Newborn Sleep Patterns

image001Newborn babies require a lot of sleep. They can sleep anywhere from 16-17 hours each day around the clock. This sleep is broken up into a pattern of 2 to 4 hour naps anytime during the night and day over the first weeks or even months.

What this means for new parents is a broken and exhausting sleep pattern. For babies, this means a lot of sleep in spurts. You will need to learn your new baby’s signals in order to adjust to getting up at all hours for feedings, diaper changes and cuddles. There are also a lot of things you can do to work out healthy newborn sleep patterns.

Newborn Sleep Patterns

The infant sleep pattern is normally very erratic and they sleep for less periods of time than older children and adults. Due to the possible developmental stages of the brain, sleep periods for newborns have longer periods of REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement).

The Newly Born 

Newborns typically sleep 16-17 hours a day; and most babies don't stay asleep for more than two to four hours at a time. 

Not knowing when your baby will be asleep and when he or she will be awake can be hard on new parents and exhausting, but keep in mind that this time period of shorter sleep periods is only temporary. Some babies may sleep through the night early on and if they do, it wouldn’t be abnormal, but it certainly is a very rare occurrence.

6 to 8 Weeks—Deeper Sleep

Between 6 and 8 weeks of age, the periods of REM sleep tend to shorten and baby starts falling into deeper sleep. They also tend to sleep less during the light hours and sleep more when it is dark outside. At this point, they may be more awake and want to play during the day but they will still wake up for night feedings.

4 to 6 Month—Longer Night Sleep and Some Can Sleep Through the Night

While some lucky parents, just a few, will have a baby that sleeps though the night as early as 6 weeks of age, it seems the 4 to 6 month mark is a little more likely. This is when babies become capable of sleeping an 8 to 12 hour stretch. There are a few babies that do still wake up for feedings even into the first years of life, but showing them how to fall asleep and stay asleep will often help them sleep through the night around this time period.

How to Establish Good Newborn Sleep Patterns (Newborn to 3 Months)

image002Learning good sleep habits is part physical development on the baby’s part and part teaching from you. You can start showing baby how to relax and fall asleep right around the 6 week mark. Here are a few helpful tips to get you started:

1. Learn the Signs to Show that He or She Is Tired

Babies under 8 weeks of age are awake for up to 2 hours at a time. Any more than that and your baby may become overtired and you may have a fussy baby on your hands. These signs indicate sleepiness:

  • Avoids social or eye contact and turns head into your chest
  • Eye rubbing and flicking ears with hand
  • Quiet mood
  • Less movement and play
  • Yawning and stretching limbs
  • Uninterested gaze/staring
  • Dark circles under eyes
  • Playing with ears
  • Crying and fussiness

2. Show Your Baby the Difference Between Night and Day

Small babies prior to two weeks old sometimes get their days and nights mixed up. During the first two weeks, sleep training may be difficult due to this. After two weeks, you can start showing them the difference with these tips:

Start a definite day time routine

  • When baby first wakes up, get him or her dressed for the day in regular clothing
  • Talk and sing to your baby during the day while feeding
  • Wake baby up if he or she falls asleep during feedings
  • Encourage day time play and social interaction
  • Use normal noise levels and try not to keep things quiet in the house
  • Keep the curtains open and allow lot’s of light into the house

Encourage a night time routine

  • Try not to talk too much during evening feedings
  • Try to keep household noise to a minimum
  • After the last evening feeding, give baby a warm bath and dress in pajamas for bed
  • Turn the lights down in the house

3. Allow Your Baby to Fall Asleep on Her Own

Teaching your baby to fall asleep themselves can save you a lot of work later on. They will be ready to start this between 6 and 8 weeks of age. Place him or her in the crib just as they are getting sleepy. You can sing to them and/or place a moving mobile on the side of the crib for them to watch. After each feeding during the night, place them back to bed while they are still slightly awake.

Putting your baby to sleep with rocking and holding will teach them to go to sleep that way. This is perfectly fine, but be prepared to do this every time and it is harder to change these habits later.

4. Keep Feedings and Sleeping Apart From Each Other

Encourage your baby to stay awake during feeding time. You can do this by gently tickling the feet and repositioning or talking to your baby. Any time after the first month, babies need to remain awake during feedings. If they fall asleep and are hard to awaken, just stop the feeding and put them back to bed.

Try not to overfeed your baby either. An overfull tummy may make your baby fussy and unable to sleep. You also need to avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle in his or her mouth. This is very dangerous and bad for tooth formation. Feed babies only in your arms and outside of the bed.

Sleep Problems at This Age—Fussiness and SIDS

Babies tend to have more issues with sleep in the first few months. Sleep patterns are erratic and they may be fussy during the night. You might try swaddling your baby to make them feel more secure.

Many new parents are concerned about sudden infant death syndrome. While this risk is highest in families that have a history of SIDS and between 4 and 6 months of life, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Always put baby to sleep on his or her back and keep soft bedding and toys away from the baby’s face.

How to Establish Good Sleep Habits (3 to 6 Months)

image003 During this stage, you will need to start being a little more firm about bedtime. Even though some babies do sleep through the night at this time, other baby may still need to eat a few times during the night, but bedtime needs to be more on a set schedule while still allowing baby to wake and eat when he or she needs to. Here are a few points to remember:

1. Time for Set Naps and Bedtimes

Early on, you could just put your baby down whenever he or she was ready. After three months, it is best to make naptime and bedtime at the same time every day. Naptime can still be flexible whenever baby is tired, but bedtime should always be somewhere between 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. every night. You might have an overly awake baby that wants to play late into the night and this is not good either.

2. Work on a Set Routine for Bedtime

Start to do specific things that signal bedtime. These can be things as simple as:

  • Bath time right after baby’s last bottle
  • A massage with baby lotion before you put pajamas on baby
  • Singing quiet lullaby type songs
  • Reading a story
  • Quiet gentle play
  • Rocking until baby is almost asleep

3. Get Your Baby Up at the Same Time Every Morning

Set wake up times can help with set bedtimes. Try not to allow your baby to sleep for longer than a ten hour stretch at night. The same morning wake up time can help balance baby’s internal body clock and establish sleep routines.

4. Sleep Problems at this Age

Between three and six months, babies tend to start to protest being put in their crib. They also may regress a little possibly even going from sleeping through the night to waking up several times again.

This often happens when babies aren’t feeling well. The important thing is to not try and force the sleep issue, just try to keep bedtime at the same time every night. During times of illness, just allow baby to sleep whenever he or she feels it is necessary. They may cry or be fussier than usual and you may have to give in to consoling them for a short while.

When to Call the Doctor

Every baby is different when it comes to sleep patterns. Ask at your regular doctor visits about how much baby should be sleeping. If your baby is unusually fussy and you can’t seem to console him or her you may want to call your doctor.

If you cannot wake your baby and they are uninterested in feeding, you need to call the doctor right away to make sure there isn’t something going on.