How much sleep newborns need in the first few weeks and months of life

Babies are born without a sense of day or night. YDL/Getty Images
  • Newborns need the most sleep in the first few weeks of life, sleeping 16 to 17 hours per day. They also wake up frequently during that time because they have shorter REM cycles.

  • After the first few weeks, they will sleep for 15 to 16 hours per day until they’re two to three months old.
  • By month four, they will be sleeping more consistently through the night – about 10 to 12 hours. But they will still need naps during the day. So, in total, they will need around 14 to 15 hours of sleep a day.
  • This article was reviewed by Sara Siddiqui, MD, who is a clinical assistant professor with the Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone.

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Ask any parent and they can tell you that newborns have the strangest sleep patterns of any human on the planet.

That’s because up until birth, babies have spent their entire life in the womb, in total darkness. So they’re born without a sense of night or daytime. Instead, what drives their sleeping cycles is their grumbling tummies.

Turns out, eating “is extremely tiring for them, which is why they sleep to rest and recover,” says Hanjan Harbhajan, a paediatrician with Emanate Health.

Here’s what you need to know about how much sleep newborns need.

Babies need the most sleep in the first few weeks of life

Newborn babies sleep more hours than they’re awake.

“In the first week of life, newborns sleep 16 to 17 hours per day,” says Dhanya Puram Limaye, a primary care physician at Erie Family Health Centre and faculty member at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

Of course, there’s some variation and some babies will sleep more than others, Limaye says. However, one thing is consistent: No newborn is going to sleep through the night. A newborn will wake up every one to three hours to eat.

In fact, babies have a shorter sleep cycle. “They spend much less time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, or dream sleep, compared to adults,” says Harbhajan.

Babies will sleep for longer stretches as they age

As babies mature, so will their sleeping pattern. They will start to sleep for longer stretches through the night and need fewer hours of sleep during the day. Below is a guide of what to expect for the first six months.

  • One month of age: A one-month-old will sleep about 15.5 hours total, split about equally between day and night, according to Stanford Children’s Health.
  • Two months of age: Babies still need around 15.5 hours of sleep each day. But at around two months, they will begin to distinguish between day and night, says Harbhajan. And, as babies mature, their bellies can stay full longer, which means they will sleep for more extended periods of time.
  • Four months of age: Babies sleep about 14 to 15 hours at this age, of which 10 to 12 are at night. They will wake up once or twice during the night for feedings, but “in general, by four months of age, babies are neurologically mature enough to sleep for a longer stretch at night,” says Limaye. She recommends establishing a nighttime routine at this age, which helps “babies learn to fall asleep on their own, increasing the likelihood that they will sleep through the night.”
  • Six months of age: By six months, babies should get 13 to 14 hours of sleep each day. At this point, they have established their circadian rhythm, says Harbhajan. Expect babies to sleep 10 hours through the night and nap about four hours during the day.

Remember that each baby is different. And while many will start to sleep through the night by six months of age, an estimated 20% to 30% will continue to wake up periodically in the night for up to two years after birth.

Why babies need so many hours of sleep

“Newborns need more sleep than children, teens, and adults in order to support their rapid mental and physical development,” Harbhajan says.

In fact, you can’t see it, but babies are producing billions of neurons in their brains, which will eventually go on to produce roughly 100 trillion neural connections by adulthood.

This would help explain why a 2017 review of 30 studies, published in Nature and Science of Sleep, found a critical connection between sleep during infancy and both cognitive development and physical growth.

When you should see a doctor about your baby’s sleep

If you’re worried about whether or not your baby is getting enough sleep, pay attention to how they seem when they’re awake. Crankiness is a tip-off that your baby needs more rest, says Harbhajan. “If your baby is calm and content when they are awake, then they are getting enough sleep,” she says.

Sickness or changes in routine can cause babies to sleep more or less than normal, Harbhajan says. It’s cause for concern if your baby prioritises sleep overeating and doesn’t wake up for feedings. “If your baby doesn’t seem to be gaining weight or is having trouble feeding, make an appointment with your paediatrician,” says Harbhajan.

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