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

Many new parents find that the sleep patterns of a newborn disrupt their own sleep schedule. It’s quite common for infants (six 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 most of the day and waking only for meals. This may present a dilemma for new parents. Babies don’t have a set schedule, sleeping anywhere from 16 to 17 hours per day, and seem to get hungry every few hours. This can make it difficult for new parents to get rest.

Wondering why the sleep patterns of a newborn tend to be so different from older children and adults? 

For the first six months, babies don’t consistently produce 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 babies’ bodies interferes with the natural circadian rhythm that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

Typically, newborns will sleep eight to nine hours throughout the day, then another eight hours at night. Since their stomachs are so tiny, they have to wake up roughly every three 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 rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep, when dreaming occurs. Their cycle alternates between REM and non-REM sleep.

Infants may struggle at times to fall back into a deep sleep after a REM phase. They’ll wake up and become fussy. This typically happens less frequently as they get older. 

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

Try to be patient and allow them to sleep whenever they want. Initially, babies will determine their own sleep schedules. Parents may struggle to get enough uninterrupted sleep, but aiming for seven to nine hours per day is a healthy goal. If an insomnia problem arises, consult a health care provider.

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? 

Babies’ stomachs are only capable of digesting small amounts of milk at a time. This means they’ll need to be breastfed or given a bottle every two to three hours.

Occasionally, they might sleep past the three-hour mark. But there’s no need to worry (especially if they were carried to full-term). They are probably 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 three months old or weigh roughly 12–13 pounds. By then, their stomachs have grown in size a bit. Since there’s so much variation between babies, however, this may not occur until they’re closer to a year old.

Establishing good sleep habits for newborns

When babies are ready for bed, they send signals. 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 their parents’ arms, they may resist doing it any other way.

Further encourage their independence by waiting a few minutes to respond to a fussy baby. This 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.

Opening the blinds in the morning to let the light in can also help trigger their circadian rhythm. 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 the infant a warm bath, breastfeed them, or read them a book in a soothing voice.

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. With some patience, babies and parents will both be able to get a good night’s rest every night.

“The Best Sleep Schedule for Babies: 0-3 Months.” Sleep.org, 20 Nov. 2020, www.sleep.org/articles/best-sleep-schedule-babies-0-3-months/.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. “Newborn-Sleep Patterns.” Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, 24 Aug. 2014, www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/newborn-sleep-patterns.

“Newborn Sleep Patterns.” Stanford Children's Health - Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=newborn-sleep-patterns-90-P02632.

FC;, Kennaway DJ;Stamp GE;Goble. “Development of Melatonin Production in Infants and the Impact of Prematurity.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1639937/.

“Sleep.” HealthyChildren.org, www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/default.aspx.

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