Baby Sleep Patterns

Vilma Ruddock
baby sleep patterns

An infant's sleep patterns gradually change as her brain develops, and she adapts to her environment outside the womb. Knowing what is normal and expected will help you manage that newborn phase and adjust your sleep patterns accordingly.

Changing Sleep Patterns

According to a 2002 report in the Journal of Psychology and Psychiatry, you can expect your infant's sleep patterns to change in the following ways during her first year:

  • Total amount of time spent sleeping during 24 hours gets shorter
  • Initial short periods of sleep get longer and consolidate, with fewer awake times in between

  • Sleep gradually shifts to more time spent sleeping at night and less time taking naps during the day
  • Less amount of time spent in active, light, or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and more time in quiet, restful, non-REM (NREM) sleep

As your baby's sleep changes from her newborn pattern towards a more mature pattern you can expect to get a better night's sleep.

Newborn to Six Weeks

Most newborn babies sleep 16 to 18 hours a day, according to Harvard Medical School's Principles and Practice of Pediatric Sleep Medicine. However, the National Sleep Foundation points out that some newborns only sleep ten and a half hours a day, so there is a wide range of what is considered normal.

Sporadic Sleep

Newborn sleep is distributed almost equally throughout the day and night but happens in spurts, according to the Harvard book. Your baby may stay awake for only an hour or two at a time and sleep in cycles of three to four hours. Periods of sleeping begin to lengthen during the first weeks, and by six weeks, the longest period of sleeping occurs at night.

Wakes for Food

Dr. Joanne Baum
Dr. Joanne Baum

According to Dr. Joanne Baum, experienced family therapist and author of, Got the Baby Where's the Manual?: Respectful Parenting From Birth Through the Terrific Twos, a newborn awakens often because his "small tummy has certain needs which do not necessarily take him through the night." He tends to fall asleep soon after feeding and spends more time in light or active sleep rather than deeper or quiet sleep.

Six to Twelve Weeks

During six to twelve weeks, your baby will progress to sleeping five to six hours a night. He'll also stay awake longer during the day as his brain is maturing to a day/night circadian rhythm, according to Principles and Practice of Pediatric Sleep Medicine. According to the Oxford Handbook of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Sleep and Behavior, from three months on, a baby will progressively spend less time in light, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and more in quiet, non-REM (NREM) sleep, as a more mature sleep pattern emerges.

Fewer Feedings

At night, states Dr. Baum, your baby will wake less often for food because her stomach is bigger. Dr. Baum's advice is to take cues from your baby to fulfill her needs for food, diaper changes and comfort. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's at this point that you can start to encourage good daytime habits to help her sleep well at night.

Three to Six Months

According to Principles and Practice of Pediatric Sleep Medicine, your baby may sleep only about 14-15 hours a day between three to six months. She will progressively develop a regular sleep pattern, sleeping more consistently for about eight to nine hours at night, and taking about three naps during the day.

Sleeping Through the Night

Between four to six months, your baby may regularly stay asleep through the night. According to Stanford School of Medicine, about two-thirds of babies will sleep through the night by six months. Some babies may still wake during the night because they need a diaper change or want comfort, or they may wake for food if they go to bed too early.

A baby will gradually skip this nighttime feeding as her growing stomach allows her to go longer between feedings. You can help your baby establish a regular pattern by your daytime and nighttime habits with her, which will help her sleep through the night.

Six to Nine Months

After six months, your baby will sleep 13-14 hours a day, according to the Oxford Handbook of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Sleep and Behavior. She may sleep ten to twelve hours at night, mostly in quiet non-REM sleep, affording you the same.

Fewer Daytime Naps

At this stage she may take only two naps a day, morning and afternoon, staying awake longer between naps though some babies may still need three naps, according to the Oxford Handbook. By six months, her brain has adapted to the normal light/dark sleep pattern, and she is taking cues from you, her environment and the sleep habits you have helped her learn.

Nine to Twelve Months

During nine to twelve months, your baby will sleep about the same amount as she has been. However, you should see a progression towards predictability in sleeping patterns as well as consistency. Another thing you can look forward to at this age is an improved ability to self-soothe. She can often sleep through the night, but may still wake up some nights and this is within normal expectations.

Self-soothing

If she wakes up at night she may return to sleep quickly or she may stay awake because she is more aware and curious about herself and her environment. She may be quite capable of soothing herself back to sleep without your intervention. If she cries, by now you can usually tell if she needs you and if she does, you should attend to her rather than let her "cry it out," states Dr. Baum. She offers ideas for comforting and soothing your baby back to sleep in her book.

Sleep Patterns Vary for Each Child

According to the Oxford Handbook of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Sleep and Behavior, changing sleep patterns are different for each infant. Don't be distressed if your baby doesn't follow the average sleep script.

Some babies start sleeping through the night as early as three months, others as late as six months, while others start even later. Psychology Today notes that it is also normal for your baby to start sleeping through the night only to fall back and start waking at nights for a while. Speak with your doctor if you think your baby has sleep problems.

Baby Sleep Patterns