One of the biggest challenges of parenting is getting your little one to sleep. Unlike a lot of other areas of development, sleep has a pretty direct impact on mom and dad as well. When baby doesn’t sleep through the night, mom and dad don’t sleep through the night. Of course, if you want to get your little one on a good sleep schedule, it helps to understand how much sleep babies need in the first place.
The answer depends on your baby’s age. Take a look below to see how long your little one should be sleeping at each age.
In the early days, newborns almost always seem to be asleep. They are generally only awake for short periods of time before they doze off again.
As babies grow, they sleep less. However, while the total number of hours of sleep decreases, it does come for longer stretches of time at night. This is good news for moms and dads, since it means they might actually be able to get something resembling a decent night of rest once in a while.
An overview of typical sleep patterns by age is below. But, it’s important to keep in mind that every baby is different. Some will sleep a little more and others a little less. So, as long as your baby is somewhere in the ballpark, there is nothing to worry about.
Newborn – 2 Months
In the beginning, babies will sleep around 17 hours per day. Roughly half of this sleep will come in the day and the other half will come at night. In fact, newborns often confuse day and night, and don’t necessarily know when they should be sleeping.
During this phase, babies will sleep in short intervals that are often just an hour or two. Then, they will wake up briefly to feed, and perhaps give parents enough time for a fresh diaper and outfit before drifting off again.
At this age, babies don’t yet know how to soothe themselves. Feel free to cuddle, rock, or nurse them to sleep since you just can’t spoil a newborn. Swaddling can also be a good idea as well, since the confinement resembles being in the womb.
One of the best ways to clear up the day/night confusion common during weeks 0 to 12, or the 4th trimester, is to expose baby to natural light during the daytime and keep them in a dark room during the night to allow their circadian rhythm and hormone (melatonin and cortisol to name a few) levels to start to adjust to life outside the womb. I always recommend to my prenatal and newborn clients that feeding their new baby the first feed of the day occurs in a room with as much natural light as possible, rather than in a dark bedroom or nursery. This tiny trick can make a big difference in expediting how our little bundles adjust to the day and night needs. – Brittney Stefanic, Brittney Stefanic Sleep Consulting
2 – 4 Months
Babies generally begin to distinguish between night and day by this age. Total sleep will be around 16 hours, with about 10 of those hours coming at night. Night time sleep probably won’t come in a single stretch yet, but babies might only wake up once each night. Babies will also take a few naps each day and log another 6 hours.
Establishing a bed time routine can be a good way to encourage your baby to sleep more at night. It’s also a good idea to focus on the environment. Ideally, daytime should be filled with sunlight and playing, while evening should be calm and quiet.
4 – 6 Months
Total sleep will decrease to 15 hours in total during this phase. 10 of these hours will be logged at night, and the remaining 5 will be split between 2 or 3 naps.
Some babies will get all of their night time sleep in a single stretch at this point, while others will continue to wake up.
6 – 12 Months
At this age, babies will be sleeping 14 – 15 hours in total, with about 11 of those hours coming at night. The remaining 3 – 4 hours will be split between a couple of daytime naps.
It’s actually not uncommon for babies to start sleeping through the night for some period of time, and then to stop. As babies get older, they are more aware of their surroundings and their parents. So, they start experiencing greater separation anxiety, and crying more when they wake up at night to find mom and dad aren’t around.
When babies wake up crying at night, it’s fine to go in and comfort them. Try to keep it short though, and try not to take them out of the crib. You can sing them a soft lullaby or rub their back. Once you pick them up and rock them though, babies will start to become accustomed to this. As a result, it will become more and more difficult to get them to sleep (or to stay asleep) on their own.
1 – 2 Years
At this age, they will be sleeping around 13.5 hours in total, with 11 of those hours coming at night. Generally, they will take one nap each day for about 2.5 hours as well.
A lot of little ones start resisting bed time by this age. When they start to get tired, it can actually wind them up instead of making them want to go to sleep. They might also try to come into your room at night if they’re able to climb out of the crib.
A Few Sleep Tips
Getting an infant to sleep is not always the easiest thing in the world. However, there are some things that you can do to help the process along.
Back Is Best
You always want to put young babies down to sleep on their back. Sleeping on their back is safest, and lowers the risk of SIDS.
Keep A Consistent Schedule
Some parents think that skipping a nap will help babies fall asleep early. Or, they think that keeping babies up late will help them sleep late the next day. In fact, both of these strategies usually backfire. Instead, babies that stay up too late or skip naps become overtired, and have a much harder time falling asleep and staying asleep as a result.
Instead, put babies down to bed early, between 7pm and 8pm. It helps to keep naps around the same time each day too.
Look For Signs Of Sleepiness
While it’s a good idea to keep a regular schedule, it’s also a good idea to watch for signs that your little one is tired. Some days, babies are just more exhausted than others. So, if you see them rubbing their eyes, yawning, looking away, or fussing, it might mean they are ready to hit the hay.
Night Time Routine
A night time routine can help babies to learn when it’s time to go to sleep for a long stretch. Taking a bath, reading, rocking in a glider, and soft lullabies are all key ingredients for a great bedtime routine.
Believe it or not, a massage can be a relaxing way to help baby drift off. This produces a sleep enhancing hormone called melatonin.
Put Your Baby Down Awake
Rocking your baby to sleep may seem like a pleasant idea. However, if your baby gets used to falling asleep in your arms, it will be difficult to break this habit down the road.
It’s fine to rock your baby before bed. However, it’s better to transition your little one to the crib once drowsiness sets in, rather than rocking until they fall asleep.
Cristin’s Note: My husband and I used to take turns rocking our son to sleep. After a while though, this was the only way we could get him to drift off. What’s more, when he fell asleep in our arms, we still had to transfer him to the crib without waking him up. This is NOT as easy as it sounds. Half the time, he would wake up during the transfer and we would have to start all over again.
Eventually, we solved this issue, and learned from our mistake. When our daughter arrived, we always put her down while she was still awake. To this day, she is a better sleeper.
The Right Environment For Rest
Keeping the room dark and setting the right temperature can go a long way to creating an environment that is conducive to sleep.
When it comes to noise, some babies sleep best with a little white noise or soft music in the background. After all, the womb can be a noisy place with the sounds of a constant heartbeat and a gurgling stomach. One word of caution though, if you do begin using a white noise machine or soft music, your baby may come to rely on this to go to sleep.
Swaddling is a great way to make your baby feel nice and cozy. In that way, it replicates the feeling of being in the womb, which can go a long way toward helping baby sleep.
Is My Baby Sleeping Too Much?
While it’s certainly possible for a baby to sleep too much, you don’t want to go around asking other parents this question. It’s kind of like asking if you have too much money saved for retirement.
That said, this is something to keep an eye on. There are a few reasons that some babies sleep too much.
- Growth spurt. Babies that are about to go through a growth spurt often sleep more than usual.
- Developmental milestone. Babies that are going through a developmental milestone like learning to crawl will log a little more shuteye.
- Illness. Minor illnesses like colds can often result in more sleep as baby’s immune system works overtime. It’s also possible that something like a respiratory infection that makes breathing difficult would reduce the amount of quality sleep that baby is getting. So, more total sleep would be necessary to compensate.
- Immunizations. Receiving immunizations can make babies tired, causing them to sleep more.
- Jaundice. A baby that has jaundice or is not getting enough food will sometimes sleep more than usual.
In the early days of parenthood, adrenaline and excitement help to power you through each day. Then reality starts to sink in, and new moms and dads begin to realize that they aren’t getting much sleep. They start to wonder how much sleep do babies need? and when will they sleep through the night?
When your baby wakes you up in the middle of the night for the 57th time in a row, it feels like you will never get a good night of rest again. Knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel can be just the thing you need to power through.