Baby sleep basics: Birth to 3 months

30 Mar 2016

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Typical sleep patterns for newborns

Newborns sleep a lot – typically up to 16 to 17 hours a day. But most babies don't stay asleep for more than two to four hours at a time, day or night, during the first few weeks of life.

The result? Lots of sleep for your baby and a very irregular – and tiring – schedule for you. Your job is to respond to your newborn's cues, so you'll probably be up several times during the night to change, feed, and comfort him.

Why newborn sleep patterns are unpredictable
Baby sleep cycles are far shorter than those of adults, and babies spend more time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is thought to be necessary for the extraordinary development happening in their brain. REM sleep is lighter than non-REM sleep, and more easily disrupted.

All this unpredictability is a necessary phase for your baby and it doesn't last long – though it may seem like an eternity when you're sleep-deprived.

When your baby will start to sleep longer
At 6 to 8 weeks of age, most babies begin to sleep for shorter periods during the day and longer periods at night, though most continue to wake up to feed during the night. They also have shorter periods of REM sleep, and longer periods of deep, non-REM sleep.

Somewhere between 4 and 6 months, experts say, most babies are capable of sleeping for a stretch of 8 to 12 hours through the night. Some infants sleep for a long stretch at night as early as 6 weeks, but many babies don't reach that milestone until they're 5 or 6 months old and some continue to wake up at night into toddlerhood. You can help your baby get there sooner, if that's your goal, by teaching him good sleep habits from the start.

SOURCES:
The Babycenter Medical Adivisory Board (2015) Baby sleep basics: Birth to 3 months [Online]. Available: http://www.babycenter.com/0_baby-sleep-basics-birth-to-3-months_7654.bc. [2015,November]

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