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How much should newborn babies sleep?

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As a parent of three, I think I can probably guess the top 3 questions parents with newborn babies are asked…. How are you feeling, how was the birth and are you getting any sleep?

With my first, I was completely unaware of what sleep should look like for newborns (and babies full stop.) This was before I was a sleep consultant, we didn’t complete NCT as he was premature and I was one of the first of my friends to have a baby. However, knowing what sleep looks like at each stage can help prepare you for what to expect and provide reassurance and I wish I had known then, what I know now! This is the first in a series of blogs which will take you through the first few years of your little one’s sleep journey, helping you to know what to expect, with some hints and tips along the way.

How much should a newborn sleep?

The first three years of a little one’s life is when the majority of development and brain growth happens. Sleep is therefore so important to help them to process and retain all of this information that they have developed and newborn sleep is no different.

The Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep times for different ages. 

AgeRecommended sleep
Newborn0-3 months old14-17 hours
Infant4-11 months old12-15 hours
Toddler1-2 years old11-14 hours
Preschool3-5 years old10-13 hours
School-age6-13 years old9-11 hours
Teen14-17 years old8-10 hours
Young Adult18-25 years old7-9 hours
Adult26-64 years old7-9 hours
Older Adult65 or more years old7-8 hours

In the first few months, newborn babies sleep on average 6-8 hours during the day and 8 hours at night. This is normally in stretches of around 2-4 hours,with 50% in deep sleep and 50% in REM sleep. Before the 4 month age, the distribution of these are random and they are yet to develop any regular sleep cycles.

The two types of sleep (deep and REM) are both vitally important for little ones development, however they do very different things. During deep sleep the growth hormone is released, the immune system is boosted and it is the restorative phase of sleep. REM (rapid eye movement) sleep is very different, this is where they process the world around them and may have dreams. Think of REM sleep as their end of the day filing session, saving the information and tricks they are learning for when they may need it again!

Sleepy Newborn phase

Those first few months can feel like they are always sleeping as they are only able to manage between 45-60 minutes awake up to 6 weeks, and around 60-90 minutes from 6-12 weeks. However, don’t feel pressure to try and keep them awake, they need their sleep It is also a myth that the more you keep them awake during the day, the better they sleep at night!

From 6 weeks onwards,  you will start to see around 4-5 naps per day. These periods of awake time will increase as they get older, and will form a natural pattern of naps. If little ones become overtired, they are likely to cry as this is their only coping mechanism at this age. Therefore, if they are looking sleepy, chances are they are ready for a nap.

Around six weeks, for many babies, their sleep cycles begin to develop further and they may start to sleep for longer periods during the night.

Can newborns tell the difference between night and day?

Newborns have no concept of night and day. Whilst it is too early to try and support them to develop sleep skills, helping them to know the difference between night and day is a great first step to supporting better sleep. Where possible, make the day busy, bright and noisy with a calmer, darker and more peaceful nighttime environment. As they get older, this will help their body clock know the difference between night and day.

Finally, with all children’s sleep, make sure you are using safer sleep techniques and follow the Lullaby Trusts recommendations.

Keep an eye out for my next blog which focuses on the next stage of sleep, typically called the 4 month regression. However as you will find out, it is actually a huge developmental stage and progression for a little one (not a regression!)

If you would like to find out more about newborn sleep, what to expect and how to start developing great sleep habits, take a look at our antenatal package which prepares parents for newborn sleep and beyond.

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