It’s not unusual for babies to fidget during sleep. Learn what causes frequent movement and if you should be concerned.
Many of us have seen our children toss and turn during the night. Most of the time, continual movements are caused by nightmares, illness, or poor sleep. In rare instances, a sleep disorder is to blame. Understanding how infant sleep works can help you better distinguish normal sleep issues from more serious ones.
At birth, full-term babies spend about half their sleeping time in light sleep, according to the Raising Children Network. Infants also have shorter sleep cycles than adults, meaning they are biologically programed to sleep more lightly and experience more awakenings then adults.
Even if your baby appears to be asleep, she may not have reached REM sleep. Rapid eye movement (REM) is stages of sleep that gradually get longer as the night progresses, and are characterized by the rapid movement of the eyes. If you touch your baby while in light sleep, you may notice that she kicks her legs or waves her arms.
What the Experts Say
“If your baby wakes and moans, has a sweaty back or sweaty, wet clothes, it is a sign that your baby may be overheating. If your baby moves all around the cot, never lies still, often rolls onto her tummy, catnaps during the day, or wakes from 4 AM or 5 AM, it is a sign that your baby may be too cold in bed.”
Save Our Sleep, Tizzie Hall
“Talking, whining, fussing, grunting, grumbling, kicking her legs, even pivoting and traveling around the crib – these are all normal noises and movements your baby will make as she figures out how to get comfortable and fall asleep again. These sounds don’t necessarily mean “Come and get me, I need you!” so when you hear them, try to resist jumping to pick your baby up.”
The Happy Sleeper, Heather Turgeon MFT, Julie Wright MFT
“There are several foods that can contribute to a fussy baby’s already restless nature. Caffeine bothers some babies a great deal and some very little. It does pass through the milk of a breastfeeding mother and may disturb the sleep and behavior of the baby, but there is marked variability in how babies react to caffeine in mother’s milk.”
Keys to Calming the Fussy Baby, William Sears
“If your baby is restless during sleep or wakes up frequently, try encouraging him in different directions until you find the right one. How do you know which direction to go in? I often tell the parents I work with, hey, whatever works for you, chances are, it will work for your baby. So if you like to sleep on your right side, chances are, your baby will too.”
The Baby Sleep Solution, Suzy Giodarno, Lisa Abidin
“Do you frequently keep your baby up because you think he will sleep longer? Once he’s overtired, he not only won’t stay asleep longer, he’ll have a restless sleep and perhaps even wake prematurely.”
Sleep: Top Tips from the Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg, Melinda Blau
Reasons for Sleep Movement
There are plenty of reasons babies move around at night, and not all of them are cause for alarm. Here’s a look at some of the most common reasons babies move around while sleeping.
Immature Immune System
Life can be tough for your little one after exiting the womb. Due to an immature immune system, sleep may be accompanied by erratic movements caused by your baby’s inability to control her reflexes.
While full-term babies can experience sleep difficulties, frequent movement during sleep is more common in preterm infants who may need several extra weeks to catch up.
Inadequate Amount of Sleep
Growing babies need several naps a day to refresh. Newborns to 4-month-olds should get 7 to 9 hours of daytime sleep spread over three to five naps, according to Parents Magazine.
Babies 4 to 12 months old require 4 to 5 hours of daytime sleep spread over two to three naps. If your baby naps too long during the day, it can negatively impact her nighttime sleep.
She may appear more cranky and restless and may kick her legs as she tries to resist slumber. Not enough sleep can also cause your baby’s fidgeting.
Nightmares or Night Terrors
Both nightmares and night terrors can have an adverse effect on your baby’s sleep quality. While night terrors are rare, occurring in only 3 to 6 percent of children, according to KidsHealth, they can develop in babies as young as 18 months old.
During a nightmare or night terror, your baby may kick her legs, flail her arms, or cry out. Fortunately, most children do not remember night terrors when they wake the next day.
One of the most common reasons for a baby to move a lot during sleep is discomfort. Depending on the time of year and the temperature in the room, your baby may be too hot or too cold, preventing her from falling into a deep sleep.
Other types of discomfort can also cause frequent movements during the night, such as diaper rashes, hunger, or the need for a diaper change.
If your baby moves her limbs or shifts her position during sleep, don’t worry. The majority of time these movements are harmless and will soon stop just as fast as they started. If your baby continues to experience sleep disruptions or displays other worrisome symptoms, talk to your pediatrician about your concerns.