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Sleep requirements

Your baby’s sleep – Sleep requirements

Within a 24-hour period, many newborn babies sleep for between 16 to 18 hours. Some sleep for fewer hours, some longer. Every baby is an individual and will have their own awake and sleep periods. Newborns are unpredictable in their sleeping behaviour. They are too young to know the difference between day and night and need to feed frequently, both day and night.

By three months of age, as their brain matures, sleep patterns often become more predictable with one longer, continuous sleep overnight. Babies who are gaining weight, thriving and getting enough milk to sustain longer overnight sleeps will often sleep for between 5-6 hours overnight. It’s common for babies of this age to need two to three naps during the day.

The pattern of napping varies, though often includes a morning, afternoon and early evening nap. Always remember all babies are different and there is a big variation in the napping patterns of babies. Some babies will not sleep much at all during the day and make up for this overnight. Some babies sleep well in the mornings and resist having an afternoon sleep.

From 3 months onwards your baby may stay awake for longer periods during the day, with periods of wakefulness lasting anywhere between two to four hours.

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The following is a general guide about how much sleep your baby may need.

Newborn

Number of sleeps per day 4
Average time up during the day after feeds 1 hour
Time it may take to settle 15 minutes or longer
  • Newborns can sleep for between 16 to 18 hours per day.
  • May sleep for between 1 to 3 hours at a time.
  • May sleep for less than 1 hour, particularly in the late afternoons.
  • Newborns will not sleep through the night and need to feed frequently. When a newborn is not waking for regular feeds overnight, this may be a sign they are unwell and need to be examined by a doctor.

3 to 6 Months

Number of sleeps per day 2 to 3
Average time up during the day between sleeps 2 to 3 hours
Time it may take to settle Up to 1 hour
  • May sleep for 2 or more hours at a time.
  • May sleep for between 6 to 8 hours overnight.

6 to 9 Months

Number of sleeps per day 2
Average time up during the day between sleeps 2 to 3 hours
Time it may take to settle Up to 1 hour
  • May sleep for 1 to 2 hours at a time.
  • May sleep for between 10 to 12 hours overnight.

9 to 12 Months

Number of sleeps per day 1 to 2
Average time up during the day between sleeps 4 hours
Time it may take to settle Up to 1 hour
  • May sleep for 1 hour or longer in the morning and 1 hour or longer in the afternoon.
  • May sleep for between 10 to 12 hours overnight.

baby sleep book

Why Some Babies Have Trouble Sleeping

Babies sleep in cycles consisting of blocks of:

  • Light sleep
  • Deep sleep
  • Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep where dreaming happens.

Babies who have difficulty sleeping can struggle with resettling as they transition between stages of sleep. Often, this is related to how they were settled when they first went to sleep. Babies who always need help to go to sleep will look for the same cues or prompts when they wake between sleep cycles.

You have choices about how your settle your baby for their sleeps:

  • You can rock, feed or nurse your baby to sleep in your arms and then transfer them into their cot.
  • You can stay with your baby until they go to sleep in their cot.
  • They can be placed in their cot awake and encouraged to self-settle.

Within a baby’s first year of life, their sleep cycles change as they become older and their brain matures. Separation anxiety is common from around seven months onwards and babies will wake at night needing emotional reassurance that their parent/s are close by.

It’s normal for babies to still wake at night for feeds until at least seven months of age. Many parents ask why their baby is not sleeping through the night, generally the reason is because the baby is too young to sleep for long, continuous periods without waking for a feed.

When a baby is always rocked or fed to sleep, they tend to wake as they transition between stages of deep and light sleep. They often cry out and look for the same help to go back to sleep. If you would like your baby to learn how to settle themselves, consider what they need from you to go to sleep. Change often starts with parents reflecting on their own responses to their baby’s-tired signs.

Common overnight sleep issues

It’s normal for babies to continue to wake overnight for feeds in their first six months of life. In fact, breastfed babies especially often continue to wake for at least one overnight feed beyond this age. Some babies respond to gentle reassurance when they wake overnight and don’t need feeding every time they wake up. Others expect to be fed every time, even if it’s only been a short time since they were last fed.

When babies are going through periods of rapid growth e.g., “growth spurts” they look for more feeds to fuel their growth and energy. However, these periods generally only last a few days. Check with your Child Health Nurse to see if your baby is growing as they need to. Look at your baby’s percentile (growth) charts to see how they are tracking with their weight and growth.

Try not to always fed your baby to sleep. Support them to learn how to self-settle when they are beyond the newborn period. Make sure your baby is feeding well through the day and evening so they’re less likely to wake overnight due to hunger. If you’re baby is eating solid foods, include some protein and iron-based foods through the day. This will lead to an increased sense of fullness (satiety) and help to support longer sleeps overnight.

Offer both breasts during feed times, even if your baby seems satisfied with feeding from one side. Often, an increased volume of breast milk during day/evening feeds helps to support longer sleeps overnight.

If your baby is waking multiple times overnight and needs their dummy reoffered to go back to sleep, consider if it’s time to stop.

Routine

A flexible routine can help to support babies and toddlers to settle independently. Picking up on their tired signs and settling them before they become overtired will help to support regular sleep and settling behaviours. Babies and your children often respond well to a familiar pattern or sequence of events, which is why a regular pre-settling ritual can be very helpful. Sleeping in the same environment each night also offers a sense of security and comfort.

Establishing a regular bedtime routine will benefit your child as well as you and your partner. A good night’s sleep helps to restore energy to tired parents so they feel more able to cope with the demands of the following day. Allowing some quiet, adult time together at the end of the day will also be beneficial to your relationship.

You can begin to establish a routine as soon as you bring your newborn home from the hospital. It can be useful to encourage a pattern when caring for a newborn. This in turn helps to support a routine of care. Babies tend to learn from repetition.

When bringing a newborn home, it is very easy to get into the habit of passing baby around from visitor to visitor, everyone wants a cuddle. If your baby is showing tired signs or sleeping in their arms, these are cues that it’s time for sleep. Babies tend to sleep for longer periods if they are settled in their cot when they first go to sleep.

Offer your baby supervised tummy time each day from birth. Don’t expect them to stay awake for long periods in their newborn period. The age of your baby will determine how long they will play before showing tired signs. Watch for their tired signs remember, you have choices about settling techniques.

Bath your baby at any time of the day or evening, whenever you have the time and energy to enjoy this special time. Many parents bath their baby towards the end of the day and include bathing as part of the evening settling routine. Have some cuddle time and read stories to your baby.

Massaging your baby with baby lotion or massage oil could also be a useful settling strategy for relaxing your baby. Avoid overstimulating your baby before bedtime. Also avoid keeping them up when they are showing tired signs. An overtired baby is often harder to settle for sleeps.

Speak with your Child Health Nurse for guidance and support around your baby’s sleep and settling behaviour. Remember, every baby is an individual and has their own unique needs for sleep.

For more information see Baby sleep or Baby Care

Edited and reviewed by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse July 2021.