Sleep patterns: What’s typical for a newborn?
What to Know
- Newborn sleep is predictably unpredictable
- Focus on keeping your newborn soothed and calm
- Sleep patterns should begin to emerge at around 7 weeks
Are you tired? So is your newborn! On average, a newborn sleeps for approximately 16 hours in a 24-hour period. Newborns do not have a cyclical circadian pattern (our bodies’ natural biological clock) until about 4-6 months of age. Rather, homeostatic pressure or sleep pressure drives newborns to sleep. This sleep pressure builds quickly and is often unpredictable, making newborn sleep occur in both short and long stretches.
You can expect your newborn’s sleep pattern to be very irregular for the first 6 weeks of her life. Everything – eating and sleeping – is on demand, so it is perfectly normal if you cannot decipher any predictable patterns.
While the unpredictability of newborn sleep can be stressful for parents, read What to Do for tips on how to help ease your baby into the development of a normal circadian sleep rhythm. Keeping your baby calm and well-soothed is key, as a newborn’s startle reflex is very strong and will disrupt her sleep.
What to Do
Use a swaddle to soothe your baby
Swaddle your baby with her arms inside for the ultimate calming effect to encourage sleep. Swaddling will also prep your baby for other soothing techniques such as swinging, shushing, rocking, and bouncing that can help her stay calm and sleep.
Note that safe swaddling involves not wrapping your baby too tightly (to avoid overheating), always placing your baby on her back to sleep and keeping an eye out that she doesn’t roll over. When your baby is able to roll over intentionally), you should stop swaddling.
Watch your baby for signs of an emerging sleep pattern
At around 7 weeks old (when your baby begins social smiling), you should begin to notice 2 emerging sleep patterns:
- Your baby’s bedtime may drift to earlier in the night and a regular bedtime pattern will emerge, and
- Your baby may sleep for a longer stretch in the beginning of the night from bedtime until a wake to feed. This stretch of sleep may begin at a 2-3 hour stretch and then lengthen with age.
Use light and dark cues to help regulate your baby’s sleep
You can begin regulating your baby’s body to a normal sleeping rhythm at around 7 weeks old. Expose your baby to light, especially natural daylight, at the times when you will want her to be awake. Keep your baby’s environment dark and offer very low stimulation activities at night during the time you want her to be sleeping (even if she is not sleeping).
Keep your baby well-rested!
Newborns require lots of sleep. Watch your baby closely during the day for signs of sleepiness, like slowing in movement, gazing, or yawning. Wakefulness should be limited to stretches of no longer than 90 minutes.
Karp, Harvey M.D. “The Happiest Baby on the Block”, 2002. Swaddling: Is it Safe? HealthyChildren.org. Date accessed 6 August 2018.