Newborn sleep schedule

RELATED ARTICLE

Baby Sleep
Baby Sleep Training Methods and Tips

Unlike an older child or adult, your newborn baby sleeps on and off in short bursts throughout the day and night. For you as a parent, constantly waking during the night to soothe or feed your baby is one of the things that can make this early period so exhausting. Get the answers to questions about your newborn’s sleep schedule, such as how long your newborn should sleep for, what kind of sleep patterns may start to emerge and how to help your newborn sleep at night.

How Long Should a Newborn Sleep?

Every baby and child is different, so the amount of sleep each one needs can vary a lot. In general, though, newborns sleep for up to 16 to 18 hours in 24-hour period, but the sleep doesn’t happen all at once. Instead, very young babies will snooze in little blocks that last a couple of hours or so during both the day and night. Although this start-stop newborn sleep schedule can be exhausting for you, all this sleep is essential for your baby’s healthy and happy development. Over time, this haphazard round-the-clock dozing will gradually settle down, with more of your little one's sleep hours taking place at night.

What Are the Sleep Patterns of a Newborn?

Unlike adults, who typically sleep for at least seven hours at night and are awake for the rest of the day, the sleep of a newborn takes place in short bursts that are divided more-or-less equally between night and day. To give you a rough idea, in the first few weeks your newborn may sleep for a couple of hours, followed by a short period of wakefulness before sleeping again. As the months go by, these sleep blocks may lengthen to become about four or five hours long. By about 6 months of age, your baby’s sleep patterns may begin to look more like those of an older child or adult, meaning your infant may sleep for longer stretches at night and be more wakeful during the day. Keep in mind, however, that it’s still common for babies at this age to wake frequently during the night. Although more active during the day, your 6-month-old will still need 2 or 3 daytime naps. It’s important to remember that every baby is unique – your baby’s sleep patterns may differ from what we’ve described here. You may also find that your older baby sleeps for longer periods for a few months, but then reverts to waking up more frequently in the middle of the night. This is sometimes referred to as sleep regression, and it’s a normal part of development. Sleep regression may occur when your child is feeling unwell or unsettled, or during growth spurts – when spells of cluster feeding can also interrupt your little one’s slumber – or a developmental jump that temporarily affects sleep patterns. Periods of stress or sudden changes – like moving house, the arrival of a sibling or starting at nursery school – may also disrupt your child’s sleep pattern for a while.

In Summary

Newborns sleep for up to 18 hours per day. This is broken into short chunks of about one to three hours, which are spread throughout the day and night. In time, these sleep blocks become longer and your baby will start sleeping more at night than during the day, but the transition to sleeping through the night is not a linear process and you may experience periods of sleep regression from time to time.

When Will Your Baby Sleep Through the Night?

As the months progress, your baby will spend more time sleeping at night and less time napping during the day. However, that doesn’t necessarily translate into nights of unbroken sleep. Your baby may still wake up frequently during the night. Also, keep in mind that every baby is different, so your infant may sleep more or less at night than the average figures shown in the chart below. As a general guide, here’s how much of your newborn’s total sleep time might occur during the day or night and how the ratio of night-time sleep to daytime napping can change as your little one gets older:

newborn sleep per age

In Summary

With time, your baby will gradually spend more time sleeping at night. By 9 months old, your child may be sleeping 10 to 11 hours at night and having only one or two daytime naps. However, children’s sleep patterns vary a lot so this should only be taken as a very rough guide.

When Can You Set Up a Sleep Routine?

It’s never too early to think about adding structure around your baby’s sleep, but keep in mind that it may be several months before your baby has a predictable sleep pattern. Because their circadian rhythms are still developing, newborns don’t have the ability to tell day from night until around 8 to 12 weeks old. And, because their stomachs are so small, newborn sleep patterns are driven by the fact that they can only go for a few hours before needing to be fed again, even during the night. At this early stage, it’s more important to cater to your baby’s feeding and sleep needs (and biological clock), rather than enforcing a strict sleep schedule. Look out for your baby’s drowsy periods and encourage (and allow) sleep then. Any time after 3 months old, if you feel your baby is ready, you might consider establishing a soothing bedtime ritual. Besides potentially preventing sleeping issues later, this can also be a great opportunity for quality bonding time with your child. Keep in mind, though, that it may still take weeks or months before a regular sleep schedule becomes firmly established.

A typical bedtime routine might include:

  • Brushing teeth (if any)

  • A relaxing bath

  • A soothing baby massage.

  • Fresh night clothes and a clean nappy

  • Reading or telling your baby a story in bed

  • Dimming the lights

  • A goodnight kiss and/or cuddle

  • A lullaby or music from a wind-up mobile or music box.

In Summary

It can be beneficial to introduce a bedtime routine – which might include a change of lighting, a relaxing bath and/or massage and bedtime story or lullaby – from around 3 months old onwards.

How to Get Your Newborn to Sleep at Night

All babies cry, so all parents experience a crying baby at night from time to time. There are many reasons your newborn may cry at night, rather than falling or staying asleep. For example, your little one may be uncomfortable, overstimulated or need a nappy change. Here are some things you can do to help your baby drop off more easily:

  • Check your newborn is comfortable. Make sure your baby isn’t hungry, overdue for a nappy change or showing any symptoms of illness, such as a high temperature. Also, check the temperature of the room where your baby sleeps, to make sure it’s comfortable and your child isn’t under or overdressed.

  • Comfort your baby. soothing methods can include rocking, gentle patting or letting your baby suck a thumb or hand. If that doesn’t work, the motion of pushing your infant in a pram or a drive in the car can sometimes send your baby to sleep. If you’re breastfeeding, a brief suckle on your breast might settle your baby.

  • Look for signs of sleepiness or tiredness. Whenever possible, put your baby in the cot when he or she is drowsy but not yet asleep. This will help your child get used to the idea that the cot is the place for sleep. Look for sleep cues: signs that your baby is getting tired, such as yawning, drooping eyelids or a glazed look.

  • Help your baby get used to night and day. To help your baby understand the difference between night and day, play and chat with your baby in the daylight hours. During daytime naps a little background noise and daylight is fine – there’s no need to darken the room and creep around on tiptoes. At night, however:

  • dim the lights

  • don’t play or talk much with your baby

  • only change nappies when necessary

  • put your baby down straight away after feeds or nappy changes.

  • Keep calm. Try not to become stressed if your little one can't seem to sleep, and never shake your baby – this can cause serious injuries. If you feel you can’t cope, leave your baby safely in his or her cot for a few minutes while you regroup in another room. Then go back in when you feel calm and ready. Life with a young baby can be stressful at time, enlist the help of your partner and/or trusted family members or friends, and ask your health visitor or doctor about local support groups if you feel you need support from outside the family. Help is out there – you just need to ask.

In Summary

It’s normal for babies to cry and not be able to fall asleep sometimes. Check that your baby is comfortable and try to soothe him or her as best you can. Keep interaction, noise and light to a minimum at night to establish a regular day-night sleep schedule. If nothing seems to work, never shake or hit your baby no matter how frustrated you are. Just put your baby down safely in the cot, take a little time out in another room and go back in when you’re feeling calm again. Talk to friends, family or your health visitor if you feel you can’t cope and need support.

A Note on Newborn Baby Sleep Safety

A safe sleeping environment is very important. Here are some important sleep safety recommendations to follow:

  • Put your baby to sleep on his or her back. The safest sleeping position for your baby is on his or her back for the first year. Babies who sleep on their backs have a reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) compared with babies who sleep on their sides or stomachs. When your baby learns to roll over, don’t worry if your little one turns over onto his or her side or front after falling asleep.

  • Sleep in the same room as your baby. Having your baby’s cot in the same room as you for at least six months is also thought to reduce the risk of SIDS.

  • Put your baby in the cot or Moses basket ‘feet to foot’. This means placing your child with his or her feet at the end of the cot, with the only bedclothes consisting of a baby sleeping bag or lightweight blanket – if needed – that must always be tucked securely under your baby’s arms to prevent it slipping up over the head.

  • Use a firm, well-fitting mattress. For maximum safety, your baby’s cot needs a mattress that’s firm, fits the cot perfectly and is covered with a single sheet.

  • Keep the cot clear of suffocation hazards. Your baby’s cot should not contain any duvets, quilts, baby nests, wedges, bedding rolls or pillows.

  • Don’t bed-share with your baby. It’s OK to bring your baby into bed with you for a feed or for some comforting but be sure to put your child back in the cot straight away afterwards.

  • Don’t fall asleep with your baby on an armchair or sofa. If you’re feeling a little sleepy after giving your baby a cuddle or a feed, resist the temptation to nod off. If your child has fallen asleep in your arms or on your breast, put him or her safely in the cot and take the opportunity to catch a little well-deserved rest yourself if you can.

In Summary

Creating a safe sleep environment for your baby is very important. Always put your baby to sleep on his or her back in a cot or Moses basket. Have a firm mattress in the cot, but nothing else (so no toys, pillows, or duvets, for example). Experts recommend keeping the cot in your room at least for the first six months.

The Bottom Line

Newborns sleep a lot. However, the way they sleep in short bursts around the clock can make the first few weeks and months so tiring for you as a parent – but hang in there! Try to get some rest whenever you can and ask for help from your partner and/or family if you need it. It can be helpful to remember that this exhausting newborn period will pass. Eventually your baby will sleep for longer stretches during the night and have more predictable sleep patterns. In time, the sleep-deprived fog of this newborn phase will clear. You never know, one day you may even look back fondly on this bleary-eyed period!

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.