As new parents, one of the biggest hurdles when caring for a tiny human. I can clearly recall how I felt as if my baby never slept during the first few weeks of new motherhood. Of course that was not really the case, but more like not knowing about baby sleep patterns and how many hours should my baby sleep in a day.
It may not feel that way but the fact is, on average, babies spend about two-thirds of their time sleeping as newborns. Their sleeping hours gradually decrease as they grow and become more active during the day.
The Importance of Sleep in Babies
Sleep is a very important factor in your baby’s health. It is one of the parameters for assessing health in your baby. Healthy sleep starts at birth, which is why you need to make sure that your baby gets the right amount of sleep.
Babies, especially newborns and younger babies need sleep because they are growing and developing a lot. This requires a lot of time for the body to recharge, and they can get that from the right amount of sleep.
As your baby continues to develop and start learning new things, sleep is a way for the brain to absorb and retain everything that they’ve learned throughout the day.
Normal sleeping hours
Babies need a lot of sleep, it’s no question. Newborns especially need a lot of sleep in the beginning. Here’s what you can expect regarding sleep duration for babies:
Newborn (0-3 Months)
Although parents of newborns notoriously get robbed of their sleep during the first few months, babies at this age usually sleep for the most part of every 24 hours.
Newborns sleep about 12 hours during the night with several night-waking episodes for feeding or diaper changes. During the day, they may take two up to five naps to bring their sleeping duration up to about 16 hours for the entire 24 hours.
So why do parents barely get any sleep with a newborn despite the ample sleeping time that newborn babies get? You may ask.
The catch is that babies don’t really sleep more than 2 to 4 hours at a time. In between, since their tummies are still quite small, they will need to feed periodically. They will also have full diapers every now and then, which will interrupt their (and your) sleep.
Once your baby is out of the 4th trimester, the night-waking episodes may start to decrease. However, their sleeping time every 24-hour period also decreases. From about 14-17 hours of sleep per day, their sleeping time will drop down to between 12-15 hours.
Since babies of this age are bigger and have a larger stomach capacity, they get to feel fuller for longer and therefore sleep longer stretches: up to five hours at a time. This longer and more consolidated sleeping time are when parents begin to say that their babies start “sleeping through the night“.
At this stage, your baby will most likely sleep longer stretches during the night and have shorter or fewer naps during the day. Your baby will move around more and become more energetic during the day so you can play and interact more with her.
Is my baby sleeping too much?
In the first few weeks, new mothers tend to worry that their baby sleeps too much. As previously established, newborn babies sleep up to a whopping 18 hours a day. That means that there will be times that sometimes, your baby will just wake up to feed for thirty minutes and then go back to sleep.
That is why, at the beginning, your pediatrician may advise you to wake your baby up every three hours to feed. If you have an extra sleepy baby in your hands, there is no concern at all for as long as your baby still regularly wakes to feed.
Some experts may also advise that if your baby sleeps a lot, it would be best to take advantage and slip some rest in too (provided that you still feed your baby at prescribed intervals). That’s because your baby’s sleep pattern will most likely change.
If you also have an extra alert baby who does not seem too sleepy, it’s not much of concern too as long as your baby is well in all other aspects. Remember that your baby’s sleep habits at the newborn stage are not yet fully established. You may have a sleepy head one week and an energizer bunny in the next.
What is the best time for a baby to sleep?
A baby’s circadian rhythm can be pretty non-existent. Babies are used to a constantly-dark environment with big blurry noises from mommy’s internal organs. That means that newborns still have no sense of day and night, and things can get confusing at first.
Establishing a good bedtime and naptime routine will help your baby get the hang of sleeping through the night and sporadically napping throughout the day. This way, you can be sure that you are giving your baby enough opportunity to complete their required sleeping hours per day.
Even if you don’t want to stick to a strict schedule, you still need to have a roughly consistent timeline for bedtime at night and naps during the day. If you feel a bit clueless as to how to start, here a few suggestions you can start with:
Newborns tend to sleep round the clock. They have about 4 to 5 naps during the day, which means that bedtime is usually pushed back because of the last afternoon nap.
Bedtime in the first few weeks happens late -about 9 pm. However, at about 2 months of age, you should aim for your baby’s last nap to end at around 6:30 pm so that bedtime can start after an hour or two.
As your baby gradually comes out of the newborn stage before the age of 3 months, you should have gradually adjusted her bedtime schedule for earlier –between 7 or 8 pm. That means that you need to set the last nap of the day so that it ends at around 5:30 pm.
As your baby graduates from the newborn stage, those 4 to 5 naps will trim down to just 3 naps, or sometimes 4 depending on how early your baby wakes up in the morning for the day.
Your baby will also become more active and more aware of her surroundings, which contributes to lesser naps during the day. Take the time to interact and play with your baby while she is awake, but be careful not to overstimulate, especially if it’s close to nap time or bed time.
At this stage babies still need a solid 11 to 12 hours of sleep at night, with about two or more feedings. Bottle-fed babies can feed about once or twice at this age, while breastfed babies may opt to feed a bit more due to the high digestibility of breast milk.
To achieve a better transition into getting enough night sleep, ending the last nap of the day at around 5 pm is ideal. This way, you can start to put your baby down to bed at 7 pm and no later than 7:45.
By this age, babies typically nap about 2 to 3 times during the day. This number will greatly depend on how early or late they wake up in the morning.
If you have an early bird in your hands, expect a morning, noon, and afternoon nap. If you have a little one who likes to sleep-in and wakes up after 9 am, a “brunch-time” nap and an afternoon nap may suffice.
Just as with previous age groups, you want to keep the last nap a bit early and end it at around 4 pm so that your baby will comply with her 7 pm bed time.
At this age, babies are already well-acquainted with solid food (which started at about 6 months of age, per WHO recommendation). This could mean that your baby may feel satiated enough to sleep for longer stretches at night. You can slowly say goodbye to night feeding!
However, some babies may still want a little midnight milk and this is still completely normal. If you want to completely eliminate the need for bedtime bottles, check out this article we wrote about night weaning.
Around this age, babies begin to transition from 3 naps to 2. You will notice that if your baby goes for 2 naps, bedtime at night will be extra early, while if there is a third nap, bedtime will run quite late.
The key during this stage is to keep an open schedule and adjust accordingly until your baby settles into a 2-nap schedule.
Younger toddlers less than 18 months will still need a mid-morning and an afternoon nap, whereas older toddlers may stick to just one nap altogether. Toddlers can stay awake for longer periods so there can be as much as 4 to 5 hours between naps and bedtime.
Baby sleep requirements can be quite tricky for new parents. It changes so much in such a short span of time. Hopefully, with this guide, you will have a good idea of how much sleep your baby needs.