How Much Sleep Do Babies Need?

If you have a newborn, it may seem like all they do is sleep, wake up, and fall back asleep in an endless cycle. Let’s see what the experts have to say about how much sleep babies need.

By Sheryl Grassie

Where babies and young children are concerned, sleep is a high priority. Their bodies literally need to sleep in order to grow. The body performs all kinds of important functions while they sleep, and produces needed hormones, like growth hormone, which stimulates tissues and bone to develop.

When you have a baby, it can seem like all you think about is how to get them to sleep, how to keep them asleep, how long they will sleep, and if they are getting enough sleep. It’s true, the question of sleep can dominate your life when babies are young and not yet on a consistent schedule.

For some parents it is not enough to know that babies need a large quantity of sleep, up to twice what adults need, they want to know exactly how it works. How much babies need, at what age, and in what kind of patterns. Rest assured there are guidelines to help you assess your babies sleep and lots of tips to help get them on that much needed schedule, so you can sleep too.

One of the most challenging parts of having a baby, as sweet and wonderful as they are, is not being able to predict their sleep patterns, so you can get enough sleep and get things done. Unfortunately, most babies are not going to accommodate you by being predictable for some months. There are, however, guidelines to help you try and get your little one sleeping enough and in a routine.

Sleep Amounts

Babies, just like adults, vary in their sleep needs. Different factors like the amount of sunlight and whether or not they are breast fed can affect how well and how much babies sleep. Below are general guidelines for amounts of sleep. Please contextualize them loosely because even the experts don’t totally agree on the amount of sleep needed at certain ages.

These numbers are guidelines regarding the hours of suggested sleep needed, but perhaps the best way to tell if your baby is sleeping enough, is by whether they are happy and healthy. A happy, healthy baby is probably getting enough sleep, whereas an irritable, sickly baby may need more sleep. The following are general recommendation from primarily the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Newborn to 4 Months

This age needs up to 18 hours a day with a longer period of 8 hours or more overnight where they wake and sleep. This sleep may include some longer periods of 3 hours or more but are usually irregular for some weeks while your baby is adjusting and developing a schedule; some newborns are more predictable than others in their sleep patterns.

Daytime sleep is generally comprised of between 2 and 5 naps of varying length during the day. All this sleep will add up to between 14 and 18 hours on any given day. Babies do not always sleep the same amount daily.

4 to 12 Months

As they develop, babies need less sleep. Within a few months of your baby’s birth, the amount will decrease by several hours a day, resulting in between 12 and 16 hours total. This may result in one less sleep period, for example, they may give up one nap entirely. Or, it may result is slightly shorter sleep periods throughout the day and night.

1 to 2 years

During the second year of life, a baby’s sleep needs will only decrease minimally. They may lose an hour or two a day, give or take, resulting in an average daily amount of between 11 and 14 hours of sleep.

baby sleep

Sleeping Through the Night

Perhaps the most frequently asked question about a baby’s sleep habits is, “When will they sleep through the night?” Parents are often desperate in those early months to get enough sleep themselves, and their sleep is highly dependent on their newborn sleeping for an extended period overnight.

The bad new is that most babies can’t manage more than a few hours between feeding when they are small. Generally, between 2 and 4 hours their appetite will wake them, and this applies to all day and night.

The good news is babies start sleeping through the night by about 3 months. At this age, many babies can last 5 hours overnight, the National Sleep Foundation’s definition of “sleeping through the night.”  Other sources like Stanford Children’s Health cite 6 to 8 hours, and other sources as much as 8 to 12 hours for a full night’s sleep without waking. Just know that it will come, and before you know it, your baby’s sleep pattern will have changed, and you will both be getting a good night’s sleep.

Separation Anxiety 

As babies move beyond a symbiotic stage, where they cannot differentiate between parent and self, they developmentally begin to understand that mom and dad are separate people and exist independently of them. This is clinically referred to as object permanence and can induce a kind of fear when parents leave, either when they leave the house, leave baby with a sitter, or leave the baby alone to sleep.

Some babies who experience this typical 6 to 7-month phase even get upset with parents being across the room. Just like with sleep deprivation, this too shall pass. Reassure your baby, and before long, they will have outgrown this stage. If it goes on for a prolonged period consult a professional.

Tips for Better Sleep

If you know your baby is getting enough sleep, and you want to work on establishing a healthy routine for now and into the future, consider the following tips that experts recommend.

Daylight

Light regulates sleep even in infants. Daylight, early in the day, can help regulate hormones that make your baby sleepy and keep them asleep. Even a short walk outside in daylight, earlier in the day is better and, weather permitting, can be one of the best things you can do to help with a good sleep schedule for you and your baby. In addition, lower inside lights in the evening and have baby sleep in a dark room with no nightlight.

Routine

If you have heard it once, you will hear it a thousand times about raising children, routine is critical. Babies and young children thrive on predictability and no less so when it comes to sleep. Routines with sleep might look like putting them to bed at the same time, doing the same things in the same order, and establishing rituals that are easy to maintain and are predictable. For example, give your baby a short infant massage or warm bath, nurse them, and rock them, then put them to bed. Establish a routine that is not too complicated and can easily be done by others or transferred to a different place when traveling.

Security

Babies need to feel secure. Routine contributes to that, but in addition you can add security by doing certain things. You can swaddle a baby to help them feel secure for sleep, help them get attached to a sleep “object,” one that is not you, like a pacifier, or some soothing music, or white noise like a fan. Blankets and stuffed animals should not be encouraged for sleep when babies are young. They pose a sleep hazard.

Temperature

Babies are still learning to fully regulate their temperature, so too cold or too hot can be challenging and force them awake. If you want your baby to sleep, try a room temperature of 70 degrees and a comfortable one-piece outfit.


Summary

How much sleep do babies need? The easy answer is that it varies from baby to baby, but at least half the day they are likely to sleep. This means a minimum of 12 hours and likely considerably more in a 24-hour period. Babies sleep in one longer phase at night and multiple naps during the day. As they grow, their sleep needs lessen, but sleep, and enough sleep, is tied to growth and good health. Routines can help and creating good sleep habits early is worth the effort.


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