Newborns usually have a regular pattern to their sleep, and understanding that can help you in understanding what is going on and what you can do to help facilitate great sleep.
1-Newborns Make Noise Often, But That Doesn't Mean They Are Awake
A brand newborn is usually super noisy when first born. They make all kinds of grunts, sighs, "huh's"... They couple these noises with eyes fluttering open and often smiles. It is adorable! It is fun to watch, but do not get baby up every time you hear these sounds. This is just a noisy part of the sleep cycle. Let baby continue to sleep unless it is time for baby to be eating anyway.
2-Sleep Cycles Change Every 45 Minutes
A newborn goes into sleep in REM sleep (See Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child page 59). About 45 minutes into a nap, the baby will transition into non-REM sleep. These transitions happen about every 45 minutes. At the 45 minute mark, your baby will stir. Your baby might make noise and might even open her eyes. Your baby might just shift slightly. Do not mistaken transitioning for waking up. Let your baby move into the next sleep state.
3-Body Temperature Influences Sleep
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child talks about biological rhythms starting on page 50. One influence on sleep is body temperature, and this remains true even up to adults. There isn't a way for you to really measure or respond to this, but know that as a baby gets to about 6 weeks, baby's temperatures start to get closer to what is best for longer night time sleep. There are biological factors out of your control that will impact how well baby sleeps at night.
4-Melatonin Impacts Sleep
Melatonin is a hormone that comes from your pineal glad. Melatonin helps control your sleep and wake cycles. A newborn is born with "high levels of circulating melatonin" that came from the mother while in the womb. That is present for the first week. This is when you should sleep ;).
After a week, all of that melatonin wears off and the baby is left with...not much. Around 6 weeks old, "melatonin begins to reappear as the baby's pineal gland matures" (page 51). The levels are "extremely low" until 12-16 weeks old.
You can see from those numbers that they coincide with ages that babies start to sleep better. 6 weeks, followed by about 12...sound familiar?
And do not decide to give your baby melatonin to induce more sleep. It has not been tested on babies. Also, I have to think there is a reason babies were designed the way they were designed by someone smarter than we are, so don't medicate or supplement your baby against what every healthy newborn baby naturally does--decrease melatonin levels.
5-Newborns Do Not Stay Awake Long
Your newborn will be up for a very short time before needing to nap again. Your newborn will be awake anywhere from 30-60 minutes, including feeding time, before it is time to sleep once again (see my post Optimal Waketime Lengths to figure out how long your baby should be awake). Do not fight your baby on this. Let your baby sleep and your baby will sleep better overall. Overly tired babies start to sleep very poorly.
If you want more time with your baby, you can absolutely hold your baby sometimes. It is wise to be aware of the amount of time since baby fell asleep. Do not try to put baby down in her own bed right around the 45 minute mark. This will likely wake her up since she is transitioning. Put her down before or after the transition if you are going to. If you hold your baby through the transition, do not try to wake the baby up during the transition. Let baby get into the next sleep cycle.
I hope this information helps you understand the sleep of newborns a bit better.
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