Although many parents may find it hard to believe, newborn babies sleep more hours than they are awake. The total is about 16 to 18 hours every day. Most of that is at night, about eight to nine hours, and seven to nine of that is during the day with naps.
Why it Feels Like Newborns Aren’t Sleeping
If newborns sleep so much, why do so many parents feel like they can’t get any rest? Although newborns sleep about eight to nine hours at night, it’s not all at once.
Newborns grow and use energy at an incredible rate, but their stomachs are so small that they can’t fill up for very long. That means babies need to eat around the clock, at least every two to four hours. So even though they may get up to nine hours of sleep each night overall, a five hour stretch at a time is about the longest you should hope for.
Parents may put newborns down early, well before their own bedtimes. So when you compare a newborn’s bedtime of, say 8 p.m., and a maximum full night stretch of eight hours, that means you can expect a wake-up call from your newborn by about 1 a.m. — conveniently probably right when you’re settling into a deep sleep cycle.
Newborns aren’t easy sleepers, either. While toddlers, older children, and adults can snooze hard, very young babies don’t sleep particularly soundly. They often squirm, move around, and wake up a lot because they spend about half of their sleep time in light, restless sleep.
Newborns can be noisy sleepers as well. It’s not unusual for them to have irregular breathing with short pauses and weird noises. Although consistently noisy sleeping in adults usually calls for consideration of a sleep disorder such asIf newborns sleep so much, noisy sleep is normal for newborns, and their regular rate of breathing may slow or become faster while they are sleeping.
How You Can Survive Newborn Sleep
It’s not always easy to live through the newborn sleep stage, but every parent has done it — and some parents even sign up to go through it all over again with another baby. Use these tips to make the newborn sleep stage easier to live with and create healthy sleep habits for the future:
Differentiate between night and day. Help your baby start to make sense of what time it is and when it’s appropriate to sleep or stay awake. At night, keep their nursery or sleep area dark and quiet. But during the day, allow their nap times to include light and household noise. This hum will help them recognize that nighttime is the time for deep sleep.
Encourage daytime stimulation. Similarly, playing, reading, and talking to your baby can help them recognize that daytime is when they are active — instead of at night when parents are sleeping. Although newborns don’t do much, you can read books to them, practice tummy time, talk to them, and introduce other simple activities that are stimulating and will help to wear them out.
Try swaddling and white noise. In utero, newborns sleep in a confined, warm, dark place with white noise. So when they are born and expected to rest in a completely different environment, it can be jarring. Swaddling can help newborns feel more comforted, and help them avoid waking up from their startle reflex. White noise can mimic womb sounds, so they’re comforted and less likely to be awoken by unfamiliar noises.
Trade off nighttime parenting. Although babies may wake up every few hours, adults sleep best in longer stretches at night. Some newborn parents adjust by trading off on nighttime duties. One strategy is to take one night and one night off, so one parent can sleep through the entire night at a time. Another approach is to parent in shifts, with one parent taking over duties from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. and the other from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. Of course, breastfeeding mothers should pump milk ahead of time to accommodate this schedule, and the sleeping parent should plan to rest in an area where they won’t be disturbed by their baby and partner.
Make nighttime feeding and diapers mellow. Turning on the lights, talking, and doing anything else stimulating is a recipe for keeping your baby up for hours because of a feeding or diaper change. Keep the lights low, talk in low tones, and avoid any stimulation or excitement at night. And unless your baby’s diaper is leaking or has poop, a diaper change can wait until the morning.