What are the sleep patterns of a newborn?
The average newborn sleeps much of the day and night, waking only for feedings every
few hours. It is often hard for new parents to know how long and how often a newborn
should sleep. Unfortunately, there is no set schedule at first and many newborns have
their days and nights confused. They think they are supposed to be awake at night
and sleep during the day.
Generally, newborns sleep about 8 to 9 hours in the daytime and about 8 hours at night.
Most babies do not begin sleeping through the night (6 to 8 hours) until at least 3
months of age, or until they weigh 12 to 13 pounds. However, this varies considerably
and some babies do not sleep through the night until closer to 1 year. Newborns and
young infants have small stomachs and must wake every few hours to eat. In most cases,
your baby will awaken and be ready to eat about every 3 hours. How often your baby
will eat depends on what he or she is being fed and his or her age. Make sure you
talk with your doctor to determine if it is necessary to wake a baby for feedings.
Watch for changes in your baby's sleep pattern. If your baby has been sleeping consistently,
and suddenly is waking, there may be a problem such as an ear infection. Some sleep
disturbances are simply due to changes in development or because of overstimulation.
What are the different alert phases of a newborn?
Babies also have differences in how alert they are during the time they are awake.
When a newborn awakens at the end of the sleep cycles, there is typically a quiet
alert phase. This is a time when the baby is very still, but awake and taking in the
environment. During the quiet alert time, babies may look or stare at objects, and
respond to sounds and motion. This phase usually progresses to the active alert phase
in which the baby is attentive to sounds and sights, and moves actively. After this
phase is a crying phase. The baby's body moves erratically, and he or she may cry
loudly. Babies can easily be overstimulated during the crying phase. It is usually
best to find a way of calming the baby and the environment. Holding a baby close or
swaddling (wrapping snugly in a blanket) may help calm a crying baby.
It is usually best to feed babies before they reach the crying phase. During the crying
phase, they can be so upset that they may refuse the breast or bottle. In newborns,
crying is a late sign of hunger.
Helping your baby sleep
Babies may not be able to establish their own sleeping and waking patterns, especially
in going to sleep. You can help your baby sleep by recognizing signs of sleep readiness,
teaching him/her to fall asleep on his or her own, and providing the right environment
for comfortable and safe sleep.
What are the signs of sleep readiness?
Your baby may show signs of being ready for sleep when you see the following signs:
How can you help your baby fall asleep?
Not all babies know how to put themselves to sleep. When it is time for bed, many
parents want to rock or breastfeed a baby to sleep. Establishing a routine at bedtime
is a good idea. However, be sure that the baby does not fall asleep while eating or
in your arms. This may become a pattern and the baby may begin to expect to be in
your arms in order to fall asleep. When the baby briefly awakens during a sleep cycle,
he or she may not be able to go back to sleep on his or her own.
Most experts recommend allowing a baby to become sleepy in your arms, then placing
him or her in the bed while still awake. This way the baby learns how to go to sleep
on his own. Playing soft music while your baby is getting sleepy is also a good way
to help establish a bedtime routine.