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Newborn-Sleep Patterns

What are the sleep patterns of a newborn?

The average newborn sleeps much of the day and night, waking only for feedings every few hours. It is often hard for new parents to know how long and how often a newborn should sleep. Unfortunately, there is no set schedule at first and many newborns have their days and nights confused. They think they are supposed to be awake at night and sleep during the day.

Generally, newborns sleep about 8 to 9 hours in the daytime and about 8 hours at night. Most babies do not begin sleeping through the night (6 to 8 hours) until at least 3 months of age, or until they weigh 12 to 13 pounds. However, this varies considerably and some babies do not sleep through the night until closer to 1 year. Newborns and young infants have small stomachs and must wake every few hours to eat. In most cases, your baby will awaken and be ready to eat about every 3 hours. How often your baby will eat depends on what he or she is being fed and his or her age. Make sure you talk with your doctor to determine if it is necessary to wake a baby for feedings.

Watch for changes in your baby's sleep pattern. If your baby has been sleeping consistently, and suddenly is waking, there may be a problem such as an ear infection. Some sleep disturbances are simply due to changes in development or because of overstimulation.

What are the different alert phases of a newborn?

Babies also have differences in how alert they are during the time they are awake. When a newborn awakens at the end of the sleep cycles, there is typically a quiet alert phase. This is a time when the baby is very still, but awake and taking in the environment. During the quiet alert time, babies may look or stare at objects, and respond to sounds and motion. This phase usually progresses to the active alert phase in which the baby is attentive to sounds and sights, and moves actively. After this phase is a crying phase. The baby's body moves erratically, and he or she may cry loudly. Babies can easily be overstimulated during the crying phase. It is usually best to find a way of calming the baby and the environment. Holding a baby close or swaddling (wrapping snugly in a blanket) may help calm a crying baby.

It is usually best to feed babies before they reach the crying phase. During the crying phase, they can be so upset that they may refuse the breast or bottle. In newborns, crying is a late sign of hunger.

Helping your baby sleep

Babies may not be able to establish their own sleeping and waking patterns, especially in going to sleep. You can help your baby sleep by recognizing signs of sleep readiness, teaching him/her to fall asleep on his or her own, and providing the right environment for comfortable and safe sleep.

What are the signs of sleep readiness?

Your baby may show signs of being ready for sleep when you see the following signs:

  • Rubbing eyes

  • Yawning

  • Looking away

  • Fussing

How can you help your baby fall asleep?

Not all babies know how to put themselves to sleep. When it is time for bed, many parents want to rock or breastfeed a baby to sleep. Establishing a routine at bedtime is a good idea. However, be sure that the baby does not fall asleep while eating or in your arms. This may become a pattern and the baby may begin to expect to be in your arms in order to fall asleep. When the baby briefly awakens during a sleep cycle, he or she may not be able to go back to sleep on his or her own.

Most experts recommend allowing a baby to become sleepy in your arms, then placing him or her in the bed while still awake. This way the baby learns how to go to sleep on his own. Playing soft music while your baby is getting sleepy is also a good way to help establish a bedtime routine.

Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 9/12/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.