Why Do Babies Move So Much in Their Sleep?

Updated Jan 16th 2023 | timer 6  min read

Why do babies move in their sleep
Mandy Treeby

Written By Mandy Treeby Chief Baby Sleep Consultant

The famous phrase “sleeping like a baby” is misleading – and that’s an understatement.

If you have a baby, you know babies are pretty noisy and wiggly when they sleep. If you’re about to welcome a baby into your home, be prepared for some nighttime snorts and lots of moving around at night.

So, why do babies move so much in their sleep? This article explains why babies move so much in their sleep and how to handle it.


IN THIS ARTICLE:


If you have questions about your baby’s sleep or are looking to get sleep on track, download the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™. Created by pediatric sleep experts, this easy-to-use app includes mini-articles explaining everything you need to know about how to help your baby fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

Why Is My Baby Moving So Much at Night?

It’s all a dream – literally. Babies move so much in their sleep because of their active dream cycles.

Babies – and all humans – experience two types of sleep: REM Sleep and NREM Sleep.

NREM Sleep appears first in a baby’s sleep cycle. This is a deep, restorative sleep. When your baby is in NREM sleep, they sleep more deeply and typically do not move.

REM Sleep appears a bit later in the sleep cycle. This is a more active sleep when your baby may dream or move around move. Since REM appears later in the sleep cycle, babies often move in the middle of their sleep, rather than right after going down for their rest.

Why Do Newborns Move So Much in Their Sleep?

Newborns are a special case in the “baby moves in their sleep” category because in addition to dream-related movements, newborn babies have something called the Moro Reflex.

The Moro Reflex are involuntary twitches and jerks of a newborn’s limbs. Babies this young can’t yet control their little bodies - they can’t purposefully reach for something, can’t purposefully kick, and can’t lift their heads - so sometimes their arms and legs will move on their own.

This is completely normal but can be surprising to some parents – and the Moro Reflex can also disrupt sleep.

To help reduce the Moro Reflex, experts recommend swaddling your baby until they can roll over one way, which is usually around 2 months.

(For more information on how to dress your baby after swaddling, read our piece on how to stop swaddling your baby.)

The ABCs of Baby Sleep Safety

It’s always worth revising the basic safety rules for baby sleep:

A: Your baby should sleep alonein their crib.

B: Your baby should sleep on their back on a flat, firm mattress.

C: Your baby’s crib should be clear of pillows, blankets, stuffed animals, or any other choking hazards for at least the first year.

Should I Move My Baby in Their Sleep?

All babies should be put on their back to sleep for the first year, even after they know how to roll over.

Sometimes babies contort themselves into odd positions that appear uncomfortable. If your baby is in one such position and they haven’t learned to roll over, gently turn them back onto their back.

If your baby can roll over and is sleeping well even if they appear uncomfortable, you can leave them. Moving your baby while they sleep may disrupt their rest and wake them. If your baby is safe and sleeping soundly, it’s better they get that sleep than being moved.

Why It’s Good Your Baby Moves During Sleep

While it may seem like all this moving and shaking may be too active for a sleeping baby, our bodies naturally shift around while we sleep to keep our nerves from falling asleep.

Is My Baby Having Nightmares?

Possibly. Babies can start getting nightmares as young as 6-months of age, however they typically show up closer to age 2 and peak between 3 and 12 years old. If your baby wakes up frightened, crying and unable to get back to sleep, it is possible they have experienced a nightmare.

What is Pediatric Periodic Limb Movement Disorder?

Pediatric Periodic Limb Movement Disorder is a rare medical condition in which a baby or child’s leg will jerk repeatedly in their sleep, usually around every 20-40 seconds.

Often times the movement is subtle enough that it does not disturb the baby’s sleep, but in some cases the Pediatric Periodic Limb Movement Disorder can be pronounced enough that it wakes the patient. Again, Pediatric Periodic Limb Movement Disorder is very rare.

If you think your baby has Pediatric Periodic Limb Movement Disorder, consult their pediatrician.

Does My Baby Have Pediatric Restless Leg Syndrome?

In rare cases a baby may have Pediatric Restless Leg Syndrome. Again, it is very rare in babies, but is possible. Signs of Pediatric Restless Leg Syndrome:

  • Kicking excessively while asleep or while trying to fall asleep
  • Tossing and turning in bed
  • Itchiness in legs – Babies may not be able to articulate this, but if they are moving their hands toward their legs, they may be experiencing it.

If you suspect your baby has Pediatric Restless Leg Syndrome, consult their pediatrician.

How Do I Help My Baby Sleep Better?

Create a Sleep-Nurturing Environment: A baby’s room should be dark, cool, and have a sound machine that blocks out outside noise. The Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ can help you set up your baby’s room, and our article 7 Healthy Sleep Habits for Babies has great tips, too.

Dream Feed: If your baby is still feeding at night, dream feed to help them sleep for longer. Dream feeding is essentially feeding your baby while they’re still asleep.

We have guidance on how to dream feed, but as a quick reference:

  • To Dream Feed, gently rouse your baby to the point that they’re half-awake.
  • Place your nipple or their bottle to their mouth; most hungry babies will latch on without waking up further. If your little one does not latch on, don’t force them. If they’re hungry, they’ll eat.
  • When your little one is done, gently burp your little one before placing them back in their crib.

Create a Consistent, Calming Bedtime Routine: Taking time to help your baby relax and unwind after their exciting day will get them into a sleepy mindset – and repeating this every day will help establish their sleep schedule and cue them that it’s time for bed.

Your bedtime routine can include anything that’s calm and relaxing – bath time, story time, and cuddle time are always popular – but whatever your bedtime routine involves, it must be the same every night. That is how you help build a healthy habit.

Watch for Sleepy Cues: Sleepy cues are things like yawning, pulling ears, rubbing eyes, gazing with glassy eyes, or avoiding looking at you or others. If you see these cues, it’s time to start your bedtime routine.

Follow an Age-Appropriate Sleep Schedule: A baby’s wake windows change as they age – their overnight sleeps get longer, and they drop naps. Help your baby get the rest they need by keeping an age-appropriate sleep schedule. We have month-by-month baby sleep schedules here.

Avoid Screens or Blue Light Before Bed: The wavelengths of light from television, computer, and phone screens stimulates the brain, making it harder to sleep. That’s why you should limit your baby’s exposure to such screens at least one hour before bed. The same goes for us adults.

FAQs:

Should my baby move so much at night?

It’s completely normal for babies to move around a lot at night – they’ll also make a lot of weird noises, including moaning. Rest assured this is also normal.

How do I help my baby stop moving at night?

If your baby’s movements are not disrupting their sleep or hurting them, you can just let them be. If your baby’s movements are disrupting their sleep, try to establish an age-appropriate sleep schedule and follow a bedtime routine. This may help build up their sleep drive and create a deeper, more restful sleep for them.

Do baby’s dream?

Yes, baby’s dream – and sometimes this dreaming causes them to move, fidget or twitch in their sleep. This is completely natural.

Is it normal for a baby to fidget at night?

Yes, it’s completely normal for your baby to fidget, twitch, wince, moan, kick, and make all sorts of other noises and movements in the night. Though it may seem like this is disturbed sleep, it’s most likely just your baby dreaming.

Sources:

“Infant motor development predicts the dynamics of movement during sleep,” Infancy.
“Sleep Regulation, Physiology and Development, Sleep Duration and Patterns, and Sleep Hygiene in Infants, Toddlers, and Preschool-Age Children,” Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care.
“Primitive Reflexes and early motor development,” Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Disclaimer:

How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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