The Not-So-Peaceful Newborn Sleep

They’re adorable. They’re snuggled up. Sometimes they’re swaddled. You stare down at the crib lovingly, marveling at the new life you’re going to guide through the world. Then a twitch. Then a squirm. And then, things aren’t so peaceful anymore. It’s pandemonium.

You hear precious little baby screams that aren’t so precious at 3 AM a few hours before work, and you wonder exactly why the baby world works this way.

Why do you sleep through the night, but your newborn wakes up every few hours to chow down on some milk? What’s going on here in this scenario? How much a newborn sleeps is an important thing for new parents to know.

Healthy sleeping pattern

Establishing a healthy sleeping pattern from birth can really help to make things easier later on, but given the world of newborn sleep, this isn’t entirely possible.

You can do a lot of things to make it more likely that your newborn will sleep soundly when they do sleep, but because newborns have a need for milk every 3-4 hours, sometimes more if you’ve skipped feedings, it’s likely that even the best-laid plans are going to fall through sometimes. Don’t sweat it.

There’s a reason your newborn sleeps as sporadically as it does, and it’s usually never anything to worry about. It’s just part of the baby world, and now it’s a part of your world.

Your baby will sleep different amounts of sleep every night, so if they’re not sleeping 16-17 hours like clockwork, don’t panic. Every baby is experiencing a different rate of growth, life events, and noise in the environment.

If you have a lot of children, obviously your baby will pick up a lot of higher noise levels, even at night. You may have a toddler who needs a nighttime bathroom break, and your newborn might end up hearing that.

Sometimes emergencies happen in the household, and your newborn is awake because of noise from the commotion. Since sleep is such a fragile thing for a mind so new, the best you can do in these situations is to go with the flow.

The 24-hour sleep cycle of newborns

The average newborn is going to sleep about 16-17 hours in your 24-hour period. That’s how much a newborn sleeps. When they sleep is another matter entirely and can sometimes be affected by the goings-on in the household.

Remember that in the first month alone, your baby will develop its sense of hearing and sight. Light and motion are already a part of your newborn’s world in a period of time. They can detect like and motion pretty dang well. By the time they’re a month old, you can make eye contact with them.

They can even see a short distance away from their face and make out shapes (like mom and/or dad’s shape in front of them).

How much a newborn sleeps will vary, but that 16-17 hour rule is a general rule of thumb. Babies are as unique as fingerprints, especially about things like sleeping habits.

You can bet that sometimes your newborn will sleep 16 hours a night, and other times if they’re sick, they may sleep less or more than that.

How much a newborn sleeps will be in a state of flux, depending on what’s going on in that newborn’s life. Just like you, your baby is going to have ups and downs in life.

They’re going to experience things like sickness, too much noise at bedtime, greater hunger at some points than others, and so many other little “life” things that will affect the quality and amount of their sleep. Things that can affect a newborn’s sleep include:

  • Noises they might hear in the home.
  • Any type of sickness your newborn contracts
  • Greater amounts of light at some times than others
  • Messy diapers
  • Finicky sleep patterns at some point, just general wakefulness

Sleep is a trial and error thing for babies. Hey, they’re new at this! Give them time to sort through things. They just got here, and you’re the one who is in control of their sleep environment.

If you notice too much wakefulness at bedtime, it might be time to figure out a way to rearrange things so that how much a newborn sleeps increases to a healthy level. And as always, a troublesome sleep pattern for your newborn should spell a trip to the pediatrician to figure out what might be wrong.

Some newborns will have greater sleep difficulty than others. If your baby is struggling to sleep, it’s your job to get them into a pediatrician visit and figure out if there might be a problem or your baby might be sick.

Creating a safe and sound sleep environment

Most parents hammer out a game plan before the baby arrives. They make sure that the room their child will be sleeping in is conducive to sleep. The room should be as dark as possible because that little rascal of yours is already detecting motion and light.

If they sense that light, things might become very loud for you very quickly. A baby should have a safe sleep environment, too, with an empty crib and nothing that might present a suffocation hazard (no blankets until at least a year old).

At sleep time, keep things as quiet as possible for baby. They can hear you! And they love to hear from you. You want them to be in their own special dreamland, free of distractions.

How much a newborn sleeps will also depend on whatever illnesses your baby gets over the course of life. There will be sniffles and coughs and other sicknesses that can cause a baby to be more wakeful at one time than one another.

For example, if your baby has thrush, they may have pain and irritation from the white patches on their mouth. Sometimes they can even become irritated and bleed.

This would certainly affect how much a newborn sleeps during that period of time they’re suffering from that illness. No worries, parents. You’re going to be fine and weather this storm.

The general rule for how much a newborn sleeps will often depend on things in the environment and then, of course, things going on in the baby’s life. It’s the sleep environment that you have control over.

If you think anything might be keeping your precious newborn awake, it’s time to scan their room (or yours if they’re sleeping in your bedroom during the newborn stage) and see what changes you can make to promote better sleep.

Since how much a newborn sleep affects how much you sleep, it’s natural for you to want to promote night sleep as much as possible.

Mom and/or dad have to work! Anything good for your baby’s sleep is great for your sleep as well.

How much a newborn sleeps changes

Just like regular old adults, how much a newborn sleeps depends on what is going on in the household and its own development at that time. A newborn will be sleeping a certain amount on average, but trust the process for what it is.

That amount will change at times. Just like the amount of sleep you get every night will depend on events in your life and noise levels in the house, how much a newborn sleeps also depends on things that are sometimes beyond your control.

For example, if you have another young child who is sick and crying out at night, you might experience a more wakeful newborn as well. Newborns are some of the most adorable little critters on the planet.

They’re the very beginning of life and the only ones who hold the secret of life in general. No one remembers being a newborn, so we don’t have a frame of reference to relate to our newborns, but trust yourself during this process.

You can understand and cope with the hectic world of newborn sleep and learn how to help your newborn sleep better at times. Sending your baby to bed with plenty of food in the tummy will help.

A hungry baby is a wakeful baby, and a well-fed baby is a baby that sleeps pretty soundly most of the time.

Believe it or not, dirty diapers are something most newborns can sleep through, although some parents hate to send their baby to bed without a clean diaper.

Newborns don’t notice the wetness as much as an adult would. However, if you want to do a diaper change before bedtime, we don’t blame you.

Just remember that diaper changes can be an exhilarating experience for a baby who loves the attention and you, so if your newborn isn’t sleeping very well or falling to sleep fairly quickly, nixing the little diaper change might be a good idea for a few nights.

Now take a deep breath, feel a little more knowledgeable, and enjoy watching that beautiful newborn of your snooze.