The Ultimate Guide to Newborn Sleep Patterns

Babies are not born with an innate desire — or ability — to sleep through the night. My apologies if I’m the first one to break that news to you.

True, newborns require a lot of sleep, just not all at once. That means no sleeping through the night for you, either.

Adjusting to life with a newborn is difficult enough, especially for first-time parents. That’s why it’s important to learn about newborn sleep before a series of restless nights leaves you cranky and confused.

Newborn Sleep in Numbers

Your newborn will not sleep through the night, but they will sleep for a total of up to 18 hours a day. Those 18 hours will be made up of anything from five-minute catnaps to, if you’re really lucky, a 4 hour stretch at night.

Newborn’s sleep cycles are much shorter than those of adults. An average sleep cycle may last about 50 minutes. Due to the rapid neurological development babies experience in their first weeks, about half of that sleep cycle will be spent in REM sleep. Although crucial for development, REM sleep is lighter, which means a greater chance of waking up thanks to a slammed door or noisy lawn equipment.

It’s important for new parents to remember every baby is unique. Don’t stress out if your baby’s sleep patterns or totals don’t match what your friends share about their children. If you’re really concerned about your baby’s sleep, the best thing you can do is speak to their pediatrician. Use a tracking app like WebMD’s Baby app to help you recognize patterns and make notes about areas of concern.

Keep Your Newborn Safe

No matter when, where or how long your baby sleeps, it’s important to keep sleep safe.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the leading cause of death for children under one year. Although no one really knows what causes it, the American Academy of Pediatrics has compiled a list of safe sleep practices that help greatly reduce the risk of SIDS.

It includes:

● Always putting infants on their back to sleep.
● Using a snug-fitting sheet and keeping the crib clear of loose bedding.
● Not using crib bumpers.
● Giving a pacifier during naps and at night.
● Keeping up to date with vaccines.

Encourage Your Newborn to Sleep

It may seem strange, but babies have to learn how to sleep. Knowing the cues and habits will help you encourage healthy sleep habits. When a baby becomes overtired, they have more difficulty falling asleep. That’s why it’s important to know newborn sleep cues. Rubbing the face is usually a good sign your baby is ready for a nap.

Try to lay your baby down when they’re sleepy instead of when they’re asleep. Nursing or rocking to sleep may work in a pinch, but allowing your baby to fall asleep on their own is an important step in their developing sleep habits.

Many newborns confuse day and night and need help sorting out which is for playing and which is for sleeping. You can help them transition by making clear distinctions between daytime and nighttime activities. Save the bright lights, funny voices and animated games of peekaboo for the day. Keep nights and evenings relaxed and soothing.

Consider a Bedtime Routine

Don’t wait until your child is sleeping through the night to start a bedtime routine. A soothing bath, a massage and a bedtime story are just a few relaxing habits that can help signal to your newborn it’s time for sleep.

Soothing bedtime routines are a good idea for mom and dad too. Although you may not get to sleep through the night for months to come, good bedtime habits will help ensure you get the best sleep possible.

Babies’ sleep patterns are constantly changing. To stay informed — and secure your peace of mind — it’s a good idea to discuss your baby’s sleep during their pediatric well visits.

Anum Yoon started and maintains Current on Currency, where she shares her hard-earned insights on money management. Catch her updates on Twitter @anumyoon.