How Often Should Your Newborn Be Napping?

For a newborn all sleep is really a nap. Their tiny bodies work in short spurts and then need refueling. Sleep is a kind of fuel, along with food, and newborns need lots of both.

By Sheryl Grassie

If you have just had your first baby, it may be quite a shock how little time you have that is not spent taking care of them. Your baby’s nap, defined as a short period of sleep, is when you can squeeze in time to pay the bills, throw in a load of laundry, or take a few quiet moments for yourself.

The hard part of newborn napping is that it can be difficult to predict. When your baby will sleep and for how long may change from day to day, leaving you with lots of uncertainty. Here is some help for knowing how much your newborn should be sleeping and for getting them on a schedule, so you can count on some precious time for yourself.

baby sleeping

Understanding Newborn Sleep

Before we get into amounts of sleep and tips for how to facilitate it, it helps to understand a little about what is going on behind the scenes. A baby’s primary job is to grow. Sleeping is as important as eating for a newborn to accomplish this, and they cannot grow properly if there is a lack of either. While a baby sleeps, there are important processes that take place, like the production of growth hormones, that along with food, dictate the growth of healthy muscles, bones, and tissues.

Newborns sleep a lot because there is a lot of growing to be done. Napping is how they will get enough overall sleep or that 11 to 18 hours a day that they need. They sleep around the clock for several reasons that include their need to eat and what is happening in their brains regarding their circadian rhythm.

Food and Sleep

A baby will eat until full and then generally fall asleep. The amount of fuel they take in is being used while they sleep to grow and develop. When that fuel runs out, a newborn will register hunger, and it will wake them signaling it is time to eat. This is a survival mechanism that keeps a baby alive. It also keeps them waking and sleeping in short spurts all day and all night. They will naturally eat and sleep as they need to, and until their systems can hold a little more food, they are not going to sleep for long periods.

An exception to this is a large baby, because weight equates to a longer sleep. At around the 12- to 13-pound mark, your baby will start sleeping through the night. If your baby starts at 10 pounds they may nap less and embrace a longer sleep fairly soon, but smaller babies take more time to reach this weight-sleep threshold.

Circadian Rhythm

Another reason that babies sleep around the clock is due to an immature internal sleep-awake schedule, or their circadian rhythm. They don’t yet really understand day and night. An early important task that is happening while they sleep is that their brains are working on maturing their circadian rhythm that will eventually regulate sleep in a typical awake in the light, asleep in the dark fashion. If you have a baby with confused days and nights, just know that their brains are working on it, and it will change soon enough.

One way to help is to get them outside for a healthy dose of daylight during the morning hours. It is the perfect time to take a long walk or enjoy time in your yard or on your deck. Light is the primary determinant of sleep hormone production and circadian rhythm regulation.

How Much Should Your Newborn Nap?

Sleep amounts are far from an exact science. Amounts of sleep will vary from day to day and week to week. They will depend on all kinds of internal and external factors like teething, growth spurts, and illness, as well as how much activity they have, the weather (including barometric pressure), and disruptions to sleep from noise. Below is a general idea of sleep amounts per day, number of naps, and length of naps. If your baby falls considerably outside these parameters, you may want to discuss it with your pediatrician. Remember, weight plays a big factor in determining the amount and length of sleep.

Child’s Age Amount of Sleep Number of Naps Length of Naps
Birth to 2 months 12 to 18 hours 4 to 8 naps daily 15 min. to 4 hours
2 to 4 months 12 to 16 hours 3 to 5 naps daily 30 min. to 3 hours
4 to 6 months 12 to 15 hours 3 to 4 naps daily 30 min. to 2 hours
6 to 12 months 11 to 15 hours 2 to 3 naps daily 1 to 3 hours

As they age, babies will take less naps and sleep for longer periods. By 6 months, they may take just a morning and afternoon nap, and by a year it may go down to just one longer nap closer to the middle of the day. You can support your baby sleeping on a schedule that works for your family and lifestyle, but don’t be surprised if you go along for days and weeks, and then suddenly your baby regresses. Changes in sleep schedule, and sleep regressions in particular where babies revert to an earlier schedule, are perfectly normal and generally fairly short lived.

Tips for Getting Your Baby to Sleep

The way you train your baby to sleep as a newborn is going to last for a very long time. It is worth teaching good sleep habits right from the start, and these include helping your baby to learn to sleep when they are tired, to go to sleep with minimal help, and to experience a consistent routine. Consider some of the following to keep your baby safe and create independence with sleep.

Set the Stage

It is important to create a sleep environment that is conducive to sleep. A dark room, that is quiet and around 70 degrees. Keep baby away from drafts or temperature extremes, add a white noise machine or fan if you need to mitigate outside noises, and keep the room dark with curtains. Ideally babies should sleep in the same place as much as possible.

Sleep on Their Backs

As part of safe sleeping, babies in the first few months of life should sleep on their backs in a bassinet or crib that is free from any additional objects. No blankets. If the room is cold, get an auxiliary heater. No stuffed animals or loose clothing that can cause suffocation.

Keep the crib or bassinet away from any window shade cords or cords of any kid that might be a hazard for strangulation. What you can do, is swaddle the baby for sleep for the first six weeks or so, and dress them in a one-piece outfit after that. When your baby can roll from front to back, they can sleep in a position of their choosing.

Put Them to Sleep Awake

Babies should be put to sleep in a drowsy state but not asleep. Watch for signs that your newborn is getting tired. This may include yawning, twitching, and fussing when they are very small, and rubbing their eyes, whining, and not making eye contact as they grow.

At the first sign of tiredness, plan to put them down. Going to sleep awake is what they will need to do for the rest of their lives, and the ability to fall asleep alone is what you as a parent want to teach. Of course, there will be times when they fall asleep nursing or rocking, but try and resist this becoming a routine. It will make bedtime far more difficult as they age if they always need a parent with them until they fall asleep.

Maintain a Consistent Routine

Consistency is the key to success with many things in life, but without a doubt it makes for good sleep hygiene. You can choose a routine that works for you, but whatever you do and wherever your baby sleeps, have the routine be the same every time. When they are newborns, that can be as simple as nursing or giving them a bottle while rocking. As soon as they start to doze, burp them, and put them down in their dark, quiet place. As they get older the routine might include other things, like reading a book or brushing teeth and saying a prayer before bed.


Summary

Establishing a perfect nap routine for your baby may be a dance between the two of you for the first while. Take cues from your little one as to when they are tired and support them by understanding how much sleep they need and what helps them nap. Have a quiet dark place for them to sleep, put them to bed on their backs while they are still awake, and be consistent with your routine. How often should your newborn be napping? Enough for them to get the rest they need and for you to get some time for yourself.


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