Understanding Newborn Sleep

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Bringing home your newborn is exciting and nerve-racking, especially if it is your first child. 

You finally have your new bundle of joy home. You can’t believe it – they are amazing, beautiful, you can’t stop looking at them.

Then reality sets in:

  • They cry (to be expected)
  • They don’t seem to know day from night.
Newborn Sleeping
  • They sleep a lot, and you are not sure if that is normal.
  • They can't stay awake for long, and you are not sure if that is normal.
  • And on top of that, they make so many noises while they are sleeping that you continuously think they are awake.

Suddenly you find yourself with so many questions about your newborn's sleep.

Let’s start with some basics about newborn babies’ sleep. 

  • They do sleep a lot
  • They do not know day from night, but they will eventually with some help from you.
  • They are noisy sleepers.
  • They are light and restless sleepers.
  • They cannot stay awake for long periods.

All of this is normal.

In this post, I will cover

  • How many hours sleep newborns need?
  • Newborn sleep schedules and patterns
  • Newborn sleep stages
  • Signs of tiredness in your newborn
  • Establishing a good bedtime routine.
  • At what age you can expect your newborn to start sleeping through the night.

How many Hours Sleep do Newborns Need?

Newborn babies (0 to 2 months) need between 15 – 17 hours of sleep. They will typically sleep for 8 to 9 hours at night and 7 to 9 hours during the day. They will, however, only sleep for short periods, usually 3-4 hours at a time. Newborns' tummies are still tiny, and they need feeding regularly. 

Babies will wake up on their own when they are hungry. But if your baby is premature or has a medical condition, speak to your doctor or healthcare professional and follow their advice. Your baby may need to be fed more regularly or wake them for feeds.

The amount of sleep your baby needs will decrease, around the 2 months mark the amount of sleep will reduce to 14-16 hours. 

Newborn Sleep Schedules and Patterns

Initially, it can be challenging to know your baby's sleep schedule as they do not yet know day from night.

Before they were born, they lived in total darkness. Your movements during the day would typically rock them to sleep. Then at night once you sat down to rest or go to sleep, your baby would wake up moving around, sometimes making it difficult for you to sleep.

This confusion between night and day does not last too long (typically around 4 weeks) and you can help your baby by treating days and nights differently.

In the day-use their awake time in the day to play and interact with them, expose them to light and do not be too concerned about general household noise like washing machines.

In the evenings start by establishing a simple bedtime routine. Keep the lights dimmed, give them a quiet bath; you could even give your baby a gentle massage. This differentiation from day helps them transition from day to night, and the consistency of the routine lets them know to expect sleep.

Baby Massage

In other words, the quicker you help your baby learn night from the day, the better although this will take a few weeks.

Newborns can only stay awake for 30 minutes at a time, and their naps can last anything from 20 minutes to 3 hours.

Newborn Sleep Stages

Newborns are light sleepers. Unlike adults and older babies and children, newborns often wake during their sleep; this is because they spend around half of their sleep in the light sleep stage. Each sleep cycle for a newborn is shorter (typically only 45 to 50 minutes) compared to 90-100 minutes in adults. 

Newborns also make lots of noises in their sleep. When we first brought our son home, I had a baby monitor but found I was forever jumping up to check on him as he made so many noises, and I thought he was awake. Eventually, I used the camera but turned the sound down – I heard him cry when he was awake and needed me, but it stopped me overreacting to every noise. 

When you do hear your baby make a noise in the day or night while they are sleeping, wait a few minutes to see if they are awake. They may also go back to sleep, given the opportunity to do so.

Signs of Tiredness in Your Newborn

There are some clear signs to look out for that will tell you that your newborn is tired. You may not see all of these in your baby. But as you get to know your baby, you will know what their signs of tiredness are. 

Sign #1: Rubbing his/her eyes or face.

Sign #2: Fussing and whimpering, which can become full blow inconsolable crying.

Sign #3: Clinginess

Sign #4: Yawning or sneezing often.

Sign #5: Pulling their ears.

Sign #6: Becoming very active – do not mistake this for them being ready to play

When to expect your newborn to start sleeping through the night

Typically babies can sleep through the night from around 3 months of age, but this can vary a lot.  By then their tummies are big enough for them to sleep through the night without being fed.

Newborn Sleeping

Initially sleeping through the night maybe around 8 hours, this will gradually increase as your baby gets older. Again this can vary by baby as some babies can sleep for 11 hours from 3 months old, while others may only sleep for this length of time around 6 months or later.

Establishing a Good Bedtime Routine

The first few weeks will be about adjusting to your newborn, getting used to their sleep patterns and helping them know day from night. 

While it may be challenging to establish a set bedtime routine in those first few weeks as discussed, you can still start by giving them some hints that it is nighttime. A nice quiet bath with the lights dimmed, a baby massage etc.

A typical bedtime routine for the 1st 6 weeks may look something like this:

  • Bathtime – approx. 10-15 min
  • Get dressed for bed – this is also a great time to give your little one the baby massage (our son loved these). Approx 5-10 min
  • Feeding Time – approx. 15 min. Remember, do not let your baby fall asleep while feeding.
  • Story or Songs – approx. 5 min
  • Bedtime – typically in the 1st few weeks this will be around 9:00 pm and 10:00 pm.

You can start to move this time earlier after the 6 weeks as your baby gets more into a routine. Ideally, you would like your baby to be in bed anywhere between 6:30 pm and 7:30 pm.

Try to put your baby down to sleep when they are sleepy but awake; this way, they will learn to start sleeping independently.

The Sleep Sense Program by Dana Obleman is a great program that shows you how to teach your baby to fall asleep independently and sleep through the night. You can read our review of the program here

The 1st few weeks are a haze of feeding, nappy changing and sleeping. Focus on settling into life together, looking after yourself and getting as much rest as you can.

When my baby is sleeping, that’s when I think, wow, I made that.

Maria Jose Ovalle

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