Why Is Baby Eye Rolling and Rapid Breathing While Sleeping?

| Reviewed By Sarah Schulze, MSN, APRN, CPNP

Your baby is going to have some very strange habits when she’s born. Besides being adorable, she is also going to be confusing as you try to decode behavior and figure out what is normal.

Why is baby eye rolling and rapid breathing while sleeping? In most cases, eye rolling and rapid breathing during sleep are normal. Rapid eye movement is a phase of sleep accompanied by low muscle tone and vivid dreams. Breathing rate may increase and become irregular slower during the rest of sleep. This is normal in infants while the lungs develop. 

While eye rolling or rapid breathing can signal bigger problems, both of these behaviors are usually just a normal part of development.

Baby Eye Rolling and Rapid Breathing While Sleeping

While it can be strange to witness the eye rolling and heavy breathing that accompanies a baby sleeping, these processes are generally harmless. 

Eye Movement During Sleep in Babies

Your baby is going to be moving through two types of sleep during naps and bedtime: quiet sleep and active sleep. They work exactly as they sound.

What To Expect

During quiet sleep, your baby will simply rest without moving much. Breathing will be slower and more regular, and she probably won’t open or move her eyes much. This sleep takes up approximately half of your baby’s sleep time.

During active rapid eye movement sleep, also known as REM sleep, expect to see a lot of eye movement.

Your baby’s eyelids may flutter, her eyes may roll, and her little body will twitch at unexpected times. Breathing becomes more rapid and irregular.


All of us roll our eyes and move our eyelids when we are in REM sleep. It’s a normal process as we move between quiet and active sleep. It’s not a cause for concern most of the time.

When To Worry

If your baby’s eye movement is accompanied by other symptoms, you need to seek medical help.

A child may roll his eyes to the back of his head when having a seizure, and seizures are usually accompanied by fever, stiff limbs, and unconsciousness.

Since babies can have seizures in their sleep, seek medical help if your child exhibits these symptoms.

Rapid Breathing During Sleep in Babies

Few things are as alarming as your baby having labored breathing patterns. However, rapid breathing can happen when a child is in REM sleep, and it’s not usually a sign of anything being wrong with your child.

Irregular breathing patterns during sleep and while awake is normal during infancy as your child’s lungs develop. 

What To Expect

When your child is in a quiet-sleep phase, you will notice steady breathing patterns. However, when your child enters REM sleep, she may breathe rapidly or even stop breathing for several seconds before starting again.

It’s weird to watch, but it’s normal.


Your child will cycle through different stages of sleep all night, and it’s normal for active sleep to look, well, active. Your child may not breathe and then breathe rapidly to catch her breath.

By the time your child is 6 months old, this will likely not happen as often.

When To Worry

If your child is having trouble breathing and the skin around her ribs looks like it’s catching as she gasps, you need to seek help. Other signs of a problem include the skin around your child’s lips turning blue, refusal to eat, and extreme crankiness.

Newborn REM Sleep or Seizure

It can be hard to tell the difference between normal REM sleep behavior and a seizure. If your child is still rolling their eyes or stiffening their bodies once they are awake, this could be a sign that you need to see a doctor.

Movements that you see during active sleep should not carry over to when your child is awake.

Newborn Eye Rolling and Smiling

When your newborn smiles at you while eye rolling during their sleep, it’s likely just muscle twitches, which are normal. There is also a theory that your child may be passing gas when you see that mischievous grin.

A mother holding her naked, sleeping, smiling baby on her chest.

Infant Sleep Movements: What To Expect

While he sleeps, your child will twitch, yawn, roll his eyes, and change breathing patterns. 

Newborn Sleep Patterns Week by Week

The first eight weeks with a newborn are wonderful and difficult. They will sleep for many hours, but they wake up so much during the night that you don’t always feel like they’re getting rest. 

  • Week 1: Expect your baby to sleep anywhere from 16-18 hours a day the first week of life. However, don’t expect her to sleep for more than 2-3 hours in a row. Your baby will need to wake up to eat often, and she still won’t be following a circadian cycle like you do. 
  • Week 2: Week two will likely look the same as week one. Expect 16-18 hours of sleep spread out throughout the day and night. Your baby will likely wake you up often at night to eat. If she doesn’t, you need to wake her up every three hours so she gets enough food.
  • Week 3: The norm is around 14-17 hours of sleep a day with many naps and interrupted night sleeping.
  • Week 4: While your baby is still sleeping a lot, she may be demanding more food as well. Growth spurts will mean extra feedings.
  • Week 5: You made it past the month mark, and your baby is still sleeping a ton. Hopefully, you are getting into a normal resting pattern as well.
  • Week 6: Your little one may be able to sleep longer between feedings, adding an hour or so to their nighttime rest before waking.
  • Week 7: Week seven looks a lot like week six. Your baby will sleep and eat most of her day.
  • Week 8: By week eight, your baby may be able to go for 4 full hours without waking up. This means more rest for you and a more consistent pattern to plan around, at least until sleep regression starts.

Baby Sleep Pattern

Every baby is different, but you will likely notice a pattern to your child’s sleep. Your child will need to wake up every 2-3 hours to eat at night, and they will likely nap a lot during the day when they are very little.

As your child grows and they can hold more food at one time, you will notice that they wake up less at night. However, sleep regression due to teething or growth spurts can interrupt even the most predictable sleep schedule.

AgeHours of Daytime SleepHours of Nighttime Sleep
1 Week4 nap times, 2-3 hours a piece8 hours split into 2-3 hour increments
1 Month3 nap times, 2-3 hours a piece8-9 hours split into 2-3 hour increments
2-4 Months6-7 hours split between 2-3 nap times6-10 hours at night split into 4-hour increments
5-7 Months5-6 hours split between 2-3 naps8-10 hours split into 4-5 hour increments
8-12 Months2-3 hours split between 2 naps10-12 hours split into 4-5 hour increments
2 Years2-3 hours split between 2 naps10 hours straight

Closing Thoughts

Knowing the difference between normal baby sleep behavior and signs of trouble will help you rest better when your baby is getting sleep.