Published on May 21st, 2021
Sleep, eat, nap, eat, sleep again—your newborn baby’s sleep cycle schedule is the stuff of vacation dreams. Unfortunately, it’s not your vacation. This unpredictable newborn sleep pattern isn’t really conducive to a restful night’s sleep, especially when considering that newborns prefer to fly by the seat of their diapers than play by the rules of a clock.
While you’re acclimating to your tiny human’s care schedule, with your help, your tiny human can acclimate to a more consistent sleep schedule. Plus, if you’re wondering how to get your baby to sleep longer, developing a consistent sleep schedule will help your baby get the amount of rest she needs to play, learn, and grow, it can also lead to more sleep for you!
What is a typical newborn sleep schedule?
On average, newborn babies will sleep around 8 to 9 hours during the day and 8 to 9 hours at night, clocking a total sleep time of anywhere between 16 to 18 hours in a 24-hour period.
Talk about getting that cutey-rest.
Despite all this time spent dozing, you’re likely feeling more sleep-deprived than ever. That’s because, unlike you, your baby hasn’t yet developed her baby circadian rhythm —the 24-hour internal clock that dictates when it is time to go to sleep and wake up. The most significant factor impacting our circadian rhythms is exposure to light, which triggers a chemical response in our brains to produce cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone responsible for keeping us awake and alert.
When your little dreamer was still a tenant of your womb, she was surrounded by darkness, so her brain didn’t worry about developing a circadian rhythm (it was too busy growing!). Even after your baby moves out of your womb and into your house, her brain still needs time to put together the pieces of this internal clock.
Until your baby develops her circadian rhythm—which can take anywhere between two and four months—she’ll sleep in 2 to 3 hour intervals throughout the day and night. These frequent wake up times are also due to your baby’s nutritional needs. Due to their small stomachs, babies can’t rely on receiving all their energy from just breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Instead, your baby should be fed between 8 to 12 meals a day to keep up with the needs of her growing body.
Eight to twelve meals a day? Seriously, where can we sign up?
Developing a Newborn Sleep Schedule
Although your baby’s circadian rhythm will take two to four months to develop, you can help the process by implementing healthy habits and routines early on. The dream goal? A baby’s sleep schedule that works for both you and your slumbering sweetie.
Some suggestions for establishing a consistent sleep schedule:
- Learn your baby’s unique sleep patterns – Every baby is born with a unique sleep chronotype, latency, and efficiency (more on these terms later). To understand when to schedule sleep times that best suit your baby’s sleep cycle, consider logging your baby’s wake and sleep hours.
For newborns, wake windows can range from 45 to 90 minutes, while naps can last anywhere between 20 minutes and 3 hours.
- Watch for signs of tiredness – If your baby is tired, he may rub his eyes, yawn, or become extra fussy. When you notice these signs, put your baby down for a nap in a dark, calm environment before he falls asleep.
With this technique, your baby learns to associate darkness with sleep and fall asleep on his own. Plus, when he falls asleep in a crib instead of your arms, there’s no risk of waking him when you put him down (and starting the process all over again). Check out our blog post about how to get a baby to sleep in their crib for more information.
- Create a womb-like room – If your baby won’t sleep, help your little snoozer associate darkness with sleep, create a sleeping environment that closely mirrors the calmness and comfort of his OG bedroom—the womb. Keep the lights off when you lay your baby down for sleep and remove distractions from his line of sight. You can even try using a white noise machine (which mimics the sounds of the womb) to cover other ambient noises in your home and lull your little one to sleep.
- Establish a pre-sleep routine – Establishing a consistent pre-sleep routine can help your baby learn when it’s time to wind down. The routines can incorporate bonding rituals such as:
- Taking a warm bath
- Reading a book
- Swaying or rocking your baby
- Singing a lullaby
- Playing soothing music
- Massaging your baby gently
- Stick to a daytime schedule –Babies are comforted by consistency. If your daily routine is constantly changing, your baby may have a more difficult time developing his circadian rhythm (especially when unexpected activities keep his curious mind awake and alert).
Try to schedule naps, feedings, playtimes, and other activities around the same time every day. With consistency, your baby will learn to anticipate this schedule, in the same way, he’ll learn to anticipate sleep.
- Avoid over-soothing – By about three months old, most babies are capable of self-soothing. If your baby starts to fuss during sleep, try waiting a few minutes before checking on him, as he may be able to fall back asleep on his own. Otherwise, seeing your comforting face may stimulate his brain and cause him to think it’s time to play.
Do newborn sleep schedules change?
Newborn babies need significantly more sleep than older babies because of their rapidly growing brains and bodies, particularly during their first six months.
In fact, newborn’s sleep has been shown to assist with:
- Memory consolidation – This is the process by which your baby remembers what she’s learned during the day, whether it’s how to clap her hands, or the discovery that a parent will pick up whatever she throws on the floor (your favorite game).
- Language learning – Studies have shown that sleep, particularly daytime naps, play an important role in the development of language.
- Physical growth – Growth hormones responsible for your baby’s bone, tissue, and muscle growth are released in higher amounts during sleep. In fact, studies show that infants with growth hormone deficiencies exhibit lower levels of total sleep time.
As your baby grows, her sleep needs will change. The following guide provides what you can expect during your baby’s first year:
- 0–3 months – Your baby will sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day, including about 3 to 5 naps during the daytime. These nap times can last anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours.
- 3 months – Around month three, your infant’s sleep periods will start to lengthen, while the total amount of time she spends sleeping will shorten. On average, you’ll find your baby sleeping between 14 and 16 hours a day, including around 3 to 4 daytime naps.
- 4–6 months – Your baby will continue to boast impressive sleeping times of between 12 and 16 hours, but daytime naps may dwindle to between 2 and 3, lasting anywhere between 1 to 2 hours.
- 6–12 months – By six months, about two-thirds of infants are able to sleep through the night (woohoo!). This means your baby will probably only need two naps during the day—one in the morning, and one in the afternoon.
Understanding Your Baby’s Unique Sleep Behavior
As you’re developing your baby’s sleep schedule, it’s vital to remember that every baby is different. By learning your baby’s unique sleep chronotype, latency, and efficiency, you can better understand how to create a sleep schedule that complements his natural sleep tendencies.
Sleep chronotype refers to your baby’s genetic preference for waking up early or falling asleep late. To determine your baby’s chronotype, consider which of the following she more closely aligns with:
- Morning chronotype – Also known as M-type, this chronotype is an early riser. Her curious eyes are already open when you peer over her crib to say good morning. In the evenings, she exhibits signs of tiredness even before her scheduled bedtime.
- Evening chronotype – Also known as E-type, this chronotype is likely still asleep when you wake him in the morning, but alert and eager to continue exploring well into the night.
If your baby is an M-type, schedule your baby’s naptime later in the afternoon. That way he’ll be able to stay awake until his scheduled bedtime. If your little one is up and at ‘em before even the real early birds begin their songs, there are a few ways you can help your little one hit the snooze button. Keep your child’s room nice and dark to send sleepy-time signals to your child’s brain (more on that below). For early morning feedings, keep your voice low and your movements gentle to encourage a relaxed state of mind so your baby can drift back to sleep easily.
If your baby is an E-type, his late bedtimes and wake-ups may be difficult to manage with your day-to-day routine and responsibilities. That’s okay. You can “negotiate” with this sleep chronotype a bit by incrementally shifting the sleep schedule to an earlier bedtime and wake time. Start by waking your child earlier and earlier in the day and beginning your nighttime sleep routine earlier in the evening. This can help set the mood for relaxation even before your baby is tired and encourage your little night owl (and you!) to get plenty of rest.
Sleep latency refers to the amount of time it takes for your baby to fall asleep. For children and adults alike, the average sleep latency is between 10 and 20 minutes. Like sleep chronotype, latency is influenced by your baby’s unique genes.
If your baby has an average sleep latency, you can dim the lights and start your pre-sleep bedtime routine rituals 10 to 20 minutes before her scheduled bedtime.If your baby exhibits a longer than average sleep latency, begin your routine earlier, allowing your baby the perfect amount of time to doze off into dreamland.
Sleep efficiency refers to the ratio of the total amount of time your baby spends sleeping to the time trying to sleep, (not including disturbances that cause a break in his sleep). Such disturbances can include:
- Startling or loud noises
- A dirty diaper
- Digestive issues
- Physical discomfort (for instance, becoming too hot or cold during sleep)
When it comes to newborns, waking every 2 to 3 hours for feedings does not count towards the “trying to sleep” denominator in the sleep efficiency ratio. This is because your newborn has to wake often for food. Because it’s not time he’s actively trying to sleep, it doesn’t impact the efficiency of his sleep.
To promote better sleep efficiency, especially for babies who naturally wake more easily, consider the following tips:
- Keep your baby’s room dark when you put him down for sleep to prevent light exposure from interfering with melatonin production (that’s the hormone responsible for inducing drowsiness).
- Limit light exposure during night-time activities, such as feeding or changing. (You’ll find it won’t take long to develop your new parenting superpower—the pitch-black diaper swap.)
- Use a white noise machine to relax and comfort your baby (and to cover the sounds of your naptime Netflix binges).
Discover the Dreamiest Newborn Sleep Schedule with SneakPeek Traits
As a new parent, you may feel your only chances to rest are to sneak in sleep when you can, but by understanding newborn healthy sleep habits and your baby’s unique sleep behavior, you can establish a consistent sleep schedule to ensure both you and your baby experience restful and quiet sleep. Rather than trying to determine your baby’s unique sleep behavior on your own, receive scientifically-validated answers based on your baby’s DNA with SneakPeek Traits.
SneakPeek Traits is an at-home genetic test that can provide insight into your baby’s sleep chronotype, latency, and efficiency, along with helpful tips and advice for creating a personalized sleep routine. Simply swab the inside of your baby’s mouth, and you’ll soon learn the ABC’s of their ZZZ’s.
With SneakPeek Traits, you and your little one can both rest easy.
Stanford Children’s Health. Newborn Sleep Patterns. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=newborn-sleep-patterns-90-P02632#:~:text=Generally%2C%20newborns%20sleep%20a%20total,this%20can%20vary%20a%20lot
What to Expect. Getting Baby on a Sleep Schedule. https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/baby-sleep-schedule.aspx
HealthyChildren.org. How Often and How Much Should Your Baby Eat? https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/How-Often-and-How-Much-Should-Your-Baby-Eat.aspx
NCBI. Infant sleep and its relation with cognition and growth: a narrative review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440010/
Stanford Children’s Health. Infant Sleep. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=infant-sleep-90-P02237 Healthline. Your Baby’s Sleep Schedule in the First Year. https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/baby-sleep-schedule#9-12-months