It’s the question all new parents are concerned about: Is my baby getting enough sleep each day? All babies differ in the amount they sleep, sleep patterns, and sleep schedules, but there are a few general guidelines parents can refer to when tracking their baby’s sleep.
Like all children and adults, babies vary widely in the amount of time they sleep. This makes it difficult to assign actual numbers of hours a baby requires at each stage of life. However, if your baby is overly fussy throughout the day, difficult to put to bed at night, and short-tempered and tearful for hours on end, it’s probably a good idea to take a look at his sleep patterns.
Each baby is unique when it comes to sleep schedules. Some babies might require significantly more sleep than others. It’s up to parents to figure out exactly how much sleep their baby needs to be well rested, alert, and content! When learning about your baby’s individual sleep patterns, it may be helpful to write down, or record in a mobile app, when your baby is asleep and when he is awake for a period of a few weeks. Tracking your baby’s sleep over a significant period of time will make it easier to spot patterns in your baby’s rhythm!
Here are a few general guidelines to how much sleep babies need at different ages:
- Newborns (0-3 months old)
Daytime sleep: 8.5 hours
Nighttime sleep: 8.5 hours
Newborn sleep is possibly the most erratic, difficult phase of sleep. Newborn babies are often born with their days and nights confused – they sleep peacefully all day, and stay awake and fussy all night! This may be due to your baby’s time in the womb. During pregnancy, as you move and go about your day, your baby is rocked and soothed by the constant motion, whereas at night, when you lay still in bed to go to sleep, you may notice your baby kicks and leaps like crazy! To help your newborn distinguish day from night, try investing in a good set of blackout curtains for the nursery, and make sure nighttime is always a time of quiet, calm, and darkness. During the day, take baby on walks, hold them near a sunny window, and keep the lights on in the house. Most babies take a few weeks to a month to learn the difference between day and night.
You might notice your newborn baby sleeps a lot. Newborns are growing so rapidly that they require the majority of their days dedicated to restorative sleep. In general, newborns sleep anywhere from 16-20 hours per day. During this stage, babies wake frequently to eat because their stomachs are so tiny. Many newborns wake up every 2-4 hours, all day and all night! Do not get discouraged if your baby wakes even more frequently than that, especially if you are breastfeeding. Breast milk digests more quickly than formula, meaning your baby will become hungry faster. In addition, breastfed babies take time to stimulate and regulate their mother’s milk supply, causing them to go through periods of extremely frequent nursing (known as cluster feeding).
It takes most newborns up to twelve weeks to establish typical day/night sleep patterns. At this stage, babies sleep so much that it’s difficult to actually label their naps.
2. Infants (3-6 months old)
Daytime sleep: 5-6 hours
Nighttime sleep: 9-10 hours
From 3-6 months old, babies typically sleep 10-18 hours each day. The average amount of sleep a young infant needs is about 14 hours per every 24-hour period. Babies at this stage will still seem like they spend the majority of the time sleeping, but not nearly as much as newborns.
Although growth at this stage is not as rapid as the newborn stage, babies between 3-6 months of age are still growing quickly! Babies need to eat frequently during this phase as well, about every 2-4 hours. Some babies begin to “sleep through the night” (5 or more hours at a time) at this stage.
Babies at this stage usually take 3 naps per day, and nap times can range widely in length.
Note: Around 4 months of age, most babies go through a major sleep regression. This is the age where they move from erratic newborn sleep to more regular sleep cycles. Because of this, babies may wake frequently during this sleep regression. The good news: it’s only temporary, and many babies come out of the regression with better sleep schedules and possibly even sleeping through the night regularly!
3. Infants (6-12 months old)
Daytime sleep: 3-5 hours
Nighttime sleep: 10-11 hours
Infants between 6 and 12 months of age generally sleep for about 14 hours every day. By this stage, their sleep cycles become more regular and predictable.
Most babies take 2 naps a day, usually 1-2 hours in length, at this stage. Babies will usually take naps at the same time(s) every day. Most babies between 6 and 12 months old take less than half an hour to fall asleep, and will sleep much longer chunks of time at night, although some will still wake frequently throughout the night. About 10% of babies at this stage will still wake up multiple times at night to eat or be soothed back to sleep.
This can also be challenging time for sleep, because separation anxiety begins at this stage. Babies might wake up in the night and become distressed when a parent is not nearby or within sight. Babies often cry at night because they are anxious about being separated from parents. Separation anxiety eventually goes away, but it can be very stressful period for parents to deal with as they figure out how to soothe their baby back to sleep in the middle of the night.
4. Toddlers (12-18 months old)
Daytime sleep: 2.5-3 hours
Nighttime sleep: 10-11 hours
Toddlers between 12 and 18 months old typically sleep for 13-15 hours per day. Most children at this stage still take 2 or more naps per day. Around 18 months old, most babies have transitioned to one nap per day. Naps can range anywhere from an hour to up to 3 hours!
If you are concerned about your baby’s sleep, make a point to bring it up with your child’s pediatrician. Your child’s doctor should be checking in at every appointment to ask how your baby is sleeping. Before discussing it with your pediatrician, it may be helpful to write or print out a chart of your baby’s recent sleep patterns.
Some babies sleep through the night right from the start, while others take much longer to establish normal nighttime sleep patterns. Some babies wake frequently to be comforted or fed well into their first year of life. All babies are unique, and while it can be frustrating (and exhausting!) to deal with those tough periods, eventually all babies establish regular sleep rhythms and learn to sleep throughout the night. Take time to record and evaluate your child’s sleep patterns to figure out which strategies for healthy sleep work the best!