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Newborn sleep: what to expect

Newborns usually sleep 14-17 hours in every 24 hours. Newborns usually sleep in short bursts of 2-3 hours through the day and night. Newborns sleep in cycles of about 40 minutes. They often need help to settle after each cycle.

Newborn sleep: how much and when

Babies need sleep to grow and develop well. For newborns this is usually 14-17 hours in every 24 hours. But sleep patterns can vary a lot.

Newborns usually sleep in short bursts of 2-3 hours each. Some newborns sleep for up to four hours at a time. Newborns wake frequently to feed because they have tiny tummies. Your newborn might go straight back to sleep after feeding or they might stay awake long enough for a short play.

Some newborns get tired after being awake for 1-1½ hours. Some stay awake and alert longer.

Newborns sleep during the day and night. They don’t know that people sleep at night. The parts of their brains that control day-night sleep cycles haven’t matured yet.

Newborn play might just be a quiet cuddle or some time stretching out and kicking on a blanket. You might find that 10-20 minutes of play is enough for your newborn. You can increase playtime as your baby gets older and stays awake for longer.

Newborn sleep cycles

Newborns have two different kinds of sleep – active sleep and quiet sleep.

During active sleep, newborns move around a lot and make noises. They can be woken easily during active sleep.

During quiet sleep, newborns are still. Their breathing is deep and regular. They’re less likely to wake during quiet sleep.

When newborns sleep, they go through sleep cycles. Each newborn sleep cycle has both active sleep and quiet sleep, and takes about 40 minutes.

At the end of each cycle, newborns wake up for a little while. When they wake, they might grizzle or cry. If your baby wakes at the end of a sleep cycle, you might need to help baby settle for the next sleep cycle.

Read our article on sleep for more information on normal sleep patterns at every age. And our articles on baby sleep and settling in the early months and the patting settling technique have ideas for helping your baby settle.

At night: newborn sleep and waking

In the first few months, newborns usually wake several times a night for feeds.

Between one and three months, your baby might start waking less often and have a longer period of sleep at night.

By the time your baby is around three months old, they might regularly be having a longer sleep at night – for example, around 4-5 hours. But you can expect that your baby will still wake at least once each night.

If your baby is premature or low birth weight, your paediatrician or child and family health nurse might recommend that you let your baby sleep for only a certain amount of time at night before you wake them for a feed.

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