Newborn Sleep: How much is enough?

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  • November 21, 2013

newborn sleepNew parents are often taken by surprise by their newborn baby’s sleep patterns. Parents may wonder whether their baby is sleeping enough, or find themselves questioning how much day versus night sleep they should be getting.

With the overabundance of information telling you how much sleep your baby should be getting (and the health risks if they don’t), many parents become overwhelmed and anxious very early on. I’m here to tell you: please stop worrying. Newborn sleep is variable and there is a WIDE range on the spectrum of how much or how little your baby will sleep.

 

Newborn Sleep Cycles

 

In the first few months of life, newborns will sleep in cycles during a 24-hour period, with no differentiation between day and night. Sleep will take time to mature into more normal patterns and until it does, there is no need for you to worry. Statistics show that newborns should sleep an average of 15-16 hours per day and parents begin to panic when they tally up their baby logs and find that their baby is not falling within those ranges.

stranger anxietyHere’s a little secret: In actuality, there are numerous studies. Some studies show that babies can sleep as little as 10 hours a day (in a 24 hour period), or as much as 18 hours per day during these newborn months, Feeding methods have no bearing on how much or how little your baby sleeps, so don’t trick yourself into thinking that by switching to formula or adding rice cereal you will somehow tilt the scales in your favor and nudge your baby into that 18 hour range. Your newborn will sleep as much as he needs to and will get the amount of sleep that his body requires.

Now, this information may make you feel better for a newborn minute (HA!), but then you begin to wonder WHEN will my baby start sleeping like a normal human being (a.k.a. an adult)? Newborn sleep cycles are much shorter in the early months. In fact, naps and nighttime sleep won’t even begin to evolve until they get a little older.

Waking every few hours is normal for your newborn (and essential to his survival), as he needs to eat frequently and wake as a means to have his primary needs met. The good news is that to a certain extent, your infant will naturally move towards longer stretches of sleep by 3 to 4 months.

 

Nighttime Sleep

 

Thankfully, nighttime stretches start to consolidate around 6 to 8 weeks. This doesn’t mean that your sweet baby will start logging 12 hours of sleep at night. Newborns will sleep in stretches of three to four hours, and sometimes as little as 20-30 minutes, before stirring or waking (which explains all those short naps). By 6 to 8 weeks you will notice a slightly longer stretch of sleep consolidated during the night (possibly up to 4 to 6 hours).

Your newborn’s naps will begin to organize later, usually sometime between 12 to 16 weeks of age. Before this time, there will be little consistency to how long each nap will be so don’t become anxious about your baby being a poor napper during this time. Sleep is about your baby’s maturity, and also requires a bit of nurturing on the parent’s part.

If you have any questions about your newborn’s sleep, be sure to check out Gentle Baby Solutions, a community built specifically for parents of newborns!

Heather IrvineHeather Irvine is a Certified GSC, Postpartum Doula, Newborn Care Specialist & Certified Lactation Counselor. As if those specialties weren’t enough, she also has 5 (yes, 5!!) children of her own!

How much does your newborn sleep?

Gentle Baby Solutions

photo credit: storyvillegirl via photopin cc

Kim West
Kim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing child and family therapist for more than 24 years, and the creator of the original gentle, proven method to get a good night’s sleep for you and your child. She is the author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night Sleep Tight, its companion Workbook and 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. Click here to read more about her.

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6 Comments

  • cat20122 says:

    my 8week +2d son won’t sleep in the day. he rubs his eyes, yawns and starts to fall asleep. as soon as i put him down, he either wakes up, or is down for 7mins almost exactly, then he wakes and cries. Ive tried shh/patting/gentle rocking, shhhing on its own, patting, talking etc none of which help. he gets more angry and screams so I pick him up. either we then start the whole process again, but he is even more tired, or he then starts smiling and is wide awake for a really short period before getting grizzly and shortly after starting to scream. when the screaming is escalating massively, I use a paci to try to calm him down then I remove it before he is asleep. I’m terrified of bad sleep associations, but I think that I am going to take him out in his pram every afternoon to see if this helps or let him sleep in my arms. I’m not keen on either but i am at the end of my wits.  does anyone have any advice? I’m getting very desperate as its affecting his night time sleep. This problems prob started about 1 week ago, and his night sleep – which was really good (00:30-6/7am) is now  broken. we tank him up before bed but he now wakes again after 3am and 5am having had good sleep patterns for 2 weeks.

  • cat20122 says:

    my 8week +2d son won’t sleep in the day. he rubs his eyes, yawns and starts to fall asleep. as soon as i put him down, he either wakes up, or is down for 7mins almost exactly, then he wakes and cries. Ive tried shh/patting/gentle rocking, shhhing on its own, patting, talking etc none of which help. he gets more angry and screams so I pick him up. either we then start the whole process again, but he is even more tired, or he then starts smiling and is wide awake for a really short period before getting grizzly and shortly after starting to scream. when the screaming is escalating massively, I use a paci to try to calm him down then I remove it before he is asleep. I’m terrified of bad sleep associations, but I think that I am going to take him out in his pram every afternoon to see if this helps or let him sleep in my arms. I’m not keen on either but i am at the end of my wits.  does anyone have any advice? I’m getting very desperate as its affecting his night time sleep. This problems prob started about 1 week ago, and his night sleep – which was really good (00:30-6/7am) is now  broken. we tank him up before bed but he now wakes again after 3am and 5am having had good sleep patterns for 2 weeks.

  • cat20122 says:

    also does anyone know why he aways wakes after 7min during his day time nap attempts so far he isn’t after night time waking?

  • cat20122 says:

    also does anyone know why he aways wakes after 7min during his day time nap attempts so far he isn’t after night time waking?

  • breefawn says:

    cat20122 He’s very, very normal 🙂 Newborn sleep is not like baby sleep, and he really won’t be ready for sleep coaching until around 5 months. For now, like Heather suggests, just do what works. You won’t create any bad sleep associations at this young age. Follow her advice and keep the windows open during the day, get outside, and make sure that nighttime is dark and quiet. You’re doing great!

  • breefawn says:

    cat20122 He’s very, very normal 🙂 Newborn sleep is not like baby sleep, and he really won’t be ready for sleep coaching until around 5 months. For now, like Heather suggests, just do what works. You won’t create any bad sleep associations at this young age. Follow her advice and keep the windows open during the day, get outside, and make sure that nighttime is dark and quiet. You’re doing great!