Newborn Sleep Patterns: What to Expect
Newborns sleep for approximately 16 hours a day in short bursts of 2-3 hours throughout the day and night. They also stay away for very short intervals and it is common for a newborn to wake up, feed and then go back to sleep immediately. As a new parent, this schedule can be exhausting but the good news is that it doesn’t last long. Unlike adults, newborns lack an established circadian rhythm which will develop around 10-12 weeks of age. At this time, your baby will start sleeping for longer periods during the night and stay awake for longer intervals during the day.
Newborn babies have small stomachs which is why they wake up every few hours to eat. Typically, they have a ‘quiet alert’ phase at end of their sleep cycle where they remain still but take in their environment. This progresses to the ‘active alert’ phase where they are attentive to sounds and sights and move actively. After the quiet alert phrase comes the crying phase where they move erratically while crying loudly. It is best to feed your newborn before the crying phase as he is likely to be so upset at this point that he will refuse to feed. It is important to pick up on your baby’s cues at the end of his sleep cycle so that he can feed and go back to sleep with minimum fuss. Studies show that infant sleep plays a critical role in cognition and physical growth.
How to encourage Healthy Sleep Habits in Newborns
According to the experts at What To Expect, it is best to wait until your baby is 5-6 months to start any type of sleep training. However, there is plenty that you can do to encourage healthy sleep habits in your newborn. This will help your baby follow a more predictable sleep schedule with bedtime and naptime falling at approximately the same time every day.
Identify your Baby’s Sleep Cues
After a couple of weeks, you will be able to pick up on your baby’s sleep cues – the little things he does to indicate that he wants to go to sleep. For example, if he gets fussy or rubs his eyes, it could be a cue that he’s tired and ready for his nap. Some babies pull at their ears, close their fists or yawn when they are tired. Once you learn to identify your baby’s sleep cues, you will know when to put him to sleep so that he doesn’t get tired and cranky. Most newborns get tired if they’ve been awake for 1-1 ½ hours so keep a lookout for cues during this time.
Teach your baby the difference between day and night
Most babies start to learn the rhythm of day and night when they are 6 weeks old. You can teach your baby the difference between day and night by exposing them to light during the day and providing them with a dim environment at night. When he’s awake during the day, interact with him as much as possible but if he wakes up at night, resist the urge to play with him and urge him to go back to sleep as quickly as possible.
Have a fixed sleeping space for your baby
By keeping an eye out for your baby’s sleep cues, you will know as soon as your baby gets drowsy. Be consistent with where your child sleeps even for naps as this will help your baby will automatically associate it with sleep. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants should sleep in their own crib or bassinet that is placed in the same bedroom as their parents as room-sharing decreases the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) by as much as 50 percent.
Give your baby a chance to nap frequently
For the first few weeks, your baby will stay awake for less than 2 hours at a time. If he doesn’t get a chance to go to sleep when he’s tired, he will start to cry and will then have trouble falling asleep. This can affect his sleep pattern and will make it more difficult for him to follow a regular sleep schedule later on. Keeping an eye on his sleep cues will help you put him in his crib as soon as he gets tired.
Several studies show that swaddling calms infants and promotes sleep. However, swaddling is only advisable for the first 3 months or until your baby shows signs of rolling over by himself. A Magic Sleepsuit will help your baby transition from the swaddle as it provides the warmth and security of swaddling but allows him to move his arms and legs freely.
About the Author:
Anita Fernandes has been writing extensively on health and wellness for over a decade. She has expertise in nutrition, fitness, public health, and weight loss and has contributed content to a variety of leading digital health publishers. Anita has a unique perspective on healthy living and lifestyle, as she has battled and overcome eating disorders and obesity. She shares her experiences to help others overcome the physical and mental health problems that can sometimes seem insurmountable.
If you’re reading this in the early morning while trying to rock your baby back to sleep, then parents: we stand with you. We’ve all been there, trying to figure out when our restless munchkins will let us catch a few more Z’s. While you can’t predict the exact timing of when your baby’s schedule will normalize, it can be helpful to get a sense of how long most babies sleep, why they wake up, and how to help them.