Most newborns spend more time asleep than they do awake, but their sleep may happen in small chunks or on an irregular schedule.
Managing a newborn’s sleep is one of the most challenging tasks associated with looking after a newborn.
Newly born babies are not accustomed to schedules or the rhythms of a typical day and night. For this reason, they might not sleep at what many people consider to be the appropriate times.
Some people may worry that their baby is sleeping too little or too much. Anyone who is concerned about a baby’s sleep habits could try keeping a sleep log. They might find that the newborn is sleeping much less, or much more, than they thought.
This article discusses how much and how often a newborn baby should sleep.
Most newborns sleep for around 8–9 hours during the day and 8 hours at night. Most also wake up at least every 3 hours to feed.
However, this timing varies widely. Some newborns may only sleep for 11 hours per day, while others may sleep for up to 19 hours per day. Also, newborns may sleep more or less than usual when they are sick or when they experience a disruption to their regular routine.
Most newborns also do not sleep in one stretch. They usually sleep for only about 1–2 hours at a time, though some may sleep a little more or less than this. In the first couple of weeks, it is normal for a newborn to wake up to feed and then go right back to sleep.
As newborns grow into infants, they begin to develop a schedule. They eventually start sleeping longer at night, though they may still wake several times to feed.
By the age of 6 months,
A baby occasionally sleeping for longer than usual is not a cause for concern unless there are other symptoms.
In general, it is uncommon for a newborn to consistently sleep through feedings or to sleep for longer than 19 hours per day unless they are ill or are having feeding difficulties.
Some of the most common reasons that healthy babies sleep for longer than usual include the following:
- They may experience a growth spurt or developmental leap.
- They may have a minor illness, such as a cold.
- They may have a serious infection. This is rare, but it can happen. A newborn might not have a fever or other symptoms of illness like an older baby might.
- In very rare instances, a baby may have another medical condition that causes them to sleep too much. Breathing and heart disorders may affect sleep, and premature babies often have different sleep patterns from full-term infants.
- Some babies sleep too much because they have jaundice. A newborn who has jaundice will have a yellow color to their skin and a yellow cast to the whites of their eyes. Other symptoms of more severe jaundice include being lethargic, having difficulty eating, and being fussy or irritable.
- Sometimes, babies may sleep too much because they are not getting enough to eat. They may get dehydrated, lose too much weight, and even experience a failure to thrive.
The latter could happen if there is a problem with nursing because a breastfeeding, or chestfeeding, person cannot measure how much their baby is eating compared with a person who is formula feeding. They rely on external signs, such as the baby’s weight gain and diaper output.
However, in the early stages — especially for first-time parents — the signs of a potential problem may be easy to miss.
The good news is that early intervention from a pediatrician and nursing consultant can ensure that a baby is getting enough food and reassure people that breastfeeding, or chestfeeding, is possible.
A baby, whether breastfed, chestfed, or formula fed, may not be getting enough to eat if the following apply:
- They seem very lethargic and unresponsive.
- They are 14 days old and have not retained their birth weight.
- They are more than 6 weeks old and are consistently gaining less than 4–6 ounces per week.
- They are producing fewer than four very wet diapers per day.
- They do not seem calmer after eating.
Newborns often cluster-feed, which means that they may eat several times over the course of 1–2 hours or nurse for an extended period. Most newborns should eat every 2–3 hours (or eight to 12 times every 24 hours) or more if a pediatrician recommends so or if the baby is not gaining enough weight.
Feeding a newborn whenever they show hunger cues — such as rooting, sucking, or sticking out their tongue — is the best way to ensure that they get enough food.
It is not necessary to wake most older newborns up to eat. However, those younger than 1 month old or so may not wake up when they feel hungry. Babies younger than 4 weeks old should not go longer than 4–5 hours without food.
To wake a baby up to eat, try brushing the side of their cheek. This can trigger the rooting reflex. Most babies dislike having their feet stroked. So, if stroking the cheek does not work, try gently wiggling the baby’s toes or gently stroking the bottoms of their feet.
Food needs vary from baby to baby. Parents and caregivers should consult a pediatrician or nursing expert, who can offer individual advice based on the needs and development of the baby.
Usually, a newborn who appears to be sleeping too much is just sleeping on an irregular schedule.
Nevertheless, health issues such as respiratory infections that are minor annoyances in older babies can be much more dangerous in newborns. So, anyone who is concerned about a baby’s sleeping schedule should consult a pediatrician.
Some strategies to try before calling the doctor include:
- feeding the baby every time they show hunger cues
- offering the baby the breast, the chest, or a bottle every 1–2 hours to ensure adequate food intake
- making sure that the baby is not too cold or too hot
- keeping a log of the baby’s sleep schedule for 1–2 days
When in doubt, contact a doctor. Only a doctor can accurately determine the reason that a newborn is sleeping too much. In many cases, a pediatrician may be able to assess the problem over the phone.
Excess sleep in a newborn is not typically an emergency unless they also show signs of respiratory problems.
- The baby is gasping for air or wheezing.
- The baby’s breathing is very loud.
- The baby’s nostrils flare when they breathe.
- The skin around the baby’s ribs sinks in when they breathe.
- The baby has a fever.
- The baby may have inhaled, touched, or eaten something toxic.
Finding the rhythm of a newborn’s sleeping pattern is a constant challenge. Most babies settle into a comfortable routine sooner or later. Parents and caregivers should eventually understand what is and is not normal for their baby.
It is common to worry about a baby’s sleep. This concern often helps people detect problems early and encourages them to seek expert advice when necessary.
Anyone who is worried that a baby may be sleeping too much should talk with a pediatrician.