Why Do Babies Pull Weird Faces in Their Sleep?

5 Min Read | By Nat Took

Last Modified 28 June 2021   First Added 22 June 2021

This article was written and reviewed in line with our editorial policy.

In the first few days of bringing your little one home, you may quickly realise that the phrase ‘sleep like a baby’ is rather ridiculous! Newborns are very restless sleepers and wake up every few hours for a feed. However, if you watch your baby sleep for just a few minutes, you’ll notice all the facial expressions they pull during sleep. They’ll grimace, smile, even laugh and cry in their sleep. This is nothing to be alarmed about and is completely normal. Read on as we explore exactly why babies pull weird faces in their sleep.

Quiet and active sleep

Newborn babies don’t have much of a sleep schedule but do need to sleep a lot. They’ll usually sleep 14 to 17 hours a day. This sleep is sporadic, and they can nap for as little as 30 minutes or have a long sleep of around 3 hours. As newborns sleep with such little regularity, it’ll impact your sleep routines too. So, don’t forget to look after yourself and adjust your sleeping pattern so you get enough sleep too.

sleeping baby in arms

When sleeping, a baby will pass through quiet and alert sleep. Quiet sleep is a restful period of sleep where their breathing is smooth and they seem more settled. Alert sleep, on the other hand, can be quite startling when you first see it. This takes place during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. During this time, you’re likely to see your baby’s eyes move under their eyelids, their breathing may become irregular, and they’ll move about a lot more. As your baby develops, the amount of time in this active sleep becomes less.

Babies sleep expressions

Babies are very active when sleeping. They pull facial expressions, twitch, grunt, stir, suckle, and more. They even pull sad and happy expressions which may have you wondering what emotions they’re feeling at that very moment. Here’s what some of the more common expressions mean:

Why do babies smile in their sleep?

smiling baby

A baby smiling in their sleep is a common cute occurrence. A baby smiling whilst awake is often seen as a milestone. After they start smiling whilst awake, you’ll likely notice them smiling when asleep. Often, these smiles are for very similar reasons.

Firstly, a smile can be a simple reflex action. It’s common for them to start smiling in response to the relief they get from passing wind or soiling their nappy. Doesn’t sound quite so cute anymore, hey?

However, these aren’t the only reason a baby will smile in their sleep. Once your little becomes more familiar with your home, they may also smile in response to a sensory stimulus when asleep. This could be a pleasant smell that wafts into their room or a noise that comforts them. It’s also possible that a baby smiling whilst asleep could be in response to a pleasant dream, but this isn’t certain.

Related: What Do Babies Dream About?

Why do babies laugh in their sleep?

Like smiling, a baby laughing in their sleep is likely to be due to a reflex reaction. It’s one of the unconscious movements that happen during sleep.

When a baby is sleeping, they’re also processing what they’ve interacted with throughout the day. When awake, they’re learning about themselves and how to do things such as smiling and moving, as well as their environment. So, when they’re asleep and processing this information they may be expressing an emotion that they learned when awake.

Why do babies grimace in their sleep?

If you see your baby grimacing in their sleep, you may worry that they’re having a bad dream. However, this is unlikely. It’s more likely that your baby is simply passing wind.

It’s also worth noting that odd facial expressions, like grimacing, are often the result of an immature nervous system. Your baby still doesn’t have full control of their muscles, so those grimaces and other expressions could also be simply to do with poor control of the facial muscles, rather than a response to something positive or negative.

Why do babies cry in their sleep?

crying baby

Hearing a baby cry in their sleep can be worrying. Normally though, it is nothing to worry about. For newborns, crying is their main method of communication. Whilst asleep, your baby is developing mentally, which can cause them to cry out.

If a newborn is crying when asleep, it can be part of the parental learning curve of helping your baby to sleep comfortably. It may be too hot or cold for them, or it could be a reflex reaction. So before picking them up, stand nearby for a few minutes, they may simply drift back to sleep. If not it could be that they need something.

Related: How To Regulate the Temperature of Your Baby’s Room

As babies get a little older, they may be crying in response to a nightmare. This is likely if they’re also moving around a lot.

An important note:

If you’re at all worried about any of your baby’s sleeping habits, simply speak to your GP, health visitor or any other medical professional. It’s best to be safe with these things and ask the question, even if the likelihood is there’s nothing to worry about.

Babies and sleep

baby yawning next to teddy bear

Sleep is a vital part of a baby’s development and they need a lot of it. As they rest, you’re likely to see them move a lot and hear many different noises. Most of this is due to reflex reactions and is completely normal. With a bit of time, you’ll get used to your baby’s noises and expressions whilst asleep. You’ll likely even learn what they need from the different sounds. However, as mentioned, if you’re worried that they’re crying more than normal or are making stranger than usual noises, be sure to contact your GP.

Check out more posts about children and parents here.

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