Newborn Sleep: How Long Should a Newborn Sleep For?

Main image for Woolino Blog, How Long Should a Newborn Sleep, depicting newborn baby asleep in a Woolino 4-Season Ultimate Baby Sleep Bag.

Newborn babies sleep a lot, but just not always when we would like them to. The time-worn question of tired parents has always been, “When should a baby sleep through the night?  Worried parents may ask, “Why does newborn sleep so much? The answers lie in the growth patterns of all human babies who are wonderfully made to eat, sleep, poop and grow.  And one day, in the blink of an eye, they become healthy teenagers who eat non-stop, sleep all weekend, poop and grow all on their own.

How Many Hours a Day Does a Newborn Sleep?

For the first few weeks of life a baby can sleep up to 18 hours a day. Unfortunately, their timing isn’t the best.  Babies are notorious for getting their days and nights mixed up.  It’s a parent’s job to set them straight. Paying attention to your baby’s sleep cues, regular naps and full feedings are the keys to helping your child adjust to life outside the womb and learn to rise with the sun and settle with the moon.

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How Long Should a Newborn Sleep?

In the first week or two, new parents are bonding with and learning the cues of their infant. Your newborn is learning to eat; stimulating your milk supply if you are breastfeeding and bonding with you. Give yourself the freedom to respond to one another. Just surviving those early weeks will be an accomplishment.  Going forward, however, you’ll want to begin to establish a routine of regular nap times to help regulate your baby’s sleep cycle. Naps normally range from 20 minutes to 2 hours or more. And while it has been said, “never wake a sleeping baby”, it is wise to wake a sleeping baby during the day.  The reason you wake the child is for regularly scheduled feedings.  Newborns need to feed 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period in the first weeks. If the baby is sleeping and not eating during the day, they will make up for lost time in the middle of the night. Light matters too.  It signals to the body when to wake and when to sleep, triggering hormones that induce sleep. Keep the shades up and the curtains open during the day and keep the baby's nursery free of light at bedtime and in the middle of the night when feeding or changing diapers. 

Why Your Newborn’s “Wake Cycle” Needs a Sleep Schedule

All babies are different so there is not a one-size-fits-all sleep schedule, but newborns each have a “wake cycle” that begins from the moment they first open their eyes to the time they are ready for their next nap. This is typically from 45-90 minutes.  Watch and learn your baby’s sleep cues and be sure and put the child down for their next nap before they are overtired. This becomes your sleep schedule and your feeding schedule. Sleep cues include rubbing the eyes; yawning; clenching fists; fussiness; redness around the eyes; staring blankly or unique noises.  Infants move very quickly from happy to hungry to sleepy to overtired.  An overtired baby will resist sleep and perpetuate the cycle of sleeplessness.  A hungry baby will also resist sleep. A newborn's stomach is extremely small. Warm milk is extremely soothing and sleep inducing.  Babies will frequently fall asleep before getting a full feeding.  Keeping the baby awake for a full feed will ensure that sleep will not be cut short by new hunger and will also help the baby's stomach to expand. You may need to tap the cheeks or the bottom of those cute baby toes or change the diaper in the middle of the feed to keep the baby awake and getting the maximum nutrition before the next nap.  Remember the more feedings maximized during the day will lead to less hunger at night. But remember this is something a baby is growing into. It doesn’t happen overnight but takes time and close attention to your baby’s needs.

When Should Baby Sleep through the Night?

Every baby’s development is different, but typically infants establish their circadian rhythm and begin to sleep through the night around the age of 6 months or 12-13 pounds. Circumstances like feeding issues or illness may be a factor if your child is still waking regularly at this time.  Seek out your pediatrician if you think either of these issues may be interfering with your baby’s sleep cycle.

What to Do with a Baby Who Fights Sleep

Swaddle: Keeping baby’s arms tight to their body in a swaddle blanket mimics the security of the womb and settles the child.  Many parents believe their child doesn’t like being swaddled, but given time to settle into it, they will typically find it comforting. Newborn babies have only a limited ability to regulate their own body temperature. And a startle reflex that frequently wakes them. Woolino’s luxuriously soft swaddling wraps are made of pure superfine merino wool to keep your baby comfortable and snug from birth to 3 months. Your child can then happily transition to a temperature regulating Woolino sleep bag from 2 months to 2 years of age.

Side/Stomach: Holding the baby on their side or stomach away from your direct eye contact will avoid overstimulating the child.

Suck:  Sucking a pacifier produces endorphins that will calm a fussy baby.

Sway: This comes naturally to most parents as they rock their child in their arms in much the same way the child was rocked while in the womb.

Shush: Shushing with your own voice or with a white noise machine is more of the familiar sound of the womb where your baby enjoyed the shushing of your heartbeat and blood flow.

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Can a newborn sleep with a pacifier? 

While many parents find pacifiers helpful in soothing a fussy baby, a newborn napping with a pacifier may also contribute to oversleeping during the day and inhibit feeding. If you find your child is not napping well then you may need to feed longer and use the pacifier less. The reliance on nighttime pacifiers may contribute to more frequent waking when the pacifier falls out of the baby’s mouth.

The newborn period of childhood is but a blink of an eye that feels like an eternity while you’re living it.  Knowing the natural progression of infant sleep will help you have the confidence to meet your child’s needs and help them grow into healthy sleep patterns that will benefit them throughout their lifetime. 


Related Blogs:

Getting Baby on a Sleep Schedule

A Guide to Your Baby’s Sleep Patterns

How To Get a Baby to Stop Fighting Sleep

When will my baby sleep through the night?

Your Baby is Sleeping More and Eating Less. Is It Normal?

Most Common Mistakes Parents Make with Newborns