A Guide to Newborn & Baby Sleep

A Guide to Newborn & Baby Sleep

The joy from the arrival of a new baby can be accompanied with overwhelming other emotions, sleep deprivation and exhaustion as new parents learn to adapt to the changes in their lives with their newborn.  In the first few weeks’ newborns feed and sleep. That’s about the full scope of what you can expect.

Their body clock, or circadian rhythm, has not yet developed, so they sleep in short bursts and from my own personal experience they tend to sleep more during the day than at night! That’s obviously not always convenient for other demands on parent’s time and how the rest of the world works.

Newborns have unique sleep cycles

Newborns have unique sleep cycles that can be quite different from adults. During the first few months of life, these cycles are still developing and can be a bit confusing for parents. In general, babies will go through two main types of sleep: active and quiet.

During the active sleep cycle, newborns may flail their arms or legs and make small noises like grunts or sighs. This type of sleep is also known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and usually lasts between 10 to 20 minutes at a time. It’s important for babies to get enough active sleeping time since this stage helps with brain development, physical growth, and learning new skills.

The other type of sleeping cycle is quiet sleep which is also referred to as “deep” or “non-REM” sleeping.

Newborns will sleep between 14 and 18 hours a day

Newborns will sleep between 14 and 18 hours a day in the first few weeks.  It takes approximately 12 weeks for most infant’s body clocks to mature and to adjust to day and night rhythms.

To help your baby adapt to their new environment and to the 24-hour cycle. Generally, for newborns and young infants, a biological approach is recommended, such as exposing your baby to plenty of bright, broad spectrum daylight (with caution shown to exposure to direct sunlight) during the day, including naps.  At night they should be in a quiet space in semi darkness.

Here are a few other suggestions:

  • During the day take your baby out for a walk, weather permitting, and have your baby sleep and spend their day with you while you are doing you normal daily activities.
  • Keep your baby the whole day in broad spectrum indirect natural sunlight. Be careful not to put your baby in direct sunlight as this may burn their skin, even through a window.
  • All their naps should be in your living space in daylight with normal living noise levels, such as the noise of older siblings, cooking, music, the radio etc. This will help your baby adapt to daily living noise.
  • At night time your baby should sleep in a dark or semi dark room in a very calm environment, with reduced stimulation to help their circadian rhythm adapt to night time.

When feeding a newborn at night it’s not always easy to keep your baby in a dark space but at least to ensure there is reduced light, noise and stimulation which helps your baby adapt to night time sleep.

A consistent bedtime routine

A bedtime routine is also a good approach, and you can start establishing one as soon as your baby arrives home.

Having a consistent pattern of events to get a baby ready for bed at night creates a good habit for the family overall.  In the early weeks it only needs to take a few minutes and can consist or changing the baby, washing or bathing, a feed, winding and a cuddle in a quiet semi dark and calm space. In my experience, older siblings enjoy being involved with this process as well and that can help them make a transition into an ‘approaching bedtime’ mode. As the baby gets older you can introduce a song or a lullaby as well.

These are just a few thoughts on early expectations on newborn babies sleep patterns and behaviours. Obviously, no two babies are exactly the same and therefore some experiences will vary, but overall the main behaviours tend to be fairly predictable and adopting the approaches I suggest should help you and your family adjust to a changed way of life.