How Much Sleep Does a Baby Need?
Sleep is probably the one issue that parents-to-be dread the most in advance and they get the most stressed about when their baby actually arrives. The sheer scale of the task ahead of looking after your helpless infant can seem overwhelming. Along with the immense joy a new baby brings, there are also concerns and frustrations, particularly with a first child. The question of just how much sleep a baby requires, when they get it and how is an important one for all new parents.
Why do babies need to sleep?
Like adults, babies need their sleep to rest and recharge their batteries, but they also need valuable nap-time to give their minds time to make sense of their new surroundings.
Whilst their day might not seem very busy or active - after all, babies don't seem to be doing very much - they are receptive and alert and absorbing ever increasing amounts of information and stimulation. As a result their brains need plenty of time to process and consolidate everything they've taken in during their time awake, without any distractions. Sleep is also when they renew chemicals in the body and brain, getting their system ready for another day.
How much sleep do babies need at different ages?
Babies instinctively know what's best for them and are programmed to sleep a lot in the early months. Every baby is different and all the times given can vary between children, but they are a useful indicator to guide you.
You can expect a healthy, full-term newborn to sleep for at least 16 hours over a 24-hour period. This amounts to around seven and a half hours during the day across three naps and around eight and a half hours at night, although this will be broken when your baby wakes to feed. A premature baby will need more, whilst one with colic will sleep less.
A baby's stomach is tiny and can only hold small amounts of milk, hence the need to feed regularly. A breast fed baby will wake every two to three hours at a time as breast milk is easy to digest, leaving your infant feeling hungry sooner.
At this early age your baby has no sense of time and no concept of night and day. To help them start to learn to differentiate you can make night time feeds dark and quiet and feeding during the day active and light. That way they will learn to associate being awake with daytime and sleep with night, an important skill as they grow older.
At one month your baby will need slightly less sleep of around 15 hours and 15 minutes with three daytime naps accounting for six hours 45 minutes and the rest, eight and a half hours, coming in the evening.
Around six to eight weeks you can begin to set a routine for your baby's bedtime. Babies are more relaxed if they know what's coming next and really benefit from the certainty of the same things happening at the same time of day, every day. A calm routine is more likely to lead to a successful bedtime by helping your baby learn to expect and prepare for sleep.
By three months your infant should be getting around 15 hours of sleep spread across three-day naps adding up to five hours sleep and ten hours at night.
At the six-month milestone the hours of sleep required drops to around 14 hours with two naps totalling three hours and night time sleep of eleven hours. Some lucky parents may find that their baby starts to sleep through the night about now or is only waking up once. The move onto solid foods often helps with this.
At nine months your baby is likely to be crawling and much more active, making them more tired and in need of sleep for physical as well as mental recovery. You can expect them to have a couple of daytime naps adding up to two hours and 45 minutes and night time sleep of 11 hours and 15 minutes giving a total of 14 hours.
By the time of their first birthday babies need 13 hours and 45 minutes of sleep with two naps totalling two hours and 15 minutes and an evening sleep of 11 hours and 30 minutes.
A big fear for new parents is that if their baby is sleeping during the day, they won't sleep well at night. Remember that your baby does need to sleep and trying to keep them awake throughout the day will only lead to an overtired and extremely irritable baby.
The key is to try to time the naps so they are evenly spread out, take place at the best times of the day and aren't too long. It's important, for example, to try to not let your baby sleep late in the afternoon if you are aiming for bedtime at seven or seven thirty. Make the morning naps the longer ones and the afternoon nap shorter.
Getting your baby to nap during the day can be tricky, particularly if you need to fit their routine around the needs of another child. Ideally you should aim for them to nap in the same place they sleep at night, as this will help them to associate sleep time with a particular place.
Learn to identify your baby's sleep cues so you don't miss the signals that they are ready to nap. Typical signs to look out for include crying, fussing, rubbing eyes and loss of interest in their surroundings.
A dark, calm environment will encourage daytime sleep. Reading a book or singing a lullaby can help your baby recognise that it's time for a nap. When your baby is older, changing them into their pyjamas or sleeping bag is another good way of encouraging them to recognise that nap time is approaching and don't forget their favourite cuddly toy.
Of course, it can be difficult to run your life strictly around your baby's naps and there will be times when you need to be out and about. If you can, aim for car journeys or walks in the pram to happen when your baby would normally sleep. Try not to rely on them as methods to get them to sleep though, as your baby can soon become dependent on them and lose their ability to fall asleep by themselves in their cot at home.
Remember your baby isn't the only one who needs their sleep. Although it's tempting to use the time to do household chores or catch up on a book or missed telly programmes, mums should, if they can, try to sleep during the day when their baby has a nap. After a disrupted night it's vital to recharge your own batteries.
As your baby develops into a toddler they will continue to need a daytime nap, which normally takes place after their lunch. Infants drop this sleep at different times, but you can expect them to have it until anywhere between two and a half and three and a half years old.
If you do have any questions or concerns about your baby's sleep you can speak to your health visitor who will have plenty of tips and advice. Other parents are always a wealth of information and support, so seek their help too and share your own experiences and good sleeping tips to help others.