What are Typical Sleep Patterns for Newborns (0 - 12 weeks old)?

JanelMS, RD, LDN, CBS

Read time: 3 minutes

What should I know about my newborn’s sleep pattern?

  • Newborn sleep is predictably unpredictable

  • Focus on keeping your newborn soothed and calm

  • As your baby gets older, they will sleep for longer periods at night and begin consolidating their naps

The first few months after delivery can be some of the most exhausting. Between recovering from pregnancy and childbirth, and caring for your new baby, sleep may feel hard to come by. Nighttime sleep is fragmented, and daytime sleep may seem too short.

The good news is that with time, your little one will sleep for longer stretches, allowing you a bit more rest and sanity.

How much sleep does a newborn need?

On average, newborns sleep for approximately 14 to 17 hours in a 24-hour period.1 While this seems like a lot, each sleep period tends to be short since babies this age feed quite frequently to meet their needs.2

Newborns also do not have a sleep-wake circadian rhythm yet; meaning their biological clock hasn’t figured out daytime versus nighttime sleep.3 However, one starts to emerge around 10 to 12 weeks, which is when your little one may begin sleeping more at night.2

Instead of circadian rhythm, homeostatic pressure, or sleep pressure, drives newborns to sleep.4 This pressure to sleep builds quickly and is often unpredictable, making newborn sleep occur in both short and long stretches.

Read about: Setting Up a Safe Sleep Environment

Newborn sleep pattern

You can expect your newborn’s sleep pattern to be very irregular for the first 6 to 9 weeks of life. Everything – eating and sleeping – is on demand, so it is perfectly normal if you cannot decipher any predictable patterns yet.

Generally, babies sleep an average of 3.5 hours at a time during the first 3 months of life.4 This means they may have about 4 to 5 short sleep sessions during a 24 hour period.

The good news is that by about 8 to 10 weeks you’ll start to see your little one sleeping a bit more at night and consolidating their daytime naps.5,11 Longer sleep stretches await you and your baby!

Learn more:

Breastfeeding On Demand vs on a Schedule

Formula Feeding On Demand vs on a Schedule

How to Keep Your Baby Awake During Feedings

Natural light exposure is important

Exposure to daytime natural light plays a big role in your baby’s ability to develop their sleep-wake circadian rhythm.6 Both light exposure during the day as well as minimizing light exposure at night will help with this process.

If there is not enough light during the day (due to window shades being closed and/or not going outside with baby), and then there is too much light at night (turning on lights when baby wakes up), your little one may take longer to adjust to an appropriate nighttime sleeping cycle.6

Have questions about your newborn’s sleep or feeding pattern? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Tips for helping your newborn sleep

Try swaddling

Some babies have difficulty sleeping because they startle awake often. Swaddling your newborn may help provide comfort, reduce the startle reflex, reduce crying time, and may even help your little one be more accepting of sleeping on their back in the crib.7

Swaddle your baby with their arms inside for the ultimate calming effect to encourage sleep. Be careful not to swaddle baby’s hips too tightly to help avoid hip dysplasia, and to make sure your little one will not overheat.8

When your baby is able to roll over, which usually happens around 2 months, swaddling should be stopped.8

Read more: Everything You Need to Know about Swaddling your Baby

Use light and dark cues to help regulate your baby’s sleep

Expose your baby to light, especially natural daylight, at the times when you will want them to be awake.6

At night, keep your baby’s environment dark and quiet during the time you want them to be sleeping (even if baby is not sleeping).6,12

Choose a time for “lights off.” While your baby may not sleep at this time right away, turn off the light and begin quiet time. You can work to eventually have baby begin a nighttime sleep cycle at this early hour. Having a regular bedtime, even at 1 month old, may help babies begin to have longer nighttime sleep.9

Read more: How Can I Help My Newborn (0-12 weeks) Sleep Well at Night?

Watch for signs of sleepiness

Newborns require lots of sleep. Watch your baby closely during the day for signs of sleepiness.

Signs of sleepiness:

  • Slowing in movement

  • Gazing

  • Rubbing eyes

  • Fussiness

  • Looking away from you

  • Yawning12,13

Wakefulness should be limited to stretches of only 1 to 3 hours for newborns.13

Start a bedtime routine

As bedtime gets closer, turn down lights, music/television, and other stimulation.12 Creating a quiet, darker atmosphere can help calm your little one. Over time, and especially as initial sleep patterns begin to emerge, this will help your little one prepare for nighttime sleep.

You can create and start using a bedtime routine as early as 4 weeks.10 At this age the time they go to bed might vary slightly from day to day, but you can use the same gentle routine when baby indicates they are sleepy.

When baby wakes at night, try not to turn on bright lights or talk and play with your baby too much. Keeping things quiet and dark will help them learn that nighttime is for sleep, especially as their circadian rhythm begins to develop around 10 weeks.

Read more: How Do I Create a Bedtime Routine for my Infant and Toddler?

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We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am-2pm (ET). Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

What are Sleep Regressions?

How to Manage Your Baby’s Early Morning Wakeups

What are Typical Sleep Patterns for 4- to 12-Month-Old Babies?

How to optimize your sleep, when you can get it

Sharing night-time feedings and duties