The Sleep Lowdown
Katie Hilton – Bsc Registered Midwife, Msc Registered Health Visitor
We all know that babies sleep a lot! But when your baby sleeps and for how long this lasts can vary not just from one baby to another, but also from week to week dependent on their age. The fabulous news is of course that if you are struggling at the moment, a much happier sleeping pattern could be just around the corner.
So how often and how long can you expect your little one to sleep, we have the answers below…
You’ve waited a long 9 months to meet your newborn and finally he’s here and all he seems to do is sleep! Newborn babies really do live up to the saying “sleeping like a baby”. When your baby is first born he will experience a period of wakefulness for the first few hours after birth, followed by a long period of intermittent sleep. You will however still need to wake your baby to feed roughly every 3-4 hours. The gestational age of your baby very much determines sleep patterns at this age, so if he was born prematurely use your EDD to calculate the true age of your baby. If your baby was born early you will probably find he will sleep through most of the days until his due date, when he may suddenly become more alert. At this age your baby is most likely to fall asleep soon after or sometimes during a feed. If you watch your newborn sleeping you will see eyes flicking, flutter sucking or wriggling of fingers and toes. This is when your baby is in REM or “dream sleep”. Unlike adults and older babies, newborn babies go directly into REM sleep; which will continue until they are roughly 3 months old. Your newborn baby can sleep anywhere from 11 to 20 hours each day and may make sudden twitchy movements whist sleeping; this is due to a normal reflex that all babies have called the startle or Moro reflex. It often occurs for no reason, although frequently it is the result of a loud noise. Newborn babies have very brief periods of alertness, this will however gradually lengthen. During the early weeks your baby shouldn’t go for longer than 6 hours between a feed during the night and 3 hours during the daytime, it will be important to wake him up for feeds if he has slept this long. During these early weeks there won’t be any type of a routine and there is little point trying to introduce one at this time. By the time your baby is 2 weeks old feeding will be fully established and hunger is most likely to drive your baby’s sleep-wake cycles, you will also start to notice a particular time of day when your baby is most alert, for most babies this is during the evening time.
Gradually your baby will start to have longer periods of wakefulness and he is now alert for a few hours each day. Don’t expect your baby to fully sleep through the night just yet; you will however find your baby is sleeping for longer periods at night. Some believe the earliest your baby will sleep through the night is 6 weeks, however your baby’s second growth spurt will be occurring around this age prompting an initial period of more night wakening’s and night feeding; after this growth spurt you may find your baby will sleep a little longer. Most 6-week-old babies will wake on average 3-4 times each night. At this age your baby will pretty much fall asleep anywhere including in the car, their pram, in a restaurant or at a friends house. Take advantage of this ability, as it will change significantly when he reaches 4 months of age, when he will start to need a quiet, darker environment to fall asleep. By the time your baby is 3 months old you will notice your baby starts to have 3-4 similar times each day when he will crash out, if you allow this to happen this should eventually turn into consistent nap times throughout each day. By roughly 4 months of age your baby should be reliably sleeping 8-10 hours during the night, this can occasionally be broken by a feed and he will likely be taking 3 daytime naps, a long one in the morning and afternoon and a shorter nap during the late afternoon.