Sleep promotes health in people of all ages, especially newborns. In fact, sleep is so crucial to infant development that babies spend the majority of their time engaged in it.
To new parents, the ins and outs of newborn sleep might feel like a mystery. Fortunately, understanding the best newborn sleep schedule can help you rest assured that your baby is receiving much-needed, developmentally appropriate sleep.
How Much Sleep Does a Newborn Baby Need?
Newborns require up to 18 hours of sleep during each 24-hour period. Most newborn babies sleep an average of 16 to 17 hours, however.
Unlike children and adults who generally sleep through the night in large, uninterrupted blocks of time, infants sleep in many short spurts throughout the day and night. Sleeping sporadically allows an infant to receive frequent feedings and the external stimulation needed for brain development.
What is the Best Sleep Schedule for a Newborn Baby?
There is no single, ideal newborn baby sleep schedule. How much a newborn baby sleeps is more important than when they sleep.
An average newborn baby sleeps between 16 and 17 hours over each 24-hour period. This sleep generally occurs in 2 to 4 hour increments throughout the day and night, with the baby waking when they are hungry.
At birth, babies don’t yet know the difference between night and day, so they sleep at any time. Parents shouldn’t expect infants younger than 3 months old to sleep through the night or adhere to a specific sleep schedule. That said, a baby’s sleeping patterns often shift over the first three months of life.
Research suggests that during the first three months, babies begin developing a circadian rhythm that affects sleep. As a result, they start sleeping for longer periods of time at night and shorter periods during the day. On average, one-month old infants sleep 5.7 hours each night and three-month olds sleep 7.4 hours, though this is normally non-continuous sleep.
Parents can help their babies sleep longer at night by exposing them to more light during the day time during the first three months of life. Similarly, dimming the lights at night and maintaining quiet hours may also help babies begin to sleep more at night than during the day.
What's an Example of a Sleep Schedule at 2 Months?
A 2-month-old sleep schedule might look something like this:
8 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
12 p.m. – 3 p.m.
9 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.
Sleep, wake only to eat
12 a.m. – 3:30 a.m.
Sleep, wake only to eat
4 a.m. – 6:30 a.m.
Sleep, wake up
Of course, this schedule is only an example. Different infants might sleep at different times of day or for different lengths of time depending on their parents’ schedules and activities. The same infant might also sleep at different times on different days.
What is the Best Sleep Schedule for a 3-Month Old Baby?
There is no single, specific sleep schedule 3-month-old babies should follow. Instead, like newborns, most 3-month-old infants should sleep multiple times day and night, for a total sleep time of between 16 and 17 hours per 24-hour period. There are some differences between the sleeping patterns of a 3-month-old and a newborn, however.
By 3 months, many babies sleep for somewhat longer periods at night and shorter periods during the day. On average, a three-month-old baby sleeps 7.4 hours at night, compared to a one-month-old baby, who averages 5.7 hours of sleep at night.
Three-month-olds are also more likely to wake up fewer times during the night than their younger counterparts. On average, three-month-olds wake up 2.78 times per night, which is less than one-month-olds, who wake up an average of 4.12 times per night.
What Happens During Baby Sleep?
Sleep is important for a baby because of their rapidly developing brain and body. A variety of research studies demonstrate that infant sleep is crucial to both cognitive and physical growth. In fact, newborn infants learn during sleep. Infant sleep is positively associated with improvements in memory, language, executive function, and physical development.
Perhaps surprisingly, sleep might also provide babies an opportunity to develop motor skills. Researchers think the twitching babies do during sleep is more than movements related to dreaming. Sleep twitches could be a result of the infant brain strengthening its circuitry and learning how to control various body parts.
When Should Babies Start Sleeping Through the Night?
Some babies begin sleeping through the night around six months of age. At six months, about 62% of babies sleep uninterrupted for at least 6 hours. By the time they reach one year, about 71% of babies sleep uninterrupted for at least 6 hours at night.
Infants three months and younger generally don’t sleep throughout the night without waking up to be fed. Parents shouldn’t be concerned if their baby doesn’t sleep throughout the night without waking up, even if the baby is a year old.
How Much Do Premature Babies Sleep?
Preterm infants can spend up to 90% of each day asleep. Although most infants younger than three months old tend to sleep between 16 and 17 hours per day, parents of preterm infants should expect their baby to sleep longer. Preterm infants are also more likely to act drowsy rather than alert when they are not sleeping.
Parents of preterm babies shouldn’t compare their baby’s sleeping habits to those of full-term babies. Instead, they should discuss their specific circumstances with a doctor if they have concerns.