For many first-time parents, the concept of newborn sleep can seem like a foreign language. And we don't blame you; it can be confusing to wrap your head around.
But never fear! We're here to help hold your hand through newborn sleep patterns so you can understand how much sleep your bub needs, what their sleep cycle is like, and what to expect in the first six months. So, grab a blankey, cause it's time for a snooze!
How much sleep do newborns need?
The one thing we cannot stress enough to new parents enough is that babies don't understand that people sleep at night. They usually sleep in short periods during day and night, generally lasting around 2-3 hours.
However, every newborn is different, and some bubs may sleep for up to four hours! It’s best to look at a newborns sleep cycle in as a 24 hour period, during each 24 hours, you can expect your bub to sleep for up to 16 hours.
So, what exactly is a newborn sleep cycle?
Newborns have different types of sleep. This known as active and quiet sleep:
- Active sleep is when babies move around a lot and make noises. During this type of sleep, they can be woken very easily
- Quiet sleep is when their breathing is deep and regular. They remain still and are less likely to be woken
Anytime a newborn sleeps, it's known as a sleep cycle. These cycles take around 40 minutes and are made up of both active and quiet sleep. After each cycle, they wake for a little and grizzle, groan or cry - so they may need some settling to help prepare them for the next cycle.
When will my baby start sleeping at night?
As mentioned earlier, newborns don't understand that people commonly sleep at night and in the first few months, your bub is likely to wake several times for feeds. Between one and three months old, your little one will begin to stop waking so often and will sleep for longer at night. Generally, by three months, your baby may be sleeping for up to 5 hours at night. However, it's important to remember that every bub is different, and it's also common for babies up to six months of age to wake at night for feeds or to be settled.
If my baby was premature, does this impact their night sleep?
Depending on your situation, your doctor or maternal child health nurse may recommend that you let your bub sleep for a certain amount of time, before waking them for a feed.
How can I help ease my bub into the concept of night sleep?
While it will take your bub some time adjusting, here are some tips to help them understand that night and day is different:
- At night, keep the room dark and quietIf you need to check your bub during the night, only use dim lights
- If your bub cries at night, try to respond quickly by settling or feeding them as soon as possible
- If they need to be fed, try giving feeds in the bedroom. This will ensure they’re kept brief and will help your bub to differentiate day time feeds from night time feeds
- Keep playtime to day time - try and be soothing with your little one in the evening
Is there an optimal time to put my baby to sleep?
In short, no - but putting them to bed when they're awake but still drowsy, gives them the chance to associate sleep with being in their bed. Your little one is more likely to self-soothe when they wake during the night if this association is established.
What is self-soothing? You ask. Self-soothing is when your clever little bundle of joy can relax and fall back asleep on their own without cuddles from Mum. If your bub can self-soothe, then they're more likely to sleep for longer periods and sleep longer at night.
Here are some tips for settling your bub when they're drowsy:
- Avoid picking your bub up as soon as they grizzle. Give them some time to settle into bed. Think of it like falling asleep yourself - you're unlikely to settle and fall asleep straight away!
- We mentioned earlier that if your bub cries at night, try to respond to them quickly. However, as they get older, if you hear them grizzle give them some time to settle before running in, as they may fall back asleep on their own. If you do hear your bub cry though, make sure you check on them to help them settle
- Try the patting settling technique - it can work wonders to help settle your bub. Our top tip is to stop patting just before they're about to fall asleep - it may feel risky, but trust us, it's worth it.
Great! But what on earth is the patting settling technique?
We thought you would never ask! This is a hands-on technique that involves rhythmic and gentle patting that can help young babies fall asleep. Here's how it's done:
- Face bub away from you, lying on their side
- Place your hand gently on their shoulder
- Cup your other hand and pat your little one gently and slowly on the bum or thigh
- Ensure that the patting is rhythmic - think of your heartbeat
- If you need, sing a quiet and soothing song to help you find a rhythm. If you think your bub will be disturbed by your "wonderful" singing - do it in your head or count to keep the patting steady or try saying shhh on each pat.
- Once you’ve settled your bub, don’t forget to gently roll them onto their back before you leave the room!
If you need support in helping your bub to fall asleep, we recommend chatting with your Maternal Child Health Nurse to see what services they recommend. And if you need support as a parent, please don't hesitate to reach out because your sleep deprivation and mental state matter too.
Understanding newborn sleep is just one of the topics we cover in our Bump, Birth and Beyond course. Through our course, our expert educator will guide you without bias or judgement ensuring you feel empowered to make informed decisions throughout your parenthood journey. And the best part? You get to bring your support person for free! To view dates or to book, click here.