Sleep Disorders Insomnia

Why Can't You Sleep Like a Baby?


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Summary & Participants

Why is it that babies can sleep 14 hours a day and adults struggle to manage eight? The answer lies in the structure of the sleep cycles. Learn how sleep changes as we age.

Medically Reviewed On: July 21, 2009

Webcast Transcript


ANNOUNCER: Think it's easy to "sleep like a baby?"

It turns out that babies have their own unique sleep.

PATRICIA MURPHY, PhD: It's called "quiet sleep" and "active sleep" when they're children, and REM sleep is more "active sleep." Infants spend about 80 percent of their life in REM sleep. During "quiet sleep," they're very difficult to wake up. But because they spend most of their time in "active sleep," it seems that they can be awakened very easily.

ANNOUNCER: Sleep is something we do every night. Yet there are many misconceptions about it. For instance, sleep may look pretty straightforward, but it is actually composed of various stages and levels.

SONIA ANCOLI-ISRAEL, PhD: Our sleep is divided into two states, REM sleep and non-REM. REM is R-E-M. It stands for "rapid eye movement." And the reason we call it that is because during this stage of sleep our eyes are moving quickly. And REM is our dream sleep. That's where most of our dreaming is going on.

The other part is called non-REM or non-rapid eye movement sleep and that's broken down into stages 1, 2, 3 and 4, where stage 1 is the very lightest level of sleep. That's the kind of sleep where you're just dosing and you know you're not fully asleep yet, but you're not fully alert anymore either. That's the kind of sleep we do in the symphony or in dark lecture halls. And then stages 2, 3 and 4 get progressively deeper with stage 4 being our very deepest level of sleep.

ANNOUNCER: Sleep evolves as we grow. Anyone with a teen can tell you, they seem to sleep away half the morning even though they've got busy lives, trying to pack school, activities and friends into too few hours. Do they really need to log more time in bed than the rest of us?

WOMAN: I think teenagers need more sleep, because their bodies are going through changes so they need that time to energize, for their bodies to grow.

PATRICIA MURPHY, PhD: When children go through puberty, it appears that there's some biological underpinnings that make them need to sleep more.

ANNOUNCER: In fact, teens may even require an entirely different sleep schedule than anyone else.

SONIA ANCOLI-ISRAEL, PhD: You may remember being a teenager and wanting to stay up very late at night and wanting to sleep late in the morning. Most parents think, "Ah, my child is being lazy." But in fact, it's a very normal pattern for adolescents to experience. We call this a delayed sleep phase because their whole pattern is delayed when compared to our environmental clock, to the clock we live by. The biological clock is shifted.

ANNOUNCER: Once the upheaval of adolescence is over, we shift into more familiar patterns.

SONIA ANCOLI-ISRAEL, PhD: People start getting sleepy earlier and earlier and earlier so that when they reach adulthood, they get sleepy at around 11.

ANNOUNCER: At the same time, restful, non-interrupted sleep gets harder to achieve.

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