Newborn sleep is essential for a baby’s development and growth. An infant’s brain is developing, consolidating, and solidifying various cognitive and physical skills during REM sleep. The days and nights of newborn babies are divided into phases. They aren’t aware that people sleep at night. Their brains’ functions linked with daytime and nighttime rest cycles are still developing.

Newborns Sleep in Short Bursts

Sleep patterns can differ greatly. Newborns usually sleep for 2-3 hours in short bursts. Some newborns sleep for up to four hours at a time. Because newborns have tiny tummies, they must wake frequently to feed. After feeding, your baby may go right back to sleep or stay awake long enough for a little play. Some newborns become weary after being awake for 1-1½ hours. Some are able to stay awake and vigilant for longer periods of time.

How Much Sleep Do Infants Need?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the optimal amount of sleep in a 24 hour period is:

  • Newborns: 16-18 hours
  • 1-3 months: 15-16 hours
  • 3-6 months: 14-15 hours
  • 6-9 months: 13-14 hours
  • 9-12 months: 12-14 hours
  • 1-2 years:  11-14 hours

Newborn Sleep Cycles 

Adults and infants both have sleep cycles consisting of both REM (active sleep) and non-REM (deep sleep). Newborns may be woken up easily during active sleep because they move around a lot and make noises. If left alone, they will wiggle, move their hands, and make fussing noises until they enter a deep sleep. Newborns remain quiet during deep sleep. Their breathing is deep and regular, and they are less likely to wake up than at other times. Newborns go through these sleep cycles while sleeping. Active sleep or REM takes up 50% of a newborn’s sleep cycle. Infant sleep cycles average between 20-40 minutes each. Newborns awake for a few minutes at the end of each cycle and may fuss or weep; they may need your assistance to fall back to sleep if the fussing turns to a distressed cry. At 4-6 months of age babies can begin learning to connect their sleep cycles. For more information, check out our online class, Sleep Coaching 101: Health & Safe Sleep Habits.

At night: Newborn Sleep & Wakings 

Most newborns generally wake up multiple times each night for feedings in the first few months. Between one and three months, your baby’s sleep duration may improve and he or she may begin waking less frequently. Your baby may be sleeping for more than four hours at a time by the time they are three months old. However, you can anticipate that your infant will wake at least once each night. If your baby is premature or small for their gestational age, your pediatrician or a child and family health nurse may suggest that you limit the amount of time they sleep at night before waking them up for a feeding. 

If you have any questions or want more information reach out to our Newborn Care Team today and ask about sleep coaching or overnight newborn care.