The 7 Stages Of Infant Sleep (Or Lack Thereof)

The 7 Stages Of Infant Sleep (Or Lack Thereof)

It’s 1:42 AM, the perfect time for a staring contest. My six-week old baby is the reigning intercontinental champion, which in the staring contest world means he gets to pick the time and place for the next faceoff. In a masters-level move of baby gamesmanship, he has chosen 1:42 AM in the room next door for our latest battle.

I, being a real-life adult, had been sound asleep at 1:42 AM, and I was rather enjoying it. So when I heard the battle cry of little Mack, it took a moment for me to come to and realize the game was on. While I was ill-prepared, Mack seemed to have been lying awake for hours drawing up his game plan.

It worked. My kid is the Rhonda Rousey of midnight staring contests. It was a flawless victory.

As I slowly picked myself up off the floor after suffering yet another brutal takedown by my 6-week old phenom, I had a revelation. This whole staring contest business was just a ploy on his part to avoid giving me the pleasure of a full night’s sleep. In fact, it was just one of several jerk moves he pulls on a nightly basis to keep me (ok, mostly my beautiful wife) running laps from our bed to the fridge to his crib.

After finally managing to wake my wife up so she could settle Mack down and get him back to sleep, I took the time to map out the various stages of infant sleep, or lack thereof. So far, I’ve identified seven distinct stages that my tiny human goes through each night, not necessarily in order, and rarely willingly.

An infant may jump from one stage of sleep to another for no apparent reason other than he moved his own arm (also involuntarily). It’s a frustrating potpourri of tears, squirms, twitches, whimpers, and baby piggy snores. There may be more than seven stages, but so far I’ve been too tired to notice. Here they are in an order that makes some chronological sense, but try not to get caught up in that… or make any sense out of anything a baby does, especially sleep.

  1. Alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic
    The hours of 8 AM to 8 PM make up the ideal “sleep stage” for your baby, because why wouldn’t he want to sleep the day away. He’s livin’ the dream. Unfortunately, stage one is your worst nightmare. There is absolutely no way in hell your baby is going to fall asleep and nothing you do will make one bit of difference. At 1 AM, the alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic stage could very well last an eternity.
  2. Deceptively drowsy
    All signs point to a sleepy baby, but a deceptively drowsy baby is just playing the long con and you’re never going to win. He appears tired, so much so that you foolishly attempt to put him in his crib and walk out the door like the world is your oyster. Don’t be dumb. Ignore the judgy looks from others who will try to convince you that nap time has arrived. It hasn’t. You’ve got at least another 20 minutes of rocking and shushing ahead of you.

    He only looks like he’s sleeping. He’s not. It’s just one big adorable deception.
  3. Bareknuckle sleep refusal
    Congratulations for making it this far, but sorry for your lot in life. There’s no easy way to say this, but you’re going to retrace the steps you took that led you to this moment in the middle of the night when you know for certain that your baby is exhausted, but some unseen force in the universe has him locked in wide-eyed alertness. A baby who has entered the bareknuckle sleep refusal state is not unlike one misguided Kim Davis, who refuses against all logical odds to do her job. Your baby should be sleeping, but he will refuse to the detriment of all civilization.  All you can do is shake your head in bemused disbelief and wait out the insanity.
  4. Freak out, shriek out
    My son just crossed the six-week milestone, which according to the trained professionals is still several stages away from crying real tears of sadness… or is it anger? During the freak out, shriek out sleep stage, you will be staring into the eyes of a red-faced baby who may or may not let loose with farts of pure rage and incontinence. All manner of pacifier will be roundly rejected, so don’t even try. You’d be better off jamming that nook in your own mouth and curling up on the floor while your baby rages on.

    Red-faced baby... a clear sign of freak out, shriek out sleep.
    Red-faced baby… a clear sign of freak out, shriek out sleep.
  5. Fake out, stakeout
    The fake out, stakeout sleep stage is nothing more than a test of willpower. You and your baby will go head-to-head in a game of who can outlast whom. If there ever was a time in life to play dead, this is it. Don’t give in and whatever you do, show absolutely no emotion. Your sleep-deprived baby would love nothing more than to lull you into a false sense of security before he springs to life with a second wind only ultra marathon runners speak of. Your baby will be appear relaxed and limp, with heavy breathing and eyes closed. He may even sneak in a covert snore or twitch as if in deep sleep. Sadly, the fake out, stakeout stage often ends abruptly with eyes wide open, at which point you find yourself all the way back in the alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic stage, causing you to throw in the towel or fruitlessly start over.
  6. Gratuitous sleep flaunting
    Also known as “dead to the world” sleep, this stage of infant sleep is the ultimate goal for any baby parent. However, I argue this should be a nightly goal for every one of us, parent or not, as it’s the kind of ultra-deep sleep that allows one to sleep through just about anything. I could put on some dope-ass west coast ‘90s rap with hard-hitting mega bass that rattles the pictures on the wall… but a baby in full gratuitous sleep flaunting mode wouldn’t even subconsciously nod his oversized head to the rhythm. Gratuitous sleep flaunting is as good as life gets, folks.

    It’s about 2:30 in the afternoon on a Sunday. I should be mowing the lawn and he should be playing in his gym on the floor. Instead, here we are, three hours into a Fringe marathon.
  7. Real human sleep
    What are you, nuts? Real human sleep is only for real humans. Your baby is a baby. He needs only expensive formula (or the blood, sweat, and tears version: breastmilk), palpable frustration, and self-charging crying to sustain. He. Needs. No. Sleep.

Having lost my 59th straight staring contest to baby Mack, I’m throwing in the towel. Bested by a baby, I am. But now knowing that I stand no chance, I will skip the nightly song-and-dance routine, go straight for the battle of wills that is the fake out, stakeout stage, and just close my eyes and hope for the best. Prayers welcome… advice desperately wanted.

Happy camper, indeed. This baby is fully charged for another night of no sleep.
Happy camper, indeed. This baby is fully charged for another night of no sleep.

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