Tommy's PregnancyHub

Your baby's sleep patterns

Newborn babies are usually restless sleepers who are hungry every few hours. It’s normal for them to wake up throughout the night.

Some babies sleep much more than others. Some babies sleep for long periods of time, while others sleep in short bursts. Your baby will have their own pattern and will probably be quite different from other babies you know. Their sleeping pattern is also very unlikely to fit in with your sleeping pattern. This can be hard to adjust to at first. 

When babies are born, they don’t know how to put themselves to sleep when they are tired or how to wake up when they have had enough sleep. This is all learned behaviour and will take some time. 

If you baby is up all night and asleep all day, or waking up frequently or early, try to remember that this is all completely normal. Their sleeping patterns will evolve as they grow and develop. Instead, try to relax and focus on looking after your own sleep. 

Between 1 and 3 months, daytime naps will gradually get shorter and night-time sleeps will gradually get longer. This will help it feel more manageable for you. Just be aware that this timeline can vary from baby to baby and doesn’t mean that your baby will be sleeping through the night or for long periods by the time they are 3 months old. 

“I think it’s really important for new parents to know that they are not doing anything wrong if their baby isn’t a great sleeper. I sought lots of advice about how to improve my daughter’s sleep. Some things worked, some things didn’t. Then the thing that worked didn’t work any more and the thing that didn’t, did! It was hard not to get emotional about it, especially when you’ve had a particularly difficult night and you chat to parents of baby’s that slept soundly for 8 hours! But at the end of the day, every baby is different. Some things will come easy, others won’t.” 
Alison

7 things you need to know about newborn baby sleep patterns

It might help to remember a few things about newborn baby sleep patterns:

1. Every baby is different

Some babies sleep well and manage to get to sleep easily, while others don’t. If your baby isn’t sleeping well, you will likely get lots of advice from friends and family. Although some of this will be helpful and well-meant, it can sometimes be stressful to hear lots of different opinions. Try to trust your own instincts. In time, you will work out what helps your baby sleep and what doesn’t. 

2. Newborns sleep for most of the day

A newborn baby doesn’t have much of a sleep pattern. Your baby will be sleeping anywhere up to 18 hours a day. They will usually be able to sleep for between 2 and 4 hours at a time. If you're not sleeping at the same time as your baby, don't worry about keeping the house silent while they sleep. It's a good idea to get your baby used to sleeping through a certain amount of noise.

3. Newborns need feeding through the day and night

Newborns have tiny tummies, so they need to eat often, including during the night. In time, you will learn the difference between your baby’s cues asking for food and their other cries. Newborn babies will sleep on and off throughout the day and night. It may be tempting to try and change the routine to fit in with you. But responsive parenting is important for your baby’s physical and emotional wellbeing. This means understanding and responding to your baby’s cues to help you develop a close and loving relationship with your baby.  You can also practice responsive feeding. Responsive feeding is the idea that feeding isn’t only about nutrition. It’s also about love, comfort and reassurance between parent and baby. This means focusing all your attention on your baby during feeds and responding to their cues. Find out more about feeding your baby

4. Newborns can be restless sleepers

Young babies wake up a lot. This is because around half of their sleep time is spent in REM (rapid eye movement) mode. This is light, active sleep where they move, dream and maybe wake with a whimper. Don’t worry about this. As your baby grows and develops, they will have few periods of REM and more periods of deeper, quieter sleep. 

5. Newborns can be noisy sleepers

It’s normal for your baby to be quite noisy while they are sleeping. They can often grunt, wheeze, have irregular breathing and cry. This is mainly because their digestive and respiratory systems aren’t fully developed yet, so swallowing and breathing takes a little extra effort. They also mainly breathe out of their noses, not their mouths, so this can make their breathing a little noisier.

6. Newborns confuse day and night

While your baby was in the womb, it was completely dark and they probably slept most of the day. They will adjust to life on the outside of the womb and become less nocturnal. It can be helpful to try to teach your baby that night-time and daytime is different. You could try opening the curtains during the day and keeping the lights low at night-time. This may not make a difference until your baby is a few months old.    

7. Your sleep habits can affect your baby

If you’re exhausted, it will be much harder to soothe your baby.. Although it may seem obvious, taking care of yourself is one of the best things you can do to help make sure your baby gets quality sleep. Try to ask for help if you need it. Your midwife or health visitor are there to listen and support you. 

Common questions about sleeping patterns

How much sleep does by newborn baby need?

Most newborn babies are often asleep more than they are awake. Every baby is different, and their total daily sleep will vary. But they can sleep anything from 8 hours a day, up to 16 or 18 hours.  

How do I know if my baby is tired?

Babies have some common signals that they are tired. They might:

  • rub their eyes
  • yawn
  • look away from you
  • become fussy or agitated
  • pull at their ears or hair
  • bury their face in your chest
  • lose interest in their surroundings. 

You’ll soon get to know your baby’s cues. This will help make sure they aren’t overtired by the time you put them to bed. An overtired baby can have more trouble falling asleep and staying asleep.

What if my newborn won't sleep?

Babies will often change their sleep patterns. You might think you have it all under control and sleep well, but then be up every 2 hours the next night. As your baby grows and develops, their routine will change. Growth spurts, teething and illness can all affect how your baby sleeps.

If you’re having problems getting your baby to sleep or need more support, speak to your health visitor. They can give you advice about getting your baby into a routine. 

Here are some tips:

Please remember that these are only suggestions. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do that will guarantee a sleeping baby.  

  • In the middle of the night it is sometimes easy to forget the obvious reasons why your baby may be waking up. If your baby isn’t sleeping, try doing some basic checks. Are they hungry? Does their nappy need changing? Do they have a bit of nappy rash? Are they too hot or too cold? (see below). Your baby may also just need to be comforted. 
  • Check the temperature of their room and make sure it’s not too hot or too cold. It’s best to keep the temperature around 18 degrees.  This will stop them getting too hot and sweaty to sleep, and also reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). You can feel your baby’s neck to see if they are too hot – if they are sweaty, it’s too hot. 
  • Try putting your baby to bed drowsy but awake. You could try rocking or swaying them until they are just nodding off, then putting them down so they can learn to fall asleep on their own. 
  • Swaddle your baby to keep them cosy. Swaddling them with a thin cotton sheet can help make sure they feel snug and secure. If you do choose to swaddle your baby, make sure to follow the guidelines for safer sleep
  • Try using a sleeping bag. These can prevent your baby’s head from being covered by wriggling under bedding. You can choose different togs for different seasons to help keep your baby at the right temperature. You can also select different sizes depending on the age of your baby. It is important that the sleeping bag fits well around the shoulders so that your baby’s head does not slip down into the bag. Make sure your baby is at the minimum height and weight for each sized bag. Do not use any other coverings, such as a blanket.  
  • Try playing white noise. Newborns are used to being in the womb, with their mum’s heartbeat. Some babies prefer low noise, such as the humming of a fan, soft music or white noise on a phone. Other babies prefer silence. You’ll find out what works best for your baby. If you do use white noise, try to use it sparingly so your baby doesn’t become reliant on it to sleep. Some research as shown that white noise, like that generated by infant sleep machines products can harm a baby’s hearing. If you use white noise, try to place the device you’re using as far away from your baby as possible and never inside their cot. Only use it for a short time and keep it at a low volume. 
  • Try dimming the lights. Some babies can sleep anywhere but it’s a good idea to start them learning that darkness means it’s time for sleeping. 
  • Try to not play with your baby at bed time or during the night as this might over-stimulate them rather than encourage them to sleep. 

Try not to worry too much. Your baby will gradually learn that night-time is for sleeping.

If you think something is wrong

It can be difficult to tell when a baby or toddler is ill, but the main thing is to trust your instincts. If you notice anything about your baby that worries you during the night, don’t hesitate to contact NHS 111 straight away. NHS has more information about how to recognise if your baby is ill

When can I start a bedtime routine?

When your baby is around 3 months old, you might want to start a bedtime routine. As well as helping to prevent sleeping problems later on, it can also give you a routine and give you time to spend with your baby. 

Further help and support

If you’re struggling with your own sleep, you might find our information about coping with sleepless nights helpful. 

The Lullaby Trust has lots of useful information about safer sleep for babies

You may also find it useful to talk to other new parents to share your experiences. Speak to your health visitor about parenting groups that are happening in your area. 

Heraghty JL, Hilliard TN, Henderson AJ, Fleming PJ. (2008) The physiology of sleep in infants. Arch Dis Child. 93:982-995. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1865362

NHS. Helping your baby to sleep. www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/caring-for-a-newborn/helping-your-baby-to-sleep/ (Page last reviewed: 2 August 2018, Next review due: 2 August 2021)

BASIS (Baby Sleep Info Source). (2018) Normal sleep development. www.basisonline.org.uk/normal-sleep-development/ 

Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative. Theory of change. https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2019/04/Baby-Friendly-Initiative-Theory-of-Change.pdf

Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative (2016) Responsive Feeding: supporting close and loving relationships. https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2017/12/Responsive-Feeding-Infosheet-Unicef-UK-Baby-Friendly-Initiative.pdf 

Löhr B, Siegmund R. Ultradian and circadian rhythms of sleep-wake and food-intake behavior during early infancy. Chronobiol Int. 1999 Mar;16(2):129-48. doi: 10.3109/07420529909019081. PMID: 10219486.
  
NHS. Reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/caring-for-a-newborn/reduce-the-risk-of-sudden-infant-death-syndrome/ (Page last reviewed: 17 September 2018, Next review due: 17 September 2021)

The Lullaby Trust. Product guide: a guide to buying safer sleep essentials. https://www.lullabytrust.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/The-Lullaby-Trust-Product-Guide-Web.pdf

Hugh, Sarah C. (2014) Infant Sleep Machines and Hazardous Sound Pressure Levels. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/early/2014/02/25/peds.2013-3617.full.pdf
 

Review dates
Last reviewed: 18 May 2021
Next review: 18 May 2024