breathing. However, our brain function increases. This is completely normal and this is where we do most of our dreaming.

What is very interesting is even though our brain becomes more active, our body relaxes more and this is when our nerve signals that usually pass down through the spinal cord and out to the muscles are blocked. This helps us reduce the acting out during our dreams.

  1. Non REM Sleep- non rapid eye movement. In this stage we dream very little. Our bodies lie still and we have both a steady heart beat and a steady breathing pattern.


Throughout this cycle, we cycle through periods of both non REM and REM sleep. We also occasionally wake up in between. A regular adult sleep cycle lasts around 90 minutes and we spend about 20% of our sleep in REM sleep according to Kelner.

A baby’s sleep cycle

Babies sleep cycles differ from Adult sleep cycles. Whether it is a nap for two hours or a power sleep of six or more hours (yes parents, some of these babies do exist!)

However, things are different for babies. There sleep cycles are shorter, lasting about 50 minutes for the first nine to ten months of life. The sleep cycle is more even between REM and non REM sleep. This will all change as they get older.

By the time your child starts kindergarten, they will have sleep cycles of an hour and a half to just under two hours. What a change in a few short years!

Babies with a good schedule begin to learn to fall asleep at those times which really helps growth and development. Providing a safe and comfortable space will help as well.

What if you just feel like something is wrong?

If you just feel like something is wrong or that you find the movements are not as described, then record what you have seen and at what time and speak to your doctor. It is better to be safe and check with your doctor. If something is questionable the doctor will run further tests and be able to better diagnose. Always trust your instinct!

However, for most parents, the movement and facial changes of a baby sleeping are nothing more than REM sleep. So sit back, relax and be sure to remember the funny movements and silly faces of your little baby!

Ferber, Richard, M.D. (2006). Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. New York: Fireside.

About Jenn Kelner

Jenn Kelner CPA, CA is a certified child sleep consultant located in the Greater Toronto Area. She is a part of Baby ZZZ, owned by Kim Belrose which specializes in helping parents help their children understand sleep and get a better sleep. You BabyZZZ  and make sure to go to their weekly Facebook sleep chats on Wednesday night!