When do Babies Sleep Through the Night

New (and veteran) parents struggle with their baby’s sleep habits—it’s a fact of life. Everyone warned you about it, but you weren’t buying it. At first, the excitement of being a parent gives you the momentum to make it through the first few weeks of sleep deprivation. Then, the novelty begins to wear off. You are exhausted and desperate for a good night’s sleep. You’ll ask friends and relatives for tricks that worked for their babies. It’s no wonder that books on infant sleep are a booming section at Amazon.

Before we give you all of our sage advice on this subject, it is essential that you understand the science of sleep. Knowing the basics will help you appreciate the advice and avoid the common mistakes parents make.

Q: Do newborns have the same sleep patterns that adults do?

A: NO. That’s why you cannot expect them to sleep like we do. Here are four important concepts you need to understand.

  1. TYPES OF SLEEP. There are two basic types of sleep: REM and Non-REM. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement. Here are the differences between the two.

Newborns spend 50-80% of their sleep in REM sleep while adults spend only 25% of their sleep in REM. The result: babies are very active when they are asleep. Your baby will be noisy and moving around, but he is not awake.

BOTTOM LINE: Your baby’s sleep activity and noises do not mean you need to feed or help them.


  1. SLEEP CYCLES. Humans go through a series of sleep cycles throughout an evening’s rest. Adults tend to bunch all the Non-REM cycles first, and then go through REM cycles. Babies do more flip-flopping of Non-REM and REM cycles. Each sleep cycle has a beginning and an end, where a person goes from light sleep to deep to light again, before entering the next cycle. Humans recheck their environments and body comfort at that time. At the end of each sleep cycle, a partial wakening occurs. Babies may whimper or briefly cry out during this time.

BOTTOM LINE: Leave your baby alone when he has a partial wakening. He will enter into his next sleep cycle if you leave him alone. If you intervene, you will wake him up. As the saying goes, let sleeping babies lie.

  1. LENGTH OF CYCLES. The average adult sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes. The average newborn sleep cycle lasts 60 minutes. 

BOTTOM LINE: Your baby has shorter sleep cycles than you. It can take several months until he has mature sleep patterns like an older child.

  1. CIRCADIAN RHYTHM.The human body has a biological clock that registers 24.5 to 25 hours in a day. This is called a circadian rhythm. It is affected by both light exposure and a body chemical called melatonin. Babies follow their mother’s circadian rhythm in the womb probably because melatonin levels. Once outside the womb, they have exposure to light and must form their own circadian rhythm.

BOTTOM LINE: It takes several weeks for a baby to get their circadian rhythm sorted out. If you lived in the dark for nine months, you’d probably be a little confused too.

Q: How can I get my baby to sleep at night instead of during the day?

A: This is called Day-Night Reversal. It usually takes three or four weeks to resolve.

The best way to help your baby through this is to stimulate him during the day and keep things low key at night. Talk to your baby during daylight hours and encourage any wakeful periods he has. At night, do your feeding routine with little interaction. Only turn the lights on if you have a poopy diaper to clean. If your baby decides he wants to have a slumber party, he can party (coo, grunt, etc) on his own. You don’t have to be by his side to entertain him.

Q: How much should a newborn sleep?

A:About 14 to 18 hours total a day.

But here’s the cruel part: most newborns will not sleep more than four hours at a stretch. They need to eat frequently and their little bodies know it.

BOTTOM LINE: Most newborns have six or seven stretched of sleep every 24 hours. Feeding occur in between these stretches.

Helpful Hints

Three Sleep Tips for the First Two Weeks of life

  • Wake your newborn up if he has slept longer than three hours during the day.When your baby has day-night reversals, he may have his one long stretch of sleep in the middle of the day. Discourage this! Otherwise, you will be in for a long night of cluster feedings.
  • Do not let your newborn sleep more than four hours straight during the night. He needs nutrition to grow. He also needs to stimulate your milk supply to come in if you are breastfeeding. Once he has regained his birth weight and your doc gives you her blessing, you can let the baby sleep at night (he won’t, but it’s fine if he does).
  • Your job is to sleep when baby sleeps. Become nocturnal. Don’t even think about doing laundry when your baby crashed in the afternoon. Go to bed!

Q: How do I get my newborn to fall asleep? He seems to have trouble relaxing.

A: It would be nice to have the baby who awakens to feed and then goes right back to sleep. More likely, you have the baby who eats and then fusses until you help him return to the Land of Nod.

After you and your baby get to know each other better, you will figure out what helps him settle down.

Newborns are born with immature nervous systems. That means, they don’t have the ability to pull it together, relax, and fall asleep. The most reliable way babies know how to settle down is to suck.

Top 5 Tips For Getting A Newborn To Sleep

  1. Suck to soothe.If you are so inclined, your breast may become the human pacifier. If this approach is not for you, use your finger or a pacifier in your baby’s mouth to encourage sucking. This is fine for the first few months of life.
  2. Move around. Rocking, swaying, and bouncing (you will have the veteran-parent-bop down quickly) are effective.
  3. Sing, in or out of tune.
  4. Snug as a bug. Swaddling, sleeping in a bassinet, or even sleeping in a car seat may do the trick.
  5. Go for a ride car.

Q: How do sleep patterns and needs change as baby grows?

A: Check out this information as well as the handy sleep requirements chart nearby for details. Remember, these are general guidelines. No need to freak out if your baby doesn’t follow these numbers to a tee!



Source: “Baby 411 Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Baby’s First Year-7th edition” Dr. Ari Brown and Denise Fields(Author)

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