How Long Should My Baby Sleep?

Newborn and baby sleep patterns are different from those in older children and adults. Understanding baby sleep patterns will help you get through those long, sleepless nights.

Awake baby on parent shoulder

Baby sleep patterns change often during the first year of life.

For newborns, sleep is about equally divided between rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep and follows these stages:

Stage 1: Drowsiness, in which the baby starts to fall asleep.

Stage 2: REM sleep (also referred to as active sleep), in which the baby may twitch or jerk her arms or legs, and her eyes move under her closed eyelids. Breathing is often irregular and may stop for 5 to 10 seconds—a condition called normal periodic breathing of infancy—then start again with a burst of rapid breathing at the rate of 50 to 60 breaths a minute for 10 to 15 seconds, followed by regular breathing until the cycle repeats itself. The baby’s skin color does not change with the pauses in breathing and there is no cause for concern (in contrast with apnea). Babies generally outgrow periodic breathing by about the middle of the first year.

Stage 3: Light sleep, in which breathing becomes more regular and sleep becomes less active.

Stages 4 and 5: Deep non-REM sleep (also referred to as quiet sleep). Twitching and other movements cease, and the baby falls into sleep that becomes progressively deeper. During these stages, the baby may be more difficult to awake.

Babies sleep a total of 16 to 17 hours per day, but only two to four hours at a time. Because the baby sleep cycle is irregular and unpredictable, it can seem like an eternity, but happily, this phase only lasts the first 6-8 weeks.  By 4-6 months, baby sleep will last 8-12 hours because the baby sleep cycle changes, with a longer deep non-REM sleep . At this point, it is never too early to begin to establish baby sleep routines that will carry into the toddler years.

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