Understanding Newborn Sleep Patterns

Healthy infant sleep patterns are essential because sleep plays a significant role in your child’s cognitive development, memory formation, language acquisition, physical growth, and immune system. During an infant’s first year, the baby’s sleep patterns begin to mature, as they learn to self-soothe, fall asleep on their own, and begin sleeping less during the day and more at night. 

Understanding Newborn Sleep Patterns: The Basics

Newborn Sleep Cycles and Sleep Duration

Like adults, infants experience fluctuating cycles of quiet and active sleep. In adults, the sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes. In infants, the sleep cycle ranges from about 47 minutes (at term) to 50 minutes at eight months. Complete sleep cycles are vital to quality sleep. 

The total duration of an infant’s sleep sessions varies based on feeding. On average, breastfed babies sleep in two-to-three-hour blocks while bottle-fed babies sleep in three-to-four-hour blocks. 

What’s the Difference Between Day and Night Sleep for Newborns?

There isn’t much difference between day and night sleep for newborns. The average newborn sleeps about 16 to 18 hours each day, waking every few hours for feedings, with slightly more daytime sleep than nighttime sleep. 

Between three and six months, infants should be sleeping for eight or nine hours during the night and taking two or three naps during the day. By the time an infant reaches one year of age, they will sleep an average of 14 hours with only about three or four hours of sleep during the day. 

Tips for Healthy Newborn Sleep Habits

Parents can help their infants develop healthy and safe baby sleep patterns with consistency, proper feeding, and a peaceful environment. 

Develop a Normal Circadian Rhythm

Infants aren’t born with a natural circadian rhythm. Until about three or four months, they often sleep more during the day than at night. Parents can help infants develop their circadian rhythm by exposing babies to natural light during the day and creating a dark environment in the home at night.

Watch for Signs of Sleepiness

Although newborns commonly fall asleep while breastfeeding, it is highly recommended that parents put their older infants to bed, rather than letting them fall asleep in their arms. 

This helps babies learn to go to sleep on their own. Parents can help their children begin to feel sleepy while holding and soothing them. Once a baby begins rubbing their eyes, yawning, fussing, or looking away, place them in their bed for sleep.

Swaddle Cautiously

Swaddling a baby prevents the limbs from flailing around and can help an infant feel more secure. However, parents should use swaddling cautiously. 

Babies over two months and babies that can roll should not be swaddled for bed. Parents should also be cautious not to swaddle their babies too tightly, as it can affect the growth and development of the hip joints. 

Establish a Consistent Bedtime Routine

Closing out each of your baby’s days with a consistent routine will help them recognize when it is time for bed and naturally feel sleepy. A bedtime routine can include things like taking a bath, brushing teeth, reading a book, rocking, listening to lullabies, or putting on a white noise machine. 

When your baby is old enough to roll and sit up on their own, they can take a transitional object (like a blanket or stuffed animal) to bed with them. 

Additionally, avoiding overly stimulating activities close to bedtime can help induce sleepiness in your child. 

Create a Safe Sleep Environment

Infants that cannot yet roll are at the highest risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and they require a safe sleep environment. They should be in a crib, bassinet, or portable playpen with a firm and flat mattress. Use only a tight, fitted sheet. There should be no loose blankets, pillows, bumpers, toys, or stuffed animals in an infant’s sleep space. 

Create a Calming Sleep Environment

Your baby’s sleep environment (whether in a nursery or in your bedroom) should be as dark as possible to mimic the environment they came from (the womb). A dark environment will soothe your baby and help them begin developing a circadian rhythm.

Provide Reassurance and Comfort

When your baby is old enough to sleep through the night but is still waking, provide comfort and reassurance by patting their back, speaking softly, or singing. Don’t pick them up out of bed, though. If your baby continues to cry, you can continue to reassure them in this way.  

When to Contact a Pediatrician About Newborn Sleep Patterns

Once your baby begins to sleep through the night, it can be frustrating and worrisome if they begin waking again. This can often happen naturally, in response to a growth spurt or natural feelings of separation anxiety. However, sleep problems and disturbances to your newborn’s sleep patterns can also be a sign of illness or other issues. 

If you notice unexpected changes in your infant’s sleep pattern, we always welcome new parents to contact Children’s Wellness Center to talk with a pediatrician. We can provide you with tips and information and have you bring your infant in for an examination if needed. If you have any questions about newborn sleep patterns, please contact us

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