How Much Do Newborns Sleep?

Understanding Newborn Sleep Patterns

Newborns typically sleep a lot, totaling about 14 to 17 hours a day, but in short bursts. Their sleep is spread evenly over the day and night, as they have not yet developed a sense of night and day. This irregular sleep pattern can be quite challenging for new parents, as it means newborns will wake up frequently needing feeding and changing.

Why Newborns Sleep So Much

Sleep is essential for the growth and development of newborns. During sleep, important growth hormones are released, which help them to grow and their brain to develop. The brain, in fact, is especially busy during sleep, forming the connections necessary for learning and retaining new information.

The Structure of Newborn Sleep

Newborn sleep is very different from the sleep of older children and adults. They experience two sleep states:

1. Active Sleep (also known as REM – rapid eye movement sleep)
2. Quiet Sleep (also known as Non-REM sleep)

Newborns spend approximately half of their sleep time in each state, transitioning from one state to the other about every 50 minutes or so.

Active Sleep (REM Sleep)

During active sleep, newborns may twitch, grimace, smile, suck, and breathe irregularly. This period of sleep is believed to be vital for the development of the central nervous system. It’s also during REM sleep that dreams occur, although it’s still not clear what newborns might dream about.

Quiet Sleep (Non-REM Sleep)

Quiet sleep is a deeper form of sleep characterized by regular breathing and little movement. It’s also surpassed by several stages: from light sleep to very deep sleep. Newborns enter the sleep cycle with non-REM sleep and spend the majority of their total sleep time in this state.

Short Sleep Cycles

A newborn’s sleep cycle is much shorter than that of an adult. Whereas an adult cycles through non-REM and REM sleep over a period of about 90 to 110 minutes, a newborn’s cycle lasts about 50 minutes. Furthermore, newborns may wake up as they transition from one sleep stage to another.

The Role of Feeding

Newborns have small stomachs and need to be fed often — approximately every 2 to 4 hours, including at night. Both breastfed and formula-fed newborns will need to wake for feedings during the night. It’s this need for frequent nourishment that contributes to the disruption of continuous sleep.

Adapting to the Sleep-Wake Cycle

Distinguishing Day from Night

It’s common for newborns to have their days and nights mixed up. This is because they haven’t yet developed their circadian rhythms, which are the biological processes that help us distinguish day from night. Parents can help by exposing their newborns to natural light during the day and keeping nighttime conditions quiet and dimly lit.

Establishing Sleep Habits

Around the 6-week mark, some newborns start to sleep for longer stretches at a time, which might mean less waking up in the middle of the night for parents. By the time they are about 3 months old, many infants can sleep for stretches of five or six hours, although every baby is different.

Considering Sleep Safety

Creating a Safe Sleep Environment

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is a risk during the first year of a baby’s life. To minimize the risk, it’s important to ensure a safe sleeping environment for your newborn. This means:

– Putting them to sleep on their back.
– Using a firm and flat sleep surface such as a mattress in a safety-approved crib covered by a fitted sheet.
– Keeping the sleep area free from soft objects, toys, bedding, and bumpers.
– Sharing the room, but not the bed. This means keeping the newborn’s sleep area separate from where the parents sleep.

When to Consult a Doctor

If you’re concerned about your newborn’s sleep patterns, especially if they’re not sleeping as much as is typically expected for their age, it might be a good idea to consult a pediatrician. Some sleep issues may indicate underlying conditions that could need medical attention.

Finishing Thoughts

In summary, newborns tend to sleep for a total of 14 to 17 hours each day, but in short intervals. This frequent waking is normal and essential for their development and frequent feedings. As they grow and their stomach gets bigger, they can gradually start to sleep for longer periods at a time. Creating a safe and comfortable sleep environment and establishing good sleep habits early can be beneficial for both the newborn and the parents. Lastly, if there are concerns about a newborn’s sleep, it is always advisable to consult a healthcare provider. Remember, every baby is unique, and their sleep patterns can vary widely. With time and patience, you’ll learn what’s normal for your baby and how to best support them through their sleeping journey.

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  • Aiden Lawrence

    I'm Aiden Lawrence, a certified Sleep Science Coach and senior editor of GoodSleepHub, proud parent of two amazing kids, and a pet lover with a cat and a dog. Join me as we explore the world of sweet dreams and comfy pillows. Let's make bedtime the highlight of your day!

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