How Much Sleep Do Babies Need?
Baby sleep schedules are one of the most puzzling and frequently asked about topics among parents. Especially if you are a new parent, you may just be wondering exactly how much sleep your baby needs. Or if you are struggling with a habitually cranky baby, you may want to know what constitutes a normal baby sleep schedule.
The following sections will answer some of the most common question about your baby’s sleep needs, as well as some troubleshooting tips for exhausted moms and babies.
Before comparing your child to your friends’ or family members’ babies, remember that each baby is unique. Some need more sleep than others and have their own sleep style, just like you may need 9 hours to feel human but your friend may only need 6 hours.
That being said, here are some helpful guidelines for parents to give them a realistic idea of what a normal baby sleep schedule might look like. Your baby’s sleep needs will depend first on his age.
Newborn Sleep Schedule: 0-3 Months
Newborn sleep schedules are much different than an older baby’s or toddler’s sleep schedule. Why? Babies have been living inside of your womb for 9 months, so they really don’t know the difference between night or day. Newborn babies generally require 16-20 hours of sleep per 24-hour period.
Newborns will often nap in 1, 2, or even 4-hour blocks of time, waking up frequently to feed. Their stomach capacity is about the size of a cherry, so they need to eat often to keep up with their caloric needs and fast metabolisms.
If you’re exhausted from coping with an erratic newborn sleep schedule, take comfort in the fact that your baby will probably soon transition to longer sleep stretches.
Baby Sleep Schedule: 3 to 6 Months Old
Right around the 3-month mark, many babies will have adjusted to night and day. While they may still wake a couple times at night to feed, the amount of time they sleep at night usually shows a marked difference from their nap time lengths.
Babies at this stage still need a lot of sleep though, typically 12-18 hours in a 24-hour period. Sleeping patterns are unique to each baby, but most 3 to 6-month-old babies will take three naps a day, or two very long ones.
Baby Sleep Schedule: 6-12 months
At this age babies typically need about 14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period, sometimes a little more or less. Your baby may be sleeping through the night at this stage. Most babies at this age will take 2 naps per day.
12-18 month Sleep Schedule
At around 12-18 months your baby may begin to transition to one nap per day. The nap time can be as short as an hour or as long as 3 hours. While the majority of babies will sleep through the night at this stage, don’t feel discouraged if yours isn’t yet, there are sleep solutions to help you both out.
Is My Baby Getting Enough Sleep?
If your baby is happy and content most of the time, chances are that he or she is getting sufficient sleep, even if it is more or less than the average. How much sleep your baby needs can be very individual. In fact, it’s possible your baby is getting too much sleep.
On the other hand, if your baby has screaming breakdowns at bedtime, that usually indicates the quota of how much sleep your baby needs isn’t being filled. Unlike adults who may slow down physically and mentally when tired, babies often become even more hyper and inconsolable.
Sleep Solutions for the Exhausted Parent and Cranky Baby
Hearing a baby cry and scream for an hour before bed can make even the strongest mother break down into tears herself. From worry to why the baby isn’t sleeping to pure exhaustion, it’s not a fun place to be.
First of all, disregard people’s unhelpful advice or criticisms when it comes to your baby’s sleep needs. Many will say you are spoiling the baby by picking him up. Always trust your gut over a well-meaning family, friend, or stranger. There are saner solutions for you and your baby than listening to screaming for 2 hours at bedtime.
There may be a number of reasons why your little munchkin can’t sleep. Below are some of the most common ones.
Too Wound Up
Have you ever been watching a really exciting show or doing something exciting you don’t want to stop and then having a hard time going to sleep? Your baby experiences this too.
If daddy is tossing the baby in the air or you’re chasing him around the room or having tickle fests, this could be overexciting your baby. These activities are wonderful, but save them for earlier in the day and make bedtime quiet and relaxing. Screen time can disrupt the melatonin cycle, so make sure the kid shows are off a couple hours before bed.
Establish a bedtime routine. Turn on dim lighting, read a relaxing book, and sing a nighttime song or lullaby. Many babies may find bathtime either stimulating or relaxing, so keep that in mind as well when establishing a routine.
If you are exhausted from trying to lay down a baby that fell asleep at the breast, there are solutions. First, try nursing your baby every hour closer to bedtime. So if your baby’s bedtime is 7 pm, nurse at 5 pm, 6 pm, and then maybe try once more at 6:30. Or, if you feed your baby at 5:30 or 6 pm, you can give him a dream feed at 9 pm to tide him through the night.
If your baby is still waking frequently, wait a little while to check on him. It may take a couple nights for him to disassociate needing to eat with sleeping. At first noise or stirring, don’t pick him up. He may fuss for 10-15 minutes and then fall back asleep. Letting your baby learn to fall asleep on his own is different than leaving him to cry alone for hours on end.
Just remember to trust your gut and if your baby’s crying seems excessive or erratic don’t leave him alone, something may genuinely be wrong.
Baby is Uncomfortable
Are your baby’s sheets soft and cuddly or scratchy to the touch? Are there any tags on his clothing that might be irritating his skin? Make sure that he isn’t too warm as well, many first-time parents overdress their children. If you are comfortable, your baby is probably comfortable temperature-wise as well.
A white noise machine can work wonders for restless babies. How so? The white noise may do two things. First, baby sleep music can help mimic the environment of the womb. Your baby was constantly exposed to soothing white noise inside, from the muffled sound of your voice to the soothing “rushing” sounds of the amniotic fluid all around him.
Secondly, many babies wake up when they hear doors being opened or footsteps. White noise machines may help to block out these noises and create a soothing sleep environment.
You know your baby best. Try different solutions until you find something that works for both you. Each baby and each parent is different.