You have probably heard the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child," which holds a lot of truth because, let's face it, raising tiny humans is hard work!
It can be incredibly taxing during the newborn stage when you often have to function in a state of exhaustion and sleep deprivation because your baby's sleep habits are all over the place.
It's normal for your newborn to wake frequently during the night to feed (approximately 8-12 times every 24 hours). But as they age, they will gradually transition to longer, more consolidated bouts of sleep.
In the meantime, let's talk about why your newborn baby might not be sleeping as much as they should and some of the best ways to help them get settled for the night!
It is entirely normal for your newborn's sleep patterns to vary. While some babies will go to sleep right after a feed, others naturally sleep less and stay awake and alert for longer periods.
On average, a newborn's sleeping patterns follow short 2-3 hour bursts, but they may sleep up for 4 hours at a time. A newborn baby wakes up often because they have a tiny tummy and need to be fed frequently.
If your newborn baby is sleeping less than expected, it is likely due to one of the following reasons...
1. Your baby hasn't developed a sense of day & night
Baby sleep patterns are different than ours. Newborn babies sleep throughout the day and night because the parts of their brains that control 24-hour sleep cycles haven't matured yet.
Conversely, adults have an internal clock controlled by circadian rhythms (physiological changes following a 24-hour cycle) that help us feel alert during the day and tired at night.
One of the hormones that help regulate circadian rhythms is called melatonin. Research suggests that babies often don't naturally start producing surges of nighttime melatonin until 9-15 weeks, and this means newborns have to deal with the challenge of generating their circadian rhythms.
To encourage the development of circadian rhythms in babies, you can follow these tips:
Expose newborns to natural lighting patterns.
Avoid dark rooms during daytime naps.
Include your baby in your daytime routine.
Reduce social stimulation at night.
Pay attention to the timing of your milk production (Feed your baby milk in the morning that was expressed in the morning, and do evening and nighttime feeds with milk that was originally produced at night).
Hunger is one of the most common reasons babies wake up at night. By 1-3 months, this frequency will likely decrease; after three months, babies typically sleep for longer 4-5 hour stretches. However, they will likely still wake up for at least one feed each night.
If your newborn naturally sleeps for longer stretches, you may have to wake them at night to ensure they are getting enough calories and nutrients.
If your baby wakes up frequently during the night, they are likely hungry and ready to feed again. If you suspect that this is the case with your little one, consider the following tips:
Cluster feeding: Feedings that are bunched together in the evening.
Dream feeding: Give your baby a big meal immediately before you attempt to fall asleep yourself.
Formula vs. breastfed babies: Breastfed babies typically feed every 2–3 hours, and bottle-fed babies feed every 3–4 hours. This is because breast milk is digested more easily by babies.
Keep babies awake: Try to keep your baby awake during daytime feedings.
3. Your baby is overstimulated
If your baby is overstimulated, it can disrupt their sleep. This can occur when they are exposed to more external or internal stimuli than they are used to. External stimuli can include crowds, loud noises, brightly lit spaces, or colourful places. In contrast, internal stimuli can include things like teething or being overtired from a missed nap.
Here are signs that your baby is overstimulated:
Cranky or tired
Appears upset by turning their head away
Moves in a jerky way
Physical movements such as clenching their fists, waving their arms, or kicking their legs
4. Your baby wants your attention
Babies often feel more safe and secure in their parents' arms, especially while they sleep. Although, for the sake of both your baby's health and your health, it is recommended that you try to avoid letting your baby rely on being held to fall asleep.
10 Tips for How to Get Your Newborn to Sleep at Night
Now that you have some insight into why your baby isn't sleeping, let's talk about how to get newborn to sleep at night!
1. Stick to a consistent & calm bedtime routine
A baby's bedtime routine that is consistent and includes some of the following activities can help them wind down for a good night's sleep.
Take a bath
Changing into clean pajamas and a fresh diaper
Read a book
Sing a lullaby
Offer nighttime feedings
Dim the lights
2. Put your baby to sleep when they're drowsy
As time passes, you should start to notice sleep cues that indicate your baby is nearly ready for bed or a nap. You can help your baby learn to fall asleep independently by putting them to bed once they get drowsy.
Some common sleep cues are:
Pulling at ears
Difficulty focusing or staring into space
Jerky arm or leg movements
Sucking on fingers
3. Create a soothing sleep environment
An optimal sleep space involves keeping the room dark, cool, and quiet. This can be achieved using blackout shades and a white noise machine to help soothe your baby and encourage sleep.
4. Keep nighttime care relaxed
Teaching your baby the difference between nighttime and daytime through their routine can help them associate sleep with nighttime.
During the day, you can open the curtains to bring in light, play games, and not worry too much about noise, even during daytime sleep. Alternatively, when prepping for nighttime sleep, create a restful space that doesn't involve too much stimulation.
We recommend keeping the lights down low, talking quietly, avoiding playtime and unnecessary diaper or clothes changes, and putting them down as soon as they are drowsy.
5. Avoid letting your baby get overtired
Putting your baby down for a nap as soon as they get tired is not always realistic, but when a baby gets overtired or starts fighting sleep, it can disrupt their sleep cycle and trigger a stress response.
This happens because an overtired baby experiences stress and overstimulation, which causes cortisol levels to rise in the body. This makes it difficult for them to stay asleep or fall asleep at all.
6. Swaddle your baby
Swaddling your baby gives them the familiar and comfortable feeling of being in the womb. Being wrapped up also keeps them from thrashing around or making any jerking movements that could startle them awake.
If you do choose to swaddle your baby, make sure to follow safety guidelines such as:
Avoid swaddling their chest tightly, as this can restrict breathing
Do not cover the baby's head when swaddling them, as this can lead to overheating
Do not swaddle your baby if they have a fever, as this can lead to overheating
Do not constrict the hips or prevent babies from bending their knees
Make sure that your baby lays on their back while being swaddled
Please be aware that due to the conditions that limit arousability, there is an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in infants new to swaddling. For this reason, you should not swaddle a baby capable of turning themselves over, which usually happens around the 4-month mark.
7. Offer your baby a pacifier
Using a pacifier can help your baby sleep, andresearchsuggests it can also reduce the risk of SIDS.
Although, getting up in the middle of the night because your child misplaced their pacifier is no fun. If your little one is notorious for losing theirs, try placing a couple of pacifiers in one corner of the baby's crib. Over time, this will teach them to find it themselves so that if one goes missing, they know where the replacements are.
Suppose you are in the beginning stages of breastfeeding. In that case, it may be beneficial to hold off on introducing a pacifier until your baby is accustomed to breastfeeding and has a good latch.
8. Play with your baby during the day
Playing with your little one during the day can help them associate daytime with playtime and nighttime with sleep. This will not completely stop them from having night wakings or napping during the day, especially during the first few months, but it will help form a habit that will be especially beneficial as they move past the newborn stage!
9. Follow your baby's lead
Following your newborn's sleep patterns and learning their natural sleep preference can make nighttime easier, especially if you are able to sleep while they sleep. One way to track whether they are a night owl or an early bird is by keeping a sleep journal.
10. Stay patient and consistent
The first few weeks of having a baby can be incredibly taxing because newborn sleep is characteristically irregular. During this time, trial and error are expected, and regardless of how much your baby sleeps, remember that you are doing a great job as a parent!
The best thing you can do during this time is to implement good sleep habits that will no doubt pay off as your baby grows up and sleep becomes more consistent.
How Long Will My Newborn Sleep?
Newborn babies are not meant to sleep throughout the entire night, but they are supposed to get a lot of sleep to help their bodies grow and develop. This means that in a 24-hour period, newborn babies will sleep around 14-17 hours, which is usually split pretty evenly between daytime and nighttime. Although, sleep time does vary a lot between babies.
How to Help Your Baby Settle
Babies are active sleepers, which means they wake and drift off back to sleep frequently, often without the need for intervention or attention. Usually, after a couple of minutes, they will settle themselves back down, but if this doesn't happen, here's what you can do to get them back asleep!
Gently rock them in your arms and then transfer them back to their crib once they are drowsy
Sooth them with gentle touch by patting, rocking, or stroking them until drowsy
Baby Sleep Safety
A task force of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development offers the following recommendations for a safe sleep environment:
Place your baby on their back
Use a firm, tight-fitting mattress in their crib
Remove any soft products such as pillows, toys, quilts, etc...
Parents should avoid the use of substances, such as drugs or alcohol
Avoid overheating by not over-bundling your baby and keeping the room temperature comfortable
How to Cope With Your Own Sleep Being Disturbed
Most parents forget that their sleep should also be a priority. One, because your mental state and alertness can affect your child's health and well-being, but also because you are a hardworking parent who deserves rest and relaxation!
Follow these tips to ensure you get enough sleep through the night.
Share responsibilities with your partner
Sleep when your baby sleeps
Ask friends and family for support when you need it
Knowing what to expect from a baby's sleep schedule can help you prepare for what will come. But most importantly, reminding yourself that your baby's inability to sleep through the night is only temporary can help get you through it.
During this trying time, as a parent, try to prioritize your own sleep when possible and ask for help when you need it. Remember to follow safe baby sleep practices and implement good slumber habits when it comes to your little one. We hope our tips help your baby become a good sleeper!
Please be aware that this information is based on general trends in babies, and it is not medical advice. Your doctor should be your first source of information and advice when considering any changes to your child’s formula and when choosing your child’s formula. Always consult your pediatrician before making any decisions about your child’s diet or if you notice any changes in your child.
Breastfeeding is the best nutrition for your baby because breast milk provides your child with all the essential nutrients they need for growth and development. Please consult your pediatrician if your child requires supplemental feeding.
Agustina Fernandez is a medical doctor, who graduated from Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, in Argentina. She has experience working in an emergency room of a public hospital, where she helped many patients with urgent diseases. However, her true passion are children and she is planning on doing her specialization degree in Pediatrics soon. In the past year, she has become interested in researching about infant nutrition, including breastfeeding, infant formula and food in the first years of little ones' lives.
Dr. Hsu received his medical degree from Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, and holds a Master’s of Science degree from both Harvard University and Tufts University.
Dr. Hsu did research in MRI neuroimaging research of fetal brains at Boston Children’s Hospital, an affiliated hospital of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Hsu is currently a full-time medical writer and consultant.
Outside of the medical profession, Dr. Hsu loves to write, learn new languages, and travel