Becoming a new parent is both delightful and intensely stressful, and it may help you to know that you’re not alone in this journey. There are going to be a lot of challenges to overcome and a lot of ups and downs, but that’s just part of the joy of being a parent.
Things like figuring out a newborn sleep schedule for your little bundle of joy can be a scary process, especially if this is your first child. It’s surprisingly important to understand how to create a sleep schedule, as this will make an enormous difference to both you and your child moving forward.
Your baby does an incredible amount of growing while they sleep in the early stages of life, and although they may not have a strict schedule – to begin with – they’ll benefit a lot from some structure, especially as they start to get bigger.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how to create a newborn sleep schedule, and what you should know about how babies sleep.
The Importance of Sleep for Newborns
Sleep is critically important for little ones as it gives their brains a chance to develop, forming new neural pathways. It’s important to note that a lot of their crucial early development, both physical and mental, is done while sleeping.
As a parent, you therefore need to prioritize helping your baby get the right amount of sleep, but how do you know how much sleep they need, and how can you make sure they are getting enough?
Understanding Newborn Sleep Patterns
There’s a lot to learn about a newborn’s sleep schedule, but let’s start with the fundamentals. How many hours do newborns sleep on average each day?
The sleep foundation says that a newborn baby should get between 14 and 17 hours of sleep each day, which is usually made up of multiple naps. Frustratingly for parents, many newborn babies sleep better during the day than they do at night, and they often seem confused about sleeping and waking times.
It takes quite a while for them to sort this out, and the challenge is compounded by the baby’s need for regular feeds. Most babies will wake every 3 hours or so for food, and very few will sleep through the night until they’re at least 3 months old.
However, the most important thing for new parents to understand about a sleep schedule for a newborn is that every baby is unique and at this age, they can be enormously unpredictable. No matter how much reading you do around the subject, you’ll find that your little one has their own quirks and foibles surrounding their sleep, and these may not balance out until they’re several months old.
Don’t panic too much if your child’s approach to shut-eye isn’t what you expected it to be straight away – remember, they’re still learning!
Expectations for the First Few Weeks
Although there is a lot of variation in how newborn babies sleep, you may find it useful to learn a bit about some of the more common patterns and behaviors you might experience. So, what does a 1 week old’s sleep schedule generally look like?
In their first week, a baby is likely to sleep for around 16 to 18 hours each day. About half of that sleeping will be done during the night, while the other half will be spread across daytime naps: usually around 4-6 per day.
A 2-week-old’s sleep schedule is likely to be similar; they will still sleep for most of the day, with a pretty short wake window schedule interspersing their naps.
A 3-week-old’s sleep schedule will also be similar, but they will probably be awake for longer periods in between naps. They may start to fuss more often, but their sleep patterns will not have changed significantly.
As they move into their fourth week, you may see your baby’s sleeping hours reduce slightly, although they will still be sleeping a lot.
As you can probably imagine, this sort of setup is pretty tough on the parents, with no solid blocks of time in which you can sleep or look after yourself. Tending to your own needs is challenging, especially when you then add in things like your newborn’s night feeding routine, their need for regular changes, and the plethora of minor health problems that newborns can encounter. This can be a stressful time, but it does get easier!
Feeding Schedules and Their Impact on Sleep
Many parents are aware that there’s a close link between a newborn’s feeding schedule and their sleep schedule. Having a full tummy helps them sleep well, and having an empty one will result in wakefulness and crying. Getting your baby to drink more milk during the day can reduce how often they wake, although you should note that it isn’t guaranteed to do so; every baby is different.
So, what does a 2-week-old baby feeding schedule look like compared to a 3-week-old feeding schedule, or even a 4-week feeding schedule? How can you balance baby nighttime feeding schedules with the milk you can provide during the day?
In most cases, you will be feeding your baby every 2-3 hours until they are several months old. There are pros and cons to scheduled feeding versus feeding on demand, and it’s important for parents to spend some time figuring out what works for them in terms of their newborn’s feeding and sleep schedule. Some newborns want to feed a lot more frequently than others.
There have been various studies on the effects of breastfeeding versus formula feeding at night, but there’s no conclusive argument for one or the other. Breastfeeding is thought to help your baby fall asleep quicker because breastmilk contains melatonin, but some studies have suggested it leads to more wakefulness, perhaps because it is digested quicker.
Formula-fed babies might sleep for longer periods – this is debated – but they may take longer to fall asleep and may also encounter more breathing issues. Feeding your baby formula can take some of the stress of nighttime feeds off the mother, but it’s not necessarily better for the child. However, remember the mantra that “fed is best,” and find an approach that works for your family, without feeling guilty. These early weeks can be very exhausting!
Establishing a Newborn Sleep Schedule
Being able to establish a consistent sleeping schedule is a great way to ensure your little one is getting enough sleep and that you’re getting some sleep yourself! This will help to ensure that both of you stay happy and healthy, and will give your child the best chances of developing well because they’ll have a pattern of behavior that they can start to rely on to help themselves fall asleep.
With that in mind, here’s a few top tips that will help you create a consistent routine for your little one.
- Introduce routine early: It’s a good idea to introduce a routine early on, signalling to your baby when it’s time to go to sleep through actions. A routine can involve things like bath time, cuddles, dressing your baby for bed, singing, rocking, or skin-to-skin time. Your baby will gradually come to associate these cues with going to sleep.
- Create a comfortable environment: It’s also crucial to create a comfortable environment for your little one to sleep in, and a key factor here is what they wear to sleep.
Many new parents choose to swaddle their little ones in a comfy swaddle blanket whereas other parents choose a light cotton sleep sack, or a warm, snug 4-season sleep sack because these offer a lot of convenience and safety! You can use sleep sacks from birth, provided that they are the right size for your baby.
- Read their body language: As a parent, one of the best ways to ensure your baby gets a good night’s sleep is to learn the signs that show when they are tired. It’s much harder to get an overtired baby to settle down, so noticing when your child is ready to sleep before they get too worn out is crucial. Some of the common signs that a child is ready to sleep include:
- Fluttering eyes/unfocused gaze
- Jerky movements
- Pulling at their ears
- Frowning/worried expression
- Sucking on fingers
- Closing their fists
These are good indicators that your little one needs to be settled down in their swaddle or sleep sack for some rest as soon as possible..
Of course, some parents will talk about sleep training when it comes to handling bedtimes, but this isn’t really something that you will want to focus on with a newborn. Sleep training is something that usually comes later when your child is several months old and ready to start sleeping more independently.
Whereas you can certainly create a newborn schedule, it doesn’t involve getting your child to settle down without your presence; it’s just about creating patterns that are conducive to good sleep. It’s simply not realistic to deal with sleep training while they still have such a short wake window.
Example of a Newborn Sleep Schedule
You may find it useful to have a sample newborn schedule that you can look at for the first few weeks of their life. Below you’ll find a sleep schedule for a newborn, with a typical newborn feeding schedule to help you figure out how to look after your little one in the early weeks.
Remember, try to tailor this to your baby’s cues and your own needs rather than trying to be too punctual. Here’s an example schedule:
- 8:00: Wake up, feed, burp, get dressed
- 8:30 Playtime
- 9:00 Settled for a nap
- 10:15 Wake up, feed, burp
- 10:30 Playtime
- 11:00 Settled for the second nap
- 12:15 Wake up, feed, burp
- 12:30 Playtime/socializing
- 13:30 Settled for the third nap
- 15:00 Wake up, feed, burp
- 15:30 Playtime, bathtime (when needed), socializing with family
- 16:15 Settled for the fourth nap
- 17:30 Wake up, feed, burp
- 18:00 Playtime/socializing, dinner with family/time spent with family
- 18:30 Cluster feeding (to baby’s preference), cuddle with a cozy blanket
- 19:00 Settled for a fifth nap
- 20:30 Wake up, feed, burp
- 21:00 Playtime/socializing
- 21:30 or 22:00 Bedtime
- Nighttime feeding according to the baby’s needs/preferences
Of course, you’ll need to tweak this based on how your baby gets on. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself if they aren’t keen to stick to this exact schedule, especially if they have been sleeping erratically up to this point. As long as they are being given the opportunity to nap every hour or so and they’re being fed regularly, with plenty of playtime, they should find a rhythm soon enough.
Be patient while they make the transition, and soon enough, their sleep patterns will become consistent. The more predictable you can make their day, the more likely they are to understand when it’s time to shut their beautiful eyes and rest. Having a routine is the best way to prevent erratic sleep, especially as your child develops and starts to understand sleep cues.
Sleep is a stressful subject for a lot of parents, and you aren’t alone if you’re finding it hard!
However, it is important to make sure your baby gets enough rest, and with a good schedule, you can prevent them from getting overtired and fussy. It’s crucial to be patient with both yourself and your baby; this is a challenging time and you’ll both be learning. It doesn’t matter if your newborn feeding and sleep schedule isn’t perfect, stick at it.
How long should a newborn sleep without feeding?
A lot of parents are worried about their babies sleeping too much and therefore not eating enough. A newborn night feeding schedule can be tricky to figure out, but you should wake your baby up for food if they don’t wake independently after about 2-3 hours (breastfeeding) or 3-4 hours (bottle feeding).
You can also use this approach during the day, waking your baby regularly for food and playtime. When they are awake, look out for signs of hunger, such as moving their fists toward their mouth, turning their head, smacking their lips, and sucking on their hands. If you see these signs, it’s time to feed your baby.
Why does my newborn sleep more during the day than at night?
Babies don’t understand the difference between day and night, as their internal clock (which is cued by daylight and darkness) hasn’t yet developed. They don’t have a circadian rhythm established. Remember, it was dark all the time in the womb, so they haven’t learned how to use the day/night cues to regulate their sleep. This will sort itself out, but you can help your baby by:
- Keeping the lights dim at night
- Not playing with your baby at night (put them down once their needs have been met)
- Avoiding nighttime changes except when necessary
- Limiting nighttime noise
These things will help your baby settle back into sleep and gradually establish nighttime routines.
When will my newborn have a regular sleep schedule?
This varies significantly from baby to baby, but many little ones start to sleep more reliably after the 3 or 4-month mark. As a parent, all you can do is provide a consistent routine (e.g. a comfortable, safe, dark sleeping space with high-quality bedding, regular naps, etc.) and be patient while your baby develops. Pay attention to your little one’s cues, and do your best to help them rest whenever they are tired.
Can I sleep train my newborn?
You might be wondering whether you can sleep train your newborn to sleep independently, but although sleep training is often advised for older babies, it’s not appropriate for newborns. A newborn doesn’t have the ability to self-soothe, and has a much higher feeding requirement - so they need you there.
Ignoring a baby could have long-term negative impacts, and instead, you should soothe your baby by feeding, rocking, singing, and rubbing their back. You shouldn’t generally start formal sleep training until they’re around 4-6 months, and always consult your healthcare provider before you begin it.