How much sleep does my baby need? That’s a question that pretty much every parent has asks.
We compare our baby’s sleep to that of other babies. We worry our baby is sleeping more or sleeping less than they “should.” And then, we fly into a jealous rage when we hear someone brag about their child sleeping through the night at 6 weeks old.
So, let’s put this topic to bed by taking a look at how much sleep babies need, how you can help them sleep, and when a baby’s sleep pattern is a cause for concern.
How Much Sleep Do Babies Need?
All babies are different and, as a mother, I can say with certainty that they all have their own individual sleep patterns. I say this because the information about infant sleep needs and patterns should be seen as a general guide. Sleep needs and habits vary from child to child, so don’t worry if your baby’s sleep pattern is a bit different than the ones described here.
As long as they are healthy, alert when they are awake, and generally content, they are probably getting the sleep they need (1).
So, with that in mind, this is, on average, how long babies need to sleep (2).
Newborn babies have a “nap cycle” rather than a sleep cycle, sleeping somewhere between two and four hours at a time. This is because they have tiny stomachs and have to eat more frequently than older babies.
Newborns sleep much throughout most of the day, which can be a great break for you when you need to get things done.
During the day, your newborn will sleep for about eight total hours. This may sound like a lot, but remember, this sleep will occur in short bursts.
Don’t expect your baby to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time. Many newborns, however, do sleep long periods during the day due to “day/night confusion”(3). I typically recommend that parents wake a baby for feeding after four hours of daytime sleep. This ensures that the baby is feeding well enough to gain weight, and helps him or her begin to sleep longer periods at night.
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
Newborn sleep can be the same throughout the night as it is during the day. You’ll see a total of eight to r nine hours or so of naps, broken up by the need to feed. Again, this is normal, and you shouldn’t worry about your baby waking frequently.
Other newborns may “cluster feed” every 1 ½ to two hours during the early evening hours, followed by longer periods of sleep during the remainder of the night. This often coincides with an infant growth spurt.
By the time the one month mark comes around, you may begin to see a slight change in the sleep pattern of your infant. And I do mean slight (4).
At one month, you can expect your baby to sleep for six to seven hours during the day, although this will still be in the form of three or four naps.
Unfortunately for the sleep-deprived parent, nighttime sleep patterns also remain much the same. You can expect your one-month-old child to sleep for a total of eight to nine hours, which will still be broken up into three or four naps.
You can expect to see your baby’s sleep pattern shift a little when they reach the three-month mark. Their total sleep requirement will still be somewhere between 14 and 16 hours, but when they get to this age, sleep changes.
Your three month old will be sleeping less during the day, and you will begin to recognize their preferred nap pattern.
The four to five hours they need will be broken up into two or three naps, usually at the same time every day. This makes it much easier to help your baby fall asleep on their own. When nap time is approaching, you can prepare your child, and put them down to sleep while they are groggy but still awake.
At this stage, the amount of sleep your baby has at night will begin to increase to nine or ten hours.
While the occasional three-month-old baby will sleep through the night, this is unusual, and also depends on how many hours constitutes “through the night” in your opinion. So, don’t expect to put your baby down to sleep at 10 p.m. and have them sleep through to 8 a.m. However, you might be lucky and make it from a midnight feeding until 6 a.m.
At six months, babies sleep for roughly the same amount of time, split in the same way as they did at three months. However, by this stage, your baby will need less frequent feedings and is more likely to sleep a solid six or seven hours through the night.
Between four and seven months, your baby will develop an understanding of object permanence. Until this point, if they couldn’t see something, it didn’t exist. Now they understand that if someone is not within sight they are “gone” and this makes them anxious.
This separation anxiety is a perfectly normal stage of development. As a result, a baby’s sleep at this stage of development can become disrupted. This is normal. The best way to deal with it is to strike a balance between going to your baby, and reassuring them you are there teaching them to self-soothe.
Teething pain often becomes evident at this age, and can disturb sleep. You may notice your infant softly crying while asleep, or wake up with a more vigorous cry every one to two hours. The most common reason for this is painful gums (5). If you notice this pattern, you may want to discuss teething remedies with your baby’s doctor.
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
Nine Months To 18 Months
In this age group, you might see a small decrease in the length of daytime naps, and a slight increase in the duration of the nighttime block of sleep. But, your child’s total sleep requirements will remain the same at approximately a 14-hour total.
Other infants, however, may continue to wake frequently at night with persistent separation anxiety (6). This is particularly common if the baby has not yet learned to self-soothe.
On average, older infants and young toddlers take two daytime naps totaling three hours, and sleep 11 hours at night (7).
18 Months To 24 Months
Your child may take one or two daytime naps at this stage. Two to three hours will be plenty of sleep to recharge them until bedtime, allowing them another eleven hours to be ready for the next activity-packed day.
Is My Newborn Sleeping Too Much?
It’s normal for a newborn to wake, feed, and go back to sleep almost immediately. Your newborn may even fall asleep during a feeding.
What’s more important than the total amount of time your newborn sleeps is the amount of time they sleep in one stretch. A newborn’s stomach is tiny, so they will wake frequently to be fed. Your newborn should be waking for a feeding between eight and 12 times in a 24-hour period. In other words, he or she should be feeding every two to four hours.
If your newborn happens to sleep past the time you expect them to wake for a feeding, don’t worry. The occasional longer sleep is not a cause for concern (8).
What Can Make A Healthy Baby Sleep More Than Usual?
The reasons why a healthy baby may sleep more than usual include (9):
- A growth spurt.
- A developmental leap.
- Suffering from a minor illness such as a cold.
However, it is important to ensure your baby wakes often enough to receive adequate nutrition and hydration, especially during the first few weeks of life. Signs that your baby is not feeding enough include:
- They are lethargic and do not respond to stimulation.
- Your baby is producing fewer than four extremely wet diapers in a 24-hour period.
- Their diapers are wet, but the urine is dark in color or smells strong.
- There is a reduction in stools.
- Your baby doesn’t seem settled, even after feeding.
Newborns can become dehydrated quickly and excessive sleepiness is a symptom of that. So, if you are concerned that your newborn is sleeping too much, contact a medical professional (10).
Be Careful About Dehydration
How To Help Your Baby Sleep Better
The key to helping your child sleep better is to understand the signs that your baby is tired. Contrary to popular opinion, droopy eyelids and a head that is gently nodding onto your shoulder are not signs your baby is ready for sleep.
Many parents struggle with this problem occasionally, so don’t worry if it happens to your baby. Just work to correct the situation as soon as possible — for your baby’s sake as well as your own.
Here are a few signs your baby is overtired (12).
- Not sleeping enough during the day or night.
- Being crankier than usual.
- Not wanting to go to sleep.
- Being startled and upset.
- Waking up easily after falling asleep.
Don’t take the advice of well-meaning friends and relatives who tell you to keep your baby awake during the day to ensure they sleep through the night. This doesn’t work. Not only do you spend all day with a cranky, overtired baby, but you’ll find that your baby is even less likely than usual to sleep through the night.
Instead, look for signs your baby is beginning to get sleepy and help them fall asleep.
Signs Of Sleep Readiness
As your baby grows, you will begin to recognize their signs of sleep readiness. These are the little giveaway behaviors that signal your baby is ready to sleep (13). Common signs of sleep readiness include:
- A general reduction in activity.
- Rubbing their eyes or face.
- Turning away from the person who is holding them.
To help your baby sleep better, you can (14):
- Ensure they are warm, have a dry diaper, and that they have had enough to eat.
- Lay them down to sleep in a calm, darker room if possible.
- Do not run to your baby and lift them up at the slightest sound. Some babies, especially newborns, can be quite noisy when they sleep. By picking them up at the first sound you may be encouraging them to wake when they might not have.
- If your baby is fussing, and there is no obvious reason, try rubbing their back for a few moments. This can help them fall asleep again, and avoids them developing a “feed me off to sleep” habit.
Baby Bedtime Routine
Every baby is an individual. They will have their own quirks when it comes to bedtime. There are tried and tested bedtime routines that are likely to help your child fall asleep and develop healthy sleep habits (15).
My advice would be to try a sample routine, and tweak it as necessary to find out what suits you and your baby.
Newborn Bedtime Routine
Your newborn will sleep and eat when they need to, and there is little point in trying to establish a routine at this stage. Instead, you can avoid the behaviors that may develop into bad habits later on. These include:
- Rocking your baby to sleep every time they slumber.
- Demanding complete silence whenever your baby is asleep.
- Always having the same person put them to sleep.
The key to knowing if you are developing a bad sleep habit for your child is the inconvenience factor. If the behavior is inconvenient, such as having to rub your baby’s feet for 30 minutes before they sleep, then it’s a bad habit.
Bedtime Routine At One Month
A baby’s sleep pattern at one month is similar to that of a newborn, but, as you approach the six-week mark, begin to establish healthy habits. You can do that by doing the same things in order at roughly the same time to indicate it’s time to sleep.
These things include:
- Reducing noise and stimulation.
- Moving into a calm, darkened room.
- Cuddling, rocking, or softly singing until your baby shows signs of sleep readiness.
At three months your baby will become more receptive to a bedroom routine.
Bedtime Routine At Three Months
At this stage, you can expect your baby to recognize the signs that it is night time rather than daytime. That’s not to say your baby will think, “It’s nighttime, so I should be asleep.” Instead, when you maintain a dark, quiet atmosphere, your baby will not become stimulated and fully awake during nighttime feeds.
This lays the foundation for good sleep habits as your baby grows older.
Bedtime Routine At Six To 18 Months
Once your baby is six months old, you can establish a clear bedtime routine that they will understand. For example:
The most difficult thing for parents during this stage is the conflicting advice they receive about letting a baby “cry it out” or, instead, being immediately responsive so their child is secure. One person will say crying it out is cruel, and teaches your child that you don’t care. Another person will say that going to your child immediately creates a child who demands instant attention.
There is no definitive answer.
What works for one family may not work for another, so you should do what you feel is best for you.
Bedtime Routine At 24 Months
By the time you have reached the two-year point, your child will understand bedtime routines, and probably do their best to avoid going to sleep. It’s practically an unspoken toddler law.
Once they are in this sleep avoidance stage, you can help your child by being firm about bedtime. Returning your child to their bed, and not engaging with them is the best way of making the “getting up and playing when I should be sleeping” game as boring as possible. Once they realize there’s no fun in it, most kids get over this stage quite quickly.
In clinical practice, parents often say that their toddler is more compliant at bedtime with one parent or caregiver, but not with another. In these situations, I recommend that both participate in the bedtime routine. In this way, the toddler does not receive confusing messages, and cannot pit one parent against the other.
Editor's Note:Dr. Leah Alexander, MD, FAAP
When Will My Baby Sleep Through The Night?
Even before their baby is here, some parents begin to obsess about when they will sleep through the night. In some ways, you will be much better off if you can avoid becoming obsessed with getting a full night of sleep.
However, this is easier said than done, especially when the rest of the world seems to do nothing but ask about how much sleep you’re getting. The situation is usually compounded by a friend or relative telling you how their baby slept through the night at six weeks.
The story of the “super sleeper” is usually an equal mix of bravado, a loose definition of what a full night means, and a dodgy memory.
As a general guideline, don’t expect your newborn baby to sleep any more than two or four hours at a time. Their need to feed is too great to expect anything else.
By the time they reach four to five months, your baby’s stomach can hold more, so you may get the occasional six-hour sleep stretch.
It’s not until six months that most babies begin to demonstrate anything like a “sleeping through the night pattern,” as long as you count six to eight hours as “sleeping through the night”.
In addition, remember that a baby who has been unwell, or has had some kind of upheaval is likely to have some sleep disruption. So, don’t panic if your once good sleeper begins to wake in the night again.
Putting This to Bed
Every baby is different, and what is not enough sleep for one baby is more than enough for another.
As long as your infant is otherwise happy and healthy, they are likely getting the sleep they need. However, as with all things, if you are concerned about your baby’s sleep patterns or an otherwise settled sleep pattern becomes disrupted, check with your health professional to be sure your baby is okay.