Sleep Overview for Infants
During the first year, a baby's sleep pattern gradually shifts from completely unpredictable to somewhat regular. Here is a guide to what you can expect from your baby's first days through her eleventh month. Remember, though, that the number of hours a baby sleeps each day and the time it takes for a schedule to be established are highly variable.
Newborns sleep a lot-typically 16 hours a day-but they don't sleep many hours in a row. They need food every few hours to keep satisfied, so nighttime feedings cannot be avoided. Furthermore, newborns don't care whether it's night or day. It will take some time for your baby to pick up cues, such as darkness, quiet and low activity, to realize that nighttime is for sleeping.
Encourage your baby to sleep at night by minimizing any stimulation during nighttime feedings and diaper changes. Keep the lights low, and don't talk, sing or play. During the daytime, you may want to have your baby sleep in a carriage rather than her crib, so the nighttime association between "crib" and longer periods of "sleep" becomes strong.
3 to 7 Months
By 3 months, most babies can sleep for longer stretches, up to 6 to 8 hours in a row, at least on some nights, and still take as many as 3 or 4 daytime naps. There is a wide range of normal, with some babies sleeping as few as 9 hours a day and others sleeping as many as 18 hours. As long as your baby seems happy and has several active, playful hours during the day, consider her sleep pattern normal.
It is important to be consistent with your baby's nap times and bedtime. Continue to encourage night sleeping by minimizing any talk or play during nighttime feedings and diaper changes. Keep your baby stimulated in the late afternoons and evenings. You may even want to try waking up your baby from her afternoon nap if it goes on longer than three hours or so. But don't keep her from sleeping at all during the day; an overtired baby isn't going to sleep well at night.
It's normal for babies to fuss or cry in their sleep or to wake in the middle of the night and cry before falling back to sleep on their own. Give your baby a few minutes to settle down again. It's best to let her find a way to comfort herself, so she doesn't rely on you every time to get back to sleep.
By 4 months, your baby will probably be able to sleep for 8 hours without needing to be fed. During the next several months, your baby is likely to sleep 1 long stretch at night and still have 2 daytime naps, 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon.
This is a good time to introduce a bedtime routine. The particular elements of the routine are less important than your baby's associating the activities with going to sleep. Any soothing ritual, done consistently, can make up a bedtime routine. Many parents start with a warm bath, then offer a baby one last feeding, followed by soft singing or reading aloud. Try to have your baby actually fall asleep in her crib after the routine, rather than in your arms or lap.
8 To 11 Months
Around 8 months, most babies can sleep as many as 12 hours at night. They still are likely to take as many as 2 naps during the day throughout the first year of life. At this age, "separation anxiety", a normal developmental milestone, may appear for the first time, making it harder for your baby to be away from you at night. Sometimes a transitional object a favorite stuffed toy or blanket can help comfort your baby at bedtime. "Separation anxiety" also can lead to several nighttime awakenings when your baby may cry out for you. Give her a few minutes on her own to see if she'll settle herself; if the crying persists, a short, non-stimulating visit to comfort her may do the trick.
Once a baby reaches 9 months or so, she is capable of resisting sleep when she's tired. She may prefer to practice new skills or may not want to miss anything. Keep up a consistent bedtime routine, and try to avoid exceptions. Enforcing the rules now will help as your child becomes older and even more willful.
Last updated May 29, 2011