The sleep habits of a newborn can be difficult to deal with for new parents. For at least a few weeks after birth, newborns cannot distinguish between daytime and nighttime. They worry only about feedings, which take priority over sleep.
Newborn sleep habits will, of course, interfere with parental sleep. While newborns may sleep as many as 16 hours a day, they usually sleep in increments of three to four hours at a time. For the first few days or weeks of a newborn’s life, (s)he may even wake for a feeding every two hours.
Newborns need such frequent feedings because they have such small stomachs. Many parents actually find it beneficial to set alarms every few hours and offer their baby food preemptively, as this can prevent full-out fussiness and keep the baby calmer.
As babies grow, they will sleep for slightly longer periods of time but for less hours overall. After about two to four months, your baby may be able to sleep for five hours straight. Keep in mind, however, that not all babies will necessarily start sleeping for longer periods.
The Sleep Cycle of a Newborn
Like adults, newborns go through different phases of sleep. These are:
- REM (rapid eye movement) sleep
- light sleep
- deep sleep
- very deep sleep.
Most parents will find it beneficial to keep the baby’s crib in their own bedroom, at least at first. After a few weeks, parents may feel comfortable moving the baby’s crib to the nursery and monitoring the baby with a baby monitor.
Tips for Putting Your Baby in His Crib
Parents should not allow their babies to sleep in their beds with them, as the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) increases in babies who sleep in their parents’ beds. Risk of suffocation or strangulation is also a problem if a baby sleeps in its parents’ bed.
Instead, newborns should always be placed in their cribs when it’s time to sleep. This will help them develop normal sleep habits as they grow. Do not place your baby in the crib when it’s not time for him or her to sleep. Your baby needs to associate the crib with sleeping, and not with other activities.
Similarly, be sure that nothing in your baby’s crib will cause him to choke. Potentially harmful objects in your baby’s crib can include:
All cords and/or ties should also be removed from your baby’s crib.
As you put your infant to bed, always place him on his back to fall asleep. Sleeping on the stomach has been found to increase the chance of SIDS. However, if your baby has any health conditions, talk to your doctor about the best sleeping position for him.
Tips to Stimulate a Newborn’s Sleep
While your baby’s sleep habits may not adjust for some time, you can take some steps to help him learn when to go to sleep:
- Come up with a routine before bedtime that involves soothing activities, such as bathing or softly singing. This will help calm your baby down before sleep time.
- Don’t keep your baby up during the day, as this can make it hard for him or her to get to sleep at all.
- Don’t play or speak loudly with your baby during nighttime feedings and changing.
- Keep lights low during nighttime feedings and changing.
About.com (2008). Newborn Babies and Sleep. Retrieved February 1, 2008, from the About.com Web site.
Kids’ Health (2008). Sleep and Newborns. Retrieved February 1, 2008, from the Kids’ Health Web site.