Being a new parent can be overwhelming! There is so much information to take in. So today, I want to help break down your little one’s sleep patterns, so you can have a better understanding of what to expect when it comes to newborn sleep.
Newborn babies have different sleep patterns than adults and even older children, and it’s important to know what to expect in the first few months of your baby’s life.
The Science of Newborn Sleep
We all sleep in stages of sleep and none of us actually sleeps through the night. These stages of sleep are what make up a “sleep cycle” and we transition through sleep cycles several times each night. When babies are born, their sleep is different. Instead of cycling through 4 stages of sleep, like adults do, they really only have TWO stages of sleep: REM sleep & deep sleep.
REM Sleep is also known as “active sleep”. It is very common for newborns to twitch, jerk, fuss & even cry out during this stage. When adults go into REM sleep, our body becomes paralyzed so we do not act out our dreams. REM sleep helps to organize the information our brains have been exposed to and this stage is very important for newborns as they have tons of new information to process every day!
Deep Sleep is a time for cell renewal, immune system repair and other important biological developments.
Newborns sleep about 14-20 hours in a 24-hour period. During the first two weeks, they should be eating, changing diapers, and right back to sleep; there isn’t much time for anything else. It is normal for newborns to be very sleepy. After the first 2 weeks, they begin to wake up more.
Sleep is typically based off of a baby’s adjusted age – not their actual age, if they were premature. Their waketime window is typically about 45 minutes – so keep an eye on the clock, as newborn sleep don’t always show sleep cues. This means that they should be back to sleep 45 minutes from the time they woke.
For newborns, night sleep usually develops before day sleep, which is quite normal; it’s what their body needs the most. It is very normal to have night wakings! The rule of thumb is to feed them when they wake, especially in the first few weeks, and especially if breastfed.
Newborn Sleep Patterns
In the first few months of life, newborn babies sleep a lot – but not necessarily for long stretches at a time. Newborns typically sleep for 16-20 hours per day, spread out over multiple short naps and nighttime sleep.
Circadian rhythms are still developing and your little one is not yet able to discern days from nights. This is why when we talk about sleep for newborns, it is centered around total sleep. Generally speaking, babies this age will sleep between 14-20 hours a day. You’ve probably noticed that your newborn doesn’t sleep more than 3-4 hour in a stretch. That’s because their tummies are too small to hold them over for much longer. Around 6 weeks is when you can expect to see more organized sleep emerging and your baby may start to sleep for longer stretches of 4-6 hours, ideally at night. If that doesn’t happen, don’t worry – you’re not doing anything wrong. All babies are different and so are their sleeping patterns.
Newborns can only tolerate about 45-60 minute of awake time before they need their next nap. That is just about long enough for a feed, a diaper change and a few minutes of play. It’s easy to get busy doing other things and forget the clock, but it is very important to be mindful of these “wake windows” or very soon you’ll have an overtired baby on your hands. When a baby becomes overly tired, he will also become fussier and have a much more difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep.
For the first 10 weeks, try to maintain a wake window of 45-60 minutes and set a timer if you need to. Between 10-12 weeks is when you can begin to lengthen the window a bit to 90 minutes.
Here are some general guidelines for your newborn’s awake times in the first few months:
- Birth to 6 Weeks: 30-45 Minutes
- 6 to 9 Weeks: 45-60 Minutes
- 9 to 12 Weeks: 60-75 Minutes
It’s important to note that these are just general guidelines, and every baby is different. Some newborns may sleep more or less than others, and that’s completely normal.
Understanding your newborn’s sleep patterns is an important part of being a new parent. It’s also important to establish good sleep habits from the very beginning of your little one’s life to set them up for continued sleep success! By following the tips outlined above and being mindful of your baby’s individual needs, you can help your newborn sleep soundly and establish good sleep habits for the future.
Are you expecting or are you struggling to figure out your newest little one’s sleep patterns? You don’t have to go it alone! Schedule a FREE Sleep Evaluation to learn more about my Newborn Sleep Programs and how I can help you feel supported and confident in navigating your newborn’s sleep.