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What Should I Expect of Newborn Sleep?

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Updated May 29, 2014

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Mother sleeping with newborn baby in hospital.
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Question: What Should I Expect of Newborn Sleep?
I am a first time mom and keep hearing all these different kinds of stories on what I can expect of newborn sleep. Some say a newborn can sleep through the night at 6 weeks, other people tell me that I am in for months of sleepless nights. What are some realistic expectations I can have?
Answer:

Every now and then, I'll hear similar stories of the newborn baby who slept through the night at 6 weeks of age. So is it possible? Yes. Likely. No. The sleep of a newborn is much different than older babies, and the frequent night wakings can serve a very important purpose.

Why Newborns Wake Frequently at Night

Think of it this way. Tiny baby equals tiny tummy.

If you were expected to double your weight in the next six months - what you have to do? Be an eating machine. A newborn's frequent nightwakings are a survival skill. If he slept through the night at too young of an age, his basic need of nourishment would go unfulfilled. What it comes down to is this- nightwakings are an important part of a newborn's development.

Newborn Growth Spurts

You may also find that your baby had been sleeping through the night, but suddenly begins waking again. There could be several reasons for this, and depending on the reason you may or may not wish to feed your baby to get him to fall back to sleep. Newborn growth spurts happen frequently in the early months, and during this times you do want to feed him.

Deep Sleep vs. Active Sleep

What science reveals is that your newborn sleeps differently than you. You move through stages of sleep that could be divided into two simple categories, deep sleep and active sleep. Deep sleep is when you are out cold. No movement, no eye-twitching, no dreaming. Just sleep. Active sleep is when you may dream, stir, roll over, fix the covers. Still asleep, but your brain is still getting a little exercise, so to speak.

The difference between you and your baby is that you spend a more significant portion of your time in deep sleep while your baby moves back and forth between the two stages. Sleep experts theorize that fluctuating back and forth between deep and active sleep is necessary for brain development and the "exercise" that the baby's brain gets is vital to maintaining a baby's respiration, temperature, and pulse.

Characteristics of Newborn Sleep

So now that you understand why your newborn sleeps differently, let's look at what his sleep may look like.

  • The National Sleep Foundation found that newborns (birth to two months) sleep an average of 14 hours a day, +/- 4 hours. Periods of wakefulness averaged between 1 to 3 hours. (See chart on Average Sleep Amounts for Babies)
  • The National Sleep Foundation also stated that newborn sleep is irregular, without predictable patterns.
  • During these periods, the newborn may sleep for only a few minutes or several hours.
  • Even while asleep, your newborn baby may often appear active. You may notice twitching, smiling, suckling, or other restless behaviors.

How to Get Newborn to Sleep

Unlike older babies, getting your newborn schedule worked out isn't advisable. Newborns will sleep without pattern. This is normal and acceptable. Your baby will communicate that he is sleepy in his own way. Common signs of sleepiness include fussiness, rubbing of eyes, or yawning. When you begin to see these signs, you may want to consider putting him down while he is sleepy, but not entirely asleep. Why?

For one, because babies spend more time in that active period of sleep, it can be difficult to get them in a deep enough sleep that allows you to transfer them from your arms to their crib. It may also help them get to fall asleep faster. Additionally, a baby that has learned to easily soothe himself to sleep may wake at night and be able to fall back to sleep on his own if his basic needs have been met.

All Babies Are Different

The other big idea to keep in mind is that all babies are different. There is a wide range of what "normal" newborn sleep looks like. While some babies may sleep through at that coveted 6 week mark, it isn't until 9 months of age that 70% of babies have hit that milestone. Perhaps the most realistic expectation to have is to expect your child to be unique.

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  5. Newborn Sleep Norms and Expectations

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