Newborn sleep: Your complete guide

Newborn babies sleep at all hours of the day and night. Your baby's sleep patterns may be unpredictable for a while, but there are some things you can do to encourage good sleep habits.

A person kissing the forehead of a sleeping baby
Photo credit: Veer

As the parent of a newborn, you've probably never been more exhausted than you are right now. After a few weeks of round-the-clock feedings, you might feel anxious to establish a sleep routine so you can get a little rest.

The first few weeks with a newborn are overwhelming. However, trying to establish a sleep schedule is fruitless at this stage. When it comes to sleep, newborns are all over the map. They sleep for short stretches of time (usually just a few hours), and wake frequently to eat because their stomachs are so small.

Advertisement | page continues below

Toward the end of the first month, you might notice patterns emerging as a clue to your baby's future sleep habits. But for now, all you can do is meet your baby's needs, lean on friends and family for support, and grab every minute of rest that presents itself.

(And for more advice from a pediatric sleep doctor about coping with newborn sleep, as well as what you can do to help baby sleep better throughout the first year, check out Baby Sleep 101Opens a new window from BabyCenter Courses.)

How much should a newborn sleep?

Because newborn sleep is unpredictable and varies from baby to baby, it's hard to say how much you can expect your new baby to sleep each day. The average newborn sleeps about 16 to 20 hours a day, with eight to nine hours of sleep happening at night and the rest happening during the day.

It's not uncommon for a newborn's sleep pattern to change from day to day. Your baby may sleep substantially less than usual one day and then "catch up" by sleeping more the following day. It's okay to let your newborn sleep as much as they want, as long as they wake up to eat every two to three hours, are gaining weight adequately, and are wetting six to eight diapers a day.

You'll probably find that your newborn sleeps for a large part of the day, waking primarily to eat and then falling back to sleep soon after. These "wake windows" are as short as 30 minutes for a newborn, but the pattern will change as your baby grows and spends more time awake and alert.

Should I put my newborn baby on a sleep schedule?

No. It's normal for your newborn baby to have an irregular sleep pattern. Part of that comes from the need to eat frequently and sleep a lot. Most experts recommend following your baby's cues during the first weeks of their life, including feeding them on demand.

Still, you can start to follow a schedule of sorts over this first month by establishing some consistent routines, like eating, "playing," and then sleeping. As your baby starts to sort out their sleep rhythms, having these routines in place and introducing good sleep habits can help them more easily settle into a schedule as they get older.

Advertisement | page continues below

Getting outside into daylight, especially in the morning, will also help your newborn learn to tell day from night and start to get on a more predictable schedule.

It's normal for babies to have irregular sleep patterns from birth to 3 months. Newborns haven't yet developed their circadian rhythm, the internal 24-hour clock that signals to your body when it's time to be awake and when it's time to sleep.

Unpredictable sleep patterns are also linked to your newborn's nutritional needs. They need to eat every two to three hours in the first month and every three to four hours in the second month. As they get older, they won't need to eat as frequently. Most babies will be able to go through the night without a feeding anywhere from 3 to 6 months old.

Fortunately, unpredictable newborn patterns don't last long – though it may seem like an eternity when you're sleep deprived. Some babies consistently sleep for longer stretches by 3 or 4 months, and many will sleep through the night by 6 months. Others won't until they're older.

What a newborn sleep schedule may look like

As a newborn, your baby will sleep for one to four hours at a time around the clock. (A stretch of 4 hours of sleep is unusual, however.) Here's what a day's sleep may look like:

Advertisement | page continues below
  • 6 a.m.: Wake, change diaper, and eat
  • 7:30 a.m.: Morning nap
  • 9 a.m.: Wake, change diaper, and eat
  • 10 a.m.: Second morning nap
  • 12 p.m.: Wake, change diaper, and eat
  • 1 p.m.: Afternoon nap
  • 3 p.m.: Wake, change diaper, and eat
  • 4 p.m.: Second afternoon nap
  • 6 p.m.: Wake, change diaper, and eat
  • 6:30 p.m.: Bedtime
  • 9 p.m.: Wake, change diaper, and eat
  • 9:30 p.m.: Back to sleep
  • 12 a.m. Wake, change diaper, and eat
  • 12:30 a.m. Back to sleep
  • 2 a.m.: Wake, change diaper, and eat
  • 2:30 a.m.: Back to sleep
  • 4:30 a.m.: Wake, change diaper, and eat
  • 5 a.m.: Back to sleep

How to encourage healthy newborn sleep

As your baby gets older, they'll eventually settle into more of a pattern. You can help encourage that routine by introducing healthy sleep habits early, including:

Teach your baby the difference between day and night. Once your baby is about 2 weeks old, you can start teaching them to distinguish night from day. When they're awake during the day, keep the house bright, don't worry about minimizing regular daytime noises, and interact and play with them as much as you can. At night, keep the lights and noise level low and any interactions with your baby boring and quiet.

Learn your baby's tired signals. If you spot signs of sleepiness in your baby, put them down as soon as possible. These clues include rubbing their eyes, pulling on their ears, and being fussier than normal. If your baby becomes overtired, it can be harder for them to settle down and sleep.

Start a bedtime routine for your baby. It might be too soon to create a schedule, but it's never too early to start a bedtime routine. It can include things as simple as a calming bath, dressing for bed, feeding your baby, and singing or playing a lullaby or calming music. Don't feel like you need to do anything elaborate at this point, though.

Advertisement | page continues below

Put your baby to bed when they're sleepy but awake. As your baby begins their second month of life, you can try giving them a chance to fall asleep on their own by putting them in their bassinet or crib when they're sleepy but still awake. This doesn't work for all young babies, though, so don't be concerned if your baby can't fall asleep without your holding, rocking, or nursing them.

Learn more:

Follow your baby's amazing development

BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

American Academy of Pediatrics. 2018. Getting Your Baby to Sleep. a new window [Accessed August 2022]

American Academy of Pediatrics. 2013. Sleeping Through the Night. a new window [Accessed August 2022]

Paruthi S, et al. 2016. Recommended amount of sleep for pediatric populations: A consensus statement by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine 12(6): 785-786. a new window [Accessed August 2022]

American Thoracic Society. 2018. Sleep in Infants. a new window [Accessed August 2022]

Sleep Foundation. 2022. How Your Baby's Sleep Cycle Differs From Your Own. a new window [Accessed August 2022]

American Academy of Pediatrics. 2022. How Often and How Much Should Your Baby Eat? a new window [Accessed August 2022]

Craig Canpari. 2021. Do Wake Windows Help Babies and Kids Nap Better? a new window [Accessed August 2022]

Mary Sauer

Mary Sauer is a freelance parenting and health writer living in Kansas City. She is a mom of four and loves to hike with her kids, read, and knit. Cooking a complicated meal her kids probably won't eat is one of her favorite pastimes.