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Infant Sleep

What are the sleep needs of an infant?

Sleep needs for babies vary depending on their age. While newborns do sleep much of the time, their sleep is in very short segments. As a baby grows, the total amount of sleep gradually decreases, but the length of nighttime sleep increases.

Generally, newborns sleep about eight to nine hours in the daytime and about eight hours at night. Most babies do not begin sleeping through the night (six to eight hours) without waking until about 3 months of age, or until they weigh 12 to 13 pounds. About two-thirds of babies are able to sleep through the night on a regular basis by the age of 6 months.

Babies also have different sleep cycles than adults. Babies spend much less time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (which is dream time sleep) and the cycles are shorter. The following are the usual nighttime and daytime sleep requirements for newborns through age 2 years old:

Age Total Sleep Hours Total Hours of Nighttime Sleep Total Hours of Daytime Sleep
Newborn 16 hours 8 to 9 8
1 month 15.5 hours 8 to 9 7
3 months 15 hours 9 to 10 4 to 5
6 months 14 hours 10 4
9 months 14 hours 11 3
1 year 14 hours 11 3
1.5 years 13.5 hours 11 2.5
2 years 13 hours 11 2

What are the signs of infant sleep problems?

Once a baby begins to regularly sleep through the night, parents are often dismayed when he/she begins to awaken in the night again. This typically happens at about 6 months of age. This is often a normal part of development called separation anxiety, when a baby does not understand that separations are temporary. Babies may also begin to have difficulty going to sleep because of separation anxiety, over-stimulation, or over-tiredness.

Common responses of babies experiencing these night awakenings or difficulty going to sleep may include the following:

  • awakening and crying one or more times in the night after previously sleeping through the night
  • crying when you leave the room
  • refusal to go to sleep without a parent nearby
  • clinging to the parent at separation

Because sleep problems may also occur with illness, consult your baby's physician if your baby begins having difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep, especially if this is a new pattern.

Signs of sleep readiness:

You can help your baby sleep by recognizing signs of sleep readiness, teaching him/her to fall asleep on his own, and comforting him/her with awakenings. Your baby may show signs of being ready for sleep with the following:

  • rubbing eyes
  • yawning
  • looking away
  • fussing

Helping your baby fall asleep:

Babies may not be able to establish their own sleeping and waking patterns. Surprisingly, not all babies know how to put themselves to sleep, or are able to go back to sleep if they are awakened in the night. When it is time for bed, many parents want to rock or breastfeed a baby to help him/her fall asleep. Establishing a routine such as this at bedtime is a good idea. However, be sure that your baby does not fall asleep in your arms. This may become a pattern and your baby may begin to expect to be in your arms in order to fall asleep. When your baby briefly awakens during a sleep cycle, he/she may not be able to go back to sleep on his/her own.

Babies who feel secure are better able to handle separations, especially at night. Cuddling and comforting your baby during the day can help him/her feel more secure. Other ways to help your baby learn to sleep include the following:

  • Allow time for naps each day as needed for the age of the baby.
  • Avoid stimulation and activity close to bedtime.
  • Establish a bedtime routine, such as bath, reading books, and rocking.
  • Play soft music while your baby is getting sleepy.
  • Introduce a transitional object such as a blanket or soft toy that your baby can take to bed.
  • Tuck your baby into bed when he/she is drowsy, but before going to sleep.
  • Comfort and reassure your baby when he/she is afraid.
  • For night awakenings, comfort and reassure your baby by patting and soothing, but avoid taking your baby out of bed.
  • If your baby cries, wait a few minutes, then return and reassure with patting and soothing. Then, say goodnight and leave (repeat as needed).
  • Be consistent with the routine and your responses.

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