Sleep is one of the most passionately discussed topics with parents of newborns. Whether it is the friendly neighbourhood aunty or the stranger you find yourself sitting next to at the clinic, everyone seems to have unsolicited opinions to give on what a newborn’s sleep pattern should look like.
While some of these well-intentioned advice may leave you stressed, do keep in mind that according to the experts at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine there is a wide range of normal variation in duration and patterns of sleep in infants younger than 4 months.
Normal sleep habits for newborns and babies
Let’s first look at what falls within the normal range of infant sleep habits. Newborns typically sleep about 14 to 17 hours in a day. For the first 3 months, this usually follows a repeated pattern of sleep-alert-feed. As newborns don’t yet have a sense of day and night, they continue to repeat this pattern even throughout the night for the first few months.
Generally, newborns sleep a total of about 8 to 9 hours during the day and a total of about 8 hours at night. They wake up every few hours to feed. As their stomachs are very small, they are only able to feed small amounts at any one time. As breastmilk is more easily digested, a breastfed baby would be up about 2 hours of their last feed while a formula-fed baby may go up to 3 hours.
Starting at around 3 months of age, an infant’s daily sleep needs drop to 12 to 15 hours. Most babies start to sleep through the night from this time onwards. However, as they grow older there might be other issues such as teething, growth spurts or sleep regressions that may lead to nighttime awakenings.
Signs of sleep trouble
How can you know if your infant is not getting enough sleep? Firstly, it’s important to remember that what you need to monitor is the total amount of sleep in 24 hours and not any specific sleep schedule. Additionally, being alert when awake and feeding well are also good indicators that your baby is getting enough sleep.
Some babies develop sleep problems at about 6 months when they begin to experience separation anxiety. This may be because they do not yet understand that separations are temporary or because they are overstimulated. You may notice these behaviours when this happens:
- Waking and crying one or more times after sleeping through the night
- Crying when you leave the room
- Refusing to go to sleep without a parent nearby
- Clinging to the parent at separation
Helping your baby sleep well
Your baby would usually let you know when they’re ready to sleep by fussing, crying, yawning or rubbing their eyes. Just follow these cues of sleep readiness to help them develop their sleep schedule.
- Creating a bedtime routine is helpful to help babies fall asleep on their own or go back to sleep when they are awakened in the night. Here are some ways you can help your baby with this:
- Cuddling and comforting your baby during the day to help them feel more secure
- Allowing time for naps as needed for your baby’s age
- Not having any stimulation or activity close to bedtime
- Creating a bedtime routine, such as bath, changing into a fresh diaper and pajamas and rocking under dimmed lighting
- Tucking your baby into bed when he or she is drowsy, but before going to sleep
- Comforting and reassuring your baby by patting and soothing without taking them out of bed for night awakenings
As mentioned above, there are many ways you can help your baby fall asleep and stay asleep. What’s important is that you are consistent with the routine and your responses. It’s also important to remember that every baby is different and there are no fixed rules to follow. However, if you notice anything that bothers you don’t hesitate to talk to your paediatrician. Finally, do remember to rest well yourself as sleep is as important for mommies as it is for babies.
Paruthi S, et al. J Clin Sleep Med 2016;12(6):785-786.
Sleep Foundation. Babies and Sleep. Available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/baby-sleep Accessed 24 August 2021.
Stanford Children’s Health. Infant Sleep. Available at: https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=infant-sleep-90-P02237 Accessed 24 August 2021
Stanford Children’s Health. Newborn Sleep Patterns. Available at: https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=newborn-sleep-patterns-90-P02632 Accessed 24 August 2021