Pediatrics | Published October 26, 2020

Understanding your baby's sleep needs

Babies do not have regular sleep cycles until about six months of age, and for the first two months, the need to eat overrules the need for sleep. Generally, a newborn sleeps about 16 to 17 hours per day, but different babies have different sleep needs. Some babies may sleep from 10 to 18 hours a day, sometimes for three to four hours at a stretch.

Babies don't know the difference between day and night, so they sleep with no regard for the time. This means their wide-awake time may be from the middle of the night to early morning. By the age of three to six months, many babies sleep for six-hour stretches, however, normal developmental stages can throw off established sleep patterns, such as when your baby begins to associate bedtime with being left alone.

Here are some suggestions to help you and baby sleep better at night:

  • Create a bedtime routine and put your baby to bed when drowsy but still awake. This helps babies to fall asleep on their own in their beds.
  • Maximize playtime. Talking and playing with your baby will lengthen awake times, helping babies to sleep for more extended periods during the night.
  • Try to keep nighttime feedings and changes calm and quiet to limit stimulation and keep babies drowsy.
  • Wait a few minutes before responding to a fussing baby to see if he or she can fall back to sleep independently. If he or she continues to cry, check on him or her, but don't turn on the light, play with, or pick up the baby. If he or she cannot settle, consider what else might be bothering him or her, such as being hungry, wet or soiled, feverish, or otherwise not feeling well.