Newborn Sleep - The Early Days

"How long does a newborn baby sleep?"

"My newborn baby twitches in the sleep."

"My baby makes grunting sounds while sleeping."

"My baby sleeps a lot."

"Is my baby sleeping enough?"

As a parent and caregiver these are some very common concerns we have about newborn babies. Knowing more about baby sleep cycles will help you to be prepared for the first few weeks after birth.

Before you proceed to read about newborn sleep...

  • Be realistic in what you expect from your newborn.
  • The sleep and wake schedules in the early days will be erratic, that’s normal.
  • Accepting the fact that it will not be possible to the get the usual hours of sleep, will help you to cope better.
  • It is a temporary phase and it will pass...just hang in there!
  • Yes, involve the village! You do not have to do this all alone. Involve your family members to help you.

Average Duration of Sleep

  • Total sleep time will be 14 to 17 hours a day (including day and night time sleep).
  • Sleep is polyphasic at this stage. You newborn will sleep in short spurts or short periods and the duration of sleep will not be more than 30 minutes to 4 hours at a stretch (this is the same for day and night time sleep).
  • Awake time in between sleep will be about 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Sleep Cycles

Newborns have two sleep cycles.

  • The Active Sleep Phase
    • Infants spend more time in the “active sleep” stage, commonly known as the rapid eye movement (REM) sleep as it is essential for the brain development. This state is characterized by a lot of movement such as fluttering eyelids, grunts, brief cries, and body movements. They can be woken up easily in this stage.
  • The Quiet Sleep Phase
    • In the “quiet sleep” stage, the infant will be still, the breathing will be regular and less likely to wake up.

When transitioning they may wake up and you will need to help them settle back to sleep.

Sleep Cues

Newborn babies need to sleep a lot, so do not keep them awake for too long. Over-stimulation can affect their ability to sleep and stay asleep. Long stretches of awake time affects the newborn baby's ability to fall asleep and stay asleep longer. Therefore, you will spend a lot of time trying to get the baby to sleep. As an adult you would have noticed that sometimes if you are too tired it is hard to fall asleep or get good restful sleep.The same applies to newborns as well.

As soon as you observe the signs of fatigue help the baby to settle down to sleep. Common sleep signals are-

  • Crying
  • Fussing
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Yawning
  • Looking away

Notes

  • Some babies may sleep less that 14 hours but if the baby is sleeping less than 11 hours or sleeping more than 19 hours it is recommended that you consult with the doctor.
  • Newborn babies brain are not developed to understand the circadian rhythms of day and night so they carry on these short bursts of sleep patterns at both day and night.
  • Between 6 to 8 weeks, you can gradually start a sleep routine to help them sleep longer at night.
  • Developmental changes such as growth spurts will affect the sleeping and feeding patterns in the baby.
  • Every baby is different so you may find that your baby may sleep easily or may need more assistance to sleep.