When you’re a new parent, you don’t get much sleep. That’s to be expected. But over the long run, nurturing good sleeping habits for newborns can help you catch up on your z’s, too–making everyone a little less crabby in the process.
Every baby will be different, so be sure to talk to your pediatrician if you want individualized advice about how much your newborn should be sleeping. However, there are a few general tips and tricks that can make developing good sleeping habits for newborns a little bit easier (for parents and for your baby).
The Natural Sleep Cycle of Newborns
Humans didn’t always sleep for eight hours every night. Some sleep historians (yes, there is such a thing) suggest that before industrialization, humans tended to be segmented sleepers. We’d get a few hours of shut-eye here and a few hours there.
It can be helpful to think of your newborn as just such a “segmented” sleeper. In other words, you should not expect your newborn to sleep straight through the night. There are a few reasons for this:
- Newborn babies have a much shorter REM cycle than adults. This means they’re more prone to waking up throughout the night.
- Your baby has a very tiny stomach, and they need a lot of fuel for growth. As a result, your baby will require feedings every few hours.
- Sleep is brand new to your baby. They’re figuring it out just like you are!
Most newborns will sleep anywhere between 8 hours in the daytime and an additional 8-9 hours at night. That’s right–your newborn baby will sleep for roughly two-thirds of the day. But most of that sleep will be in spurts of two to three hours here and there.
How to Build Good Sleeping Habits for Newborns
Good sleeping habits won’t come naturally to your newborn. As a result, some parents are very intentional about creating these habits. Here are some helpful tips.
Keep Realistic Expectations
You should not expect your baby to start sleeping through the night until at least six months of age. True, you may get lucky here and there with a four hour burst of sleeping–but you may not. And every newborn will be different.
To a certain extent, newborns' sleep patterns will be chaotic and unpredictable. So that should be your baseline expectation. You aren’t failing as a parent when your newborn wakes up every two hours. It’s natural. So, to some extent, you just have to get through this chaotic sleep period.
Make Night and Day Distinct
Your newborn has never encountered the concept of “night” or “day” before. Everything looked roughly the same in the womb! As a parent, however, there are some things you can do to help create the separation of night and day. For example, you could:
- Ensure you keep the lights dimmed at night (and the curtains open during the day)
- Create specific nighttime and daytime routines, especially around “bedtimes.”
Watch for Signs of Sleepiness
You can safely assume that your baby has no idea what “sleepiness” is. As a parent, you get to teach them that! Watch for signs of sleepiness, such as yawning, eye-rubbing, fussiness, and so on. When you notice these signs of sleepiness, put your newborn to bed. For your baby, this will help reinforce the connection between sleepiness and sleep.
Let Feeding and Sleeping Be Two Distinct Activities
Eating is relaxing, especially for newborns. So it will likely not shock you when your newborn falls asleep during a feeding. They get all warm and cozy–and their tummy is full of food. As your newborn ages, however, you may want to start separating the two activities. You can do this in several ways:
- Don’t nurse your baby in bed or use feeding as a way to put your baby to sleep.
- Try to keep your newborn awake while they feed. For example, you can try rubbing their feet or sitting them up and talking to them during feeding times.
That said, for most newborns, feeding is the priority–because your baby will be hungry all the time! Talk to your pediatrician about the best way to balance feeding, sleep, and a boundary between the two.
Create a Loose Sleep Schedule
Your baby’s not going to follow any kind of schedule–at least not at first. But having a rough idea of what to expect during those first six months can help new parents try to create some structure. For most babies 0-6 months, you can expect:
- The longest stretch your baby will be asleep for will usually be 2-4 hours.
- “Bedtime” will be anywhere between 9:30pm - 11:00pm.
- The day will get started around 7am, but there will be feedings throughout the night.
- Four to five naps per day (each nap lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours).
There’s No One Perfect Solution
When it comes to newborns and sleep, parents really have one primary job: survive and get through it. Everything else is a bonus. Some of these strategies may help, especially as your newborn gets older. So make time to talk to your pediatrician about the best ways to nurture good sleeping habits for your newborn.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment with a pediatrician to talk about your baby’s sleep needs.