Understanding how your baby sleeps is a good basis from which to encourage him to sleep more soundly. Although we are all unique, the amount and type of sleep we need to help us feel refreshed follow common patterns.

In the early days it may seem as if all your baby does is sleep and feed. Then, over the following weeks and months his sleep begins to fall into more established patterns, until by the time he reaches 18 months the amount of time he spends asleep every day has fallen to around 131/2 hours. Surprisingly, we still don't fully understand why we need to sleep. However, we do know that everyone's sleep falls into two distinct states: REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep.

REM Sleep

REM sleep is an active state and is when we dream. It has been suggested that REM sleep has certain psychological functions, possibly allowing us to process and store our experiences. REM sleep is easy to identify in your newborn: his breathing is irregular, his body twitches and his eyes dart about under his eyelids. Your baby may be easily disturbed in this state.

Your baby developed REM sleep from around 6-7 months' gestation. Premature babies spend 80 per cent of their sleep in this state, full-term babies 50 per cent. It is still not known why young babies spend so much of their sleeping time in REM sleep, but it has been argued that it is necessary for their development. By the time your child is 3 years old, roughly one-third of his sleep will be REM sleep. He will reach the adult proportion of one-quarter of his sleep being REM sleep by later childhood or adolescence.

Non-REM Sleep

The non-REM stage might also be described as 'deep sleep': it is the state in which we are most restful, lying quietly with regular heart rate and breathing patterns. There is very little dreaming. It is thought that during this stage most of the restorative function of sleep occurs. In babies and young children, non-REM sleep is referred to as 'quiet sleep'. In this state, your baby will breathe deeply and lie very still. Occasionally you may see her make fast sucking motions, and now and then a sudden body jerk.

Adult non-REM sleep is divided into four different phases, each representing a different level of sleep, from drowsiness to deep sleep. Babies do not develop these distinct phases fully until they are about 6 months old. It is very difficult to rouse a child in the deepest stage of non-REM sleep.

Your baby's sleep cycles

As your baby sleeps, she will move progressively through the different phases of sleep. Newborns enter REM sleep immediately after falling asleep and move from deep to light sleep in cycles of roughly 20 minutes. By the time your child is about 3 months old, she will enter non-REM sleep first, a pattern that will continue for the rest of her life. As she grows, her sleep cycles will also become progressively longer: when she reaches school age, they occur every hour or so; by the time she becomes an adult, these cycles will last for around 90 minutes or more.

It is very common for both adults and children to rouse as they move into the next phase of their sleep cycle. This explains why your newborn may only seem to sleep deeply for 20 minutes before waking again. As your child gets older, you may even find that she sits up in bed and adjusts her covers before lying down and progressing to the next level of sleep. This is perfectly normal.

It also gives us a clue as to how to encourage your baby to sleep well at night. If brief night-time 'wakings' are perfectly natural, even in adults who profess to be sound sleepers, what you have to do is persuade your baby to take them in her stride and allow herself to fall back to sleep and into the next stage of her sleep cycle.

It is very important for your baby or child to get proper rest, and if they need a nap let them have a nap. A babies resting period is very important to the proper growth and mental health of a child to get a proper amount of rest. When a child does not get enough rest it can cause numerous problems, and many adult behavioral problems can be directly associated with a lack of proper resting during their infancy.