Newborn sleep: What to expect
Everything you need to know about newborn sleep.
From how much sleep your newborn needs to establishing a healthy sleep routine. Here are some practical ways you can help your new baby master the art of shut-eye.
Newborns tend to sleep a lot, but not necessarily when you want them to and without any set pattern. There’s a good chance you will be up 4 or 5 times during the night with a new baby. The reason they wake regularly through the day and night is because their circadian rhythm - the correct response to light and dark over a 24-hour period - is not yet developed. And of course because their tiny bellies need frequent filling up.
How much will my newborn sleep?
Newborns spend between 12 and 18 hours asleep per day during the early weeks of their life. But, at this age, babies aren’t able to sleep for more than an hour to three hours at a stretch and will wake for around an hour or two between naps to feed.
During the first month of life babies spend more time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep than adults which is why their sleep cycles are so short. REM sleep is a very light sleep important for brain development but unfortunately very easily disturbed - another reason your baby will wake frequently during these early weeks.
How many sleeps should my newborn have a day?
All babies are different, but on average newborns (up to one month old) will need three day time naps anywhere between an hour to three hours in length. And roughly the same at night. But don’t worry too much if your baby doesn’t quite sleep like this. Babies, just like adults are all different and some will be awake or asleep for longer or shorter periods. As long as they are averaging between 12 to 18 hours of total sleep in a 24-hour period to allow their brains and bodies to develop and grow, they are doing just fine.
What if your newborn doesn't seem to have a sleep pattern?
At this age, it’s not worth worrying about whether your baby’s sleep follows any kind of pattern or not. It’s more than likely you’ll have to just have to follow your baby’s lead. But there are a few things you can do even at this early stage to encourage a healthy sleeping pattern for the coming weeks and months.
Know when your baby is tired
Recognising the signs that mean your baby is ready for a nap will save you the frustration of trying to coax an overtired baby into a state of calm sleep.
You will soon get to know your baby well enough to spot signs of tiredness. When you notice him doing any of these sleepy signs try putting him down on his back in his cot to see if he will fall asleep of his own accord:
• eye rubbing
• ear tugging or pulling
• fussing, whining and crying
• staring quietly and blankly into space
• turning away from the light, toys or people
• burying or rubbing his face in your chest
• yawning and stretching
Teach your baby the difference between night and day
Although your baby’s circadian rhythm has not yet kicked in, there are things you can do to help him distinguish between night and day.
During the day:
• Change his nappy and clothes when he wakes up in the morning.
• Open the curtains and keep the room as light and bright as possible
• Stimulate him through talk and play as much as you can while he’s awake
• Be sociable. Meet with friends or have visitors between naps.
• Chat or sing to him during feeding time.
• Go about your day making all the noise you usually would such as running the washing machine or vacuuming the house.
In the evening:
• Give him a chance to wind down by cutting down on stimulation.
• Get him ready for bed by changing him into pyjamas - maybe even give him a gentle bath followed by some relaxing baby massage.
• Turn down the lights and draw the curtains.
• Feed him in silence if possible or talk to him in whispers to prepare him for bedtime.