Most newborns spend more time sleeping than they do awake, though the sleep may happen in small chunks or on an irregular schedule.
Managing a newborn’s sleep is one of the most challenging tasks of looking after a newborn. Newly-born babies are not accustomed to schedules or the rhythms of a typical day. For this reason, they might not sleep at the appropriate times.
Some people may worry that the baby is sleeping too little or too much. Anyone 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.
The National Sleep Foundation recommend that newborns get 14-17 hours of sleep per day.
However, this timescale varies widely, and some newborns may only sleep for 11 hours while others will sleep for up to 19 hours per day. Newborns may sleep more or less than usual when they are sick or experience a disruption in their regular routines.
Most newborns sleep in bursts of 30–45 minutes to as long as 3–4 hours. In the first couple of weeks, it is standard for a newborn to wake up to feed and then go right back to sleep.
As a newborn grows into an infant, it begins to develop a schedule. They eventually start sleeping at night, though they may still wake several times to feed. Most babies do not have a regular sleep schedule until they are about 6 months old. Even then, there is a significant variation from baby-to-baby.
Newborns are not typically awake for longer than 3 hours at a time.
A baby who occasionally sleeps more than usual is not a cause for concern unless there are other symptoms. Some of the most common reasons why a healthy baby sleeps more than usual include:
- a growth spurt or developmental leap
- a minor illness, such as a cold
- receiving immunizations
- not getting enough quality sleep because of a respiratory infection that makes breathing difficult
Other signs of more severe jaundice include:
- being lethargic
- having trouble eating
- being fussy or irritable
Babies who do not eat enough can become dehydrated, lose too much weight, and even suffer from a failure to thrive. Some people may struggle to work out whether the baby is getting enough to eat, especially if they are breast-feeding.
The good news is that early intervention from a pediatrician and breast-feeding consultant can ensure babies get enough food and reassure people that breast-feeding is possible.
A baby, whether breast-fed or formula-fed, may not be getting enough to eat if:
- they seem very lethargic and unresponsive
- they are older than 6 weeks old and are consistently gaining less than 6 ounces per week
- they are producing fewer than four very wet diapers per day
- they do not seem calmer after eating
In very rare instances, a baby may have a 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.
Newborns often cluster-feed, which means 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 8-12 times every 24 hours), or more if a pediatrician recommends so or the baby is not gaining enough weight.
Feeding a newborn whenever the baby shows hunger cues, such as rooting, sucking, or sticking out their tongue, is the best way to ensure the baby gets enough food.
It is not necessary to wake up most older newborns to eat. But those younger than 1 month or so may not wake up when they feel hungry. Babies younger than 4 weeks should not go longer than 4 to 5 hours without food.
To wake a baby 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 fails, try gently wiggling the baby’s toes or gently stroking the bottom of their feet.
Food needs vary from baby-to-baby. Parents should consult a pediatrician or breast-feeding 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 every 1–2 hours to ensure adequate food intake
- making sure 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, see a doctor. Only a doctor can diagnose for sure the reason why 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 the baby shows signs of respiratory problems. Call a doctor or go to the emergency room if:
- the baby is gasping for air or wheezing
- the baby is 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
- you think the baby may have inhaled, touched, or eaten something toxic
Finding the rhythm of a newborn’s sleep patterns is a constant challenge. Most babies settle into a comfortable routine sooner or later. Parents and carers eventually understand what is and is not normal for their babies.
It is common to worry about a baby’s sleep. This concern often helps people to detect problems early and encourages them to seek expert advice. Anyone who is worried that a baby may be sleeping too much should talk to a pediatrician.