Newborn sleeping

Find out everything you need to know about your baby's sleep in the early weeks.

When you find out you’re going to be a parent, one of the first things people might say to you is ‘Goodbye to your lie-ins’. And, we're sorry to say this, they’re probably right. 

But how much sleep will you get with a newborn? Here’s what you need to know about your baby's sleep.

How long do newborn babies sleep for?

Babies sleep a lot. In fact, for the first few weeks, babies sleep for most of the day and night. They’ll sleep for around 16 to 18 hours in every 24 (Elias et al, 1986; Heraghty et al, 2008)

"Babies need so much sleep because they have so much new information to process. They are also growing and developing at a fast rate."

Unfortunately, it might not feel like they’re sleeping for quite that long. That’s because they're likely to doze off in short bursts and there's not yet a pattern to their sleep.

Why does my baby keep waking up at night?

We know it's exhausting for new parents but night waking is completely normal for babies. Especially in the early months.

Most babies actually can’t sleep through the night – especially those younger than 12 weeks old (BASIS, 2018).

For newborn babies, sleep periods are around two to four hours (Heraghty et al, 2008). Babies are lighter sleepers than adults so they’ll wake more easily. They’ve also got tiny tummies so they need to eat often too (Galland et al, 2012; BASIS, 2018).

As they get a bit bigger though, you’ll notice that their sleep time will decrease to around 14 to 15 hours. They’ll also – hurrah – start sleeping for longer stretches at night (BASIS, 2018).

How to get your newborn to tell night from day

At first, babies don’t know that night time is for sleep and daytime is for being awake. Which is hard going on adult bodies that definitely do know that night time means sleep.

Between one and three months, daytime naps will gradually get shorter and night-time sleeps will gradually get longer (Healthy WA, 2018; Hegarthy et al, 2008). So everyone will start getting a little bit of normality back.

Although, just to let you know, night time waking might not disappear completely. It is still normal behaviour after three months and 27% of one year olds still wake in the night (Henderson et al, 2010; BASIS, 2018).

This page was last reviewed in September 2017.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

The Lullaby Trust has lots of useful information and support for parents about safe sleep.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

BASIS (Baby Sleep Info Source). (2018) Normal sleep development. Available from: https://www.basisonline.org.uk/normal-sleep-development/ [Accessed 17th September 2018].

Elias MF, Nicolson NA, Bora C, Johnston J. (1986) Sleep/wake patterns of breast-fed infants in the first two years of life. Pediatrics. 77:322-329. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3951913 [Accessed 17th September 2018].

Firstcry Parenting. (2017) Basics of newborn baby sleep (0 to 3 months). Available from: http://parenting.firstcry.com/articles/basics-of-newborn-baby-sleep-3-months/ [Accessed 17th September 2018].

Healthy WA. (2018) Sleep 0-3 months. Available from: http://healthywa.wa.gov.au/Articles/S_T/Sleep-0-3-months [Accessed 17th September 2018].

Heraghty JL, Hilliard TN, Henderson AJ, Fleming PJ. (2008) The physiology of sleep in infants. Arch Dis Child. 93:982-995. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18653626 [Accessed 17th September 2018].

NHS. (2018) Overview: colic. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/colic/ [Accessed 17th September 2018].

van Sleuwen BE, Engelberts AC, Boere-Boonekamp MM, Kuis W, Schulpen TW, L'Hoir MP. (2007) Swaddling: a systematic review. Pediatrics. Oct;120(4):e1097-1106. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17908730 [Accessed 17th September 2018].

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