1. Being a mom
  2. Raising a baby
  3. Baby sleep

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Sleep Patterns of a Newborn: Tips for the First Few Months

As a new parent, the sleep patterns of a newborn are probably disrupting your own sleep schedule. But it’s quite common for infants (6 months and younger) to experience nighttime restlessness and unpredictable fluctuations.

Typical sleep patterns of a newborn

The sleep patterns of a newborn usually consist of sleeping through the better part of the day, and waking only for meals. For you, this may present a frustrating — and exhausting — dilemma. They don’t have a set schedule, sleeping anywhere from 14 to 17 hours per day, and seem to get hungry every few hours. It’s pretty likely that you won’t be getting much rest for awhile.

Wondering why the sleep patterns of a newborn tend to be so different from your own? For the first six months, your baby isn’t consistently producing enough melatonin, particularly at night. The presence of light decreases melatonin levels and helps wake you up in the morning. Inversely, darkness increases melatonin levels, easing you into restful sleep at night. However, the lack of melatonin in your little one’s body interferes with the natural circadian rhythm that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

Typically, your newborn will sleep 8 to 9 hours throughout the day, then another 8 hours at night. Since their stomach’s so tiny, they have to wake up roughly every 3 hours for a bottle or breastfeeding session.

Similar to adults, babies move through various stages of sleep. Half of the time, newborns are in the REM, or rapid eye movement, phase (a light sleep in which dreaming occurs.) Their cycle alternates between REM and non-REM sleep.

At times, your infant may struggle to fall back into a deep sleep after a REM phase. They’ll wake up and become fussy. Fortunately, this happens less frequently as they get older. 

Is it possible to change the sleep patterns of a newborn?

Try your best to be patient and allow them to sleep whenever they want. Initially, your baby is bound to take the lead on sleep schedules. Your own sleep will probably take a backseat, but it’s perfectly fine as long as you’re still getting 7 to 9 hours a day. If an insomnia problem arises, consult your doctor.

You’ll be relieved to know that the sleep patterns of a newborn eventually level out as they approach their first birthday. They slowly adapt to their own circadian rhythm and begin sleeping for longer stretches. Later, we’ll discuss good sleep habits to ease the transition. 

Why don’t newborns sleep through the night? 

As briefly mentioned, your baby’s stomach is only capable of digesting small amounts of milk at a time. This means you’ll be expected to breastfeed or provide a bottle every 2 to 3 hours.

Occasionally, they might sleep past the 3-hour mark. But there’s no need to worry (especially if they were carried to full-term). Your baby’s just transitioning back into REM sleep.

When will a newborn start sleeping longer?

Noticeable changes in the sleep patterns of a newborn happen gradually. Infants won’t sleep through the night until they’re around 5 months old or weigh roughly 12 pounds. By then, their stomach has grown in size a bit. Since there’s so much variation between babies, however, this may not occur until they’re closer to 1. 

Establishing good sleep habits for newborns

When your little one’s ready for bed, they send signals to let you know. Eye rubbing, yawning, fussiness, and crying are all indications of tiredness.

To regulate the sleep patterns of a newborn, it’s important to create a bedtime routine.  Experts recommend placing them in their crib before they actually fall asleep. Once they become accustomed to falling asleep in your arms, they may resist doing it any other way.

Further encourage their independence by waiting a few minutes to respond to a fussy baby. It teaches them to fall back asleep on their own. If the crying continues, check on them, but avoid turning on the light, playing with them, or picking them up.

You can also help trigger their circadian rhythm by opening the blinds in the morning to let the light in. It boosts melatonin production and allows them to make the connection between daylight and waking up.

Lastly, a quiet, relaxing activity prepares them for bedtime. Give your infant a warm bath, breastfeed them, or read them a book in a soothing voice.

Bear in mind that building a routine sleep schedule for them requires time. Don’t compare the sleep patterns of a newborn to those of adults or even other children, as everyone is different. Remain patient and before you know it, both you and your baby will be able to get a good night’s rest every night.  






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