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The Best Sleep Schedule for a Newborn

Newborn sleep, or lack of it, is a very hot topic amongst parents of newborns. There is an abundance of information on newborn and baby sleep in books and on the internet, which presents a challenge for sleep-deprived parents of newborns! I will share all the information you need and how it relates to setting up the best sleep schedule for your newborn. It’s important to understand that a newborn sleep schedule is more of a rhythm than an actual schedule with set times for sleep.

Why Does Your Baby Need So Much Sleep?

During the first 3 months of life, your baby needs 14-17 hours in a 24-hour period. Their little bodies need a lot of time for:

  • Muscle growth
  • Tissue repair
  • Protein synthesis
  • Growth hormones to release
  • Processing information from the day and turning it into long-term memories

Sleep also aids in their ability to learn and develop social and motor skills. It’s during sleep that their bodies get very busy restoring these functions. Sometimes, it may seem like your newborn only wakes to eat and then falls asleep before you know it. Other times, your sweet little newborn may be awake for hours gazing in wonder and then getting overtired and cranky. This is why it’s important to understand how newborn sleep works.

Sleep Cycles of Newborns and Understanding Newborn Sleep Patterns

Newborns and young infants only have two sleep cycles. Each of these cycles is approximately 40 minutes long.

First, they go through active sleep, which is defined by rapid eye movement (REM). Your baby may twitch their arms and legs. They may seem restless. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell that they are actually asleep. Your newborn may cry out loudly and abruptly during this cycle and then be quiet. You may also see their eyes moving under their closed eyelids. During this sleep cycle, they can easily be woken up by noises around them.

Next, a newborn goes through a quiet sleep cycle. This is a deeper sleep, and it’s harder to wake the baby. As the name indicates, newborns are quiet and still during this cycle. There is no eye movement, and they don’t twitch or move during quiet sleep.

What do Newborn Sleep Cycles have to do with a Newborn Sleep Schedule?

It’s helpful to understand the characteristics of the 2 newborn sleep stages and their length so you can determine what action to take if your baby suddenly cries out. If you want to help your newborn be an independent sleeper, it’s important to know what to expect. Newborns often make grunting sounds during active sleep. If you don’t understand the characteristics of active sleep, you may be tempted to pick your baby up when they don’t really need help. Babies wake briefly when transitioning between cycles. They may cry out or wiggle around for a few minutes. This is another time I’d recommend waiting for a few minutes to see if they can make the transition independently. The more practice your newborn can have making these transitions independently, the more likely you’ll be to get them on a sleep schedule.

How Long Will My Newborn Sleep?

Newborn sleep is very erratic! Since they have day-night confusion, underdeveloped circadian rhythms, low levels of melatonin and their tummies are small, we need to expect their sleep to vary. Sometimes, your baby may only sleep for 30-40 minutes, waking all the way up between sleep cycles. Other times, your sweet little one may sleep the day away. But, BEWARE! Too much daytime sleep will take away nighttime sleep. Read more on my post: The 5 Problems with Newborn Sleep You May Not Be Aware of

Tips for Establishing a Sleep Schedule

Now that you know more about newborn sleep, I will dive in with some great tips for getting your newborn off to a great start! If you follow these tips, your baby should be on the right path to sleeping independently, which is the goal at this point.

Practice Laying Your Newborn Down While They are Happy and Fully Awake

Lay your baby in their crib, fully awake, while straightening up their room or doing other chores nearby. If they accept it for a minute, that’s fantastic! When they cry, pick them up and comfort them. If you try this several times and they cry each time, then wait a week or two and try again. The more practice they can have being happy in their crib, the more they will get used to the idea of being there. This is the only time I would use a mobile over the crib. It may help to distract them and keep them content for a few minutes. Once they are okay with this, then at naptime, start laying them in the crib drowsy but awake.

Swaddle Your Baby When They Are Ready to Sleep

There is a huge difference between the womb environment and the outside world. Newborns have a startle reflex that makes them feel like they are falling. It doesn’t sound very secure and comforting to me. Swaddling keeps them from startling, and they feel comfy and secure. Many parents don’t think their baby enjoys being swaddled. The truth is, the baby doesn’t enjoy the process of being swaddled. If your baby cries and wiggles their arms while you’re trying to swaddle them, give them a pacifier or make shushing noises to distract them. As soon as they are swaddled, pick them up and hold them snuggly and close to your body. They will usually relax and enjoy it. There are very few babies that actually do not like being swaddled.

Use White Noise

Turn on white noise when it’s time for your baby to sleep. White noise is great for blocking out other noise in or outside the house. If you have older kiddos or pets, then white noise keeps you from having to keep everyone quiet. Make sure to use continuous white noise. If you use nature sounds that vary in pitch it can wake your baby up.

Put Your Baby to Bed Around the Same Time Each Night

It’s unreasonable to expect your newborn to go to bed at 7 or 8:00 pm. That will happen in a few months. Due to them needing to eat frequently, it’s best to keep them up until sometime between 9 and 11:00 pm. Your newborn will likely go through the witching hour, a period of purple crying or colic, and they won’t sleep during that time anyway. Please check out my blog post, Ways to Soothe a Crying Baby, for help if you are going through a rough time. During the early evening hours, it’s best to have them take naps as needed and put them to bed late. I’d also encourage parents to go to bed right after their newborn goes to bed. The newborn will have a longer stretch, typically during the first part of the night.

Create a Bedtime Routine With Your Newborn

This may sound silly to some people, but creating a consistent bedtime routine for your baby will help in the coming months. Your newborn will catch on to it and know what’s coming next. This gets them used to the order of things and lets them know that bedtime will be next. They will except bedtime better if they can go through a winding down, relaxing routine. The bedtime routine shouldn’t be more than 10-15 minutes for a newborn. It should be in the same order each night. If it is bath night, give them a bath first. I don’t really count a bath as part of the routine. A newborn does not need a bath each night. They don’t get dirty, and they are very susceptible to dry skin. Feed them before entering their bedroom to avoid a sleep-to-feed association habit.

Keep It Simple Evening Routine
  • Change diaper and put pajamas on
  • Wash face, hands, and neck creases
  • Wipe gums
  • Read a very short book or simply flip through the pictures
  • Sing a song quietly
  • Give a kiss and hug
  • As you lay them down, say a key phrase like night-night time

It’s really important to keep the routine the same and simple. If someone else is putting your baby to bed, they should be able to follow the routine as well.

A Few More Things Before I Go

Following all of the above tips regarding your little one’s sleep will get you set up for the best newborn sleep schedule, which will get your little one sleeping the best they can for their age. Please remember to keep expectations low regarding newborn sleep. Setting the bar too high will set you up for a lot of frustration. Bear in mind that these are suggestions that I have found to work well. They should never take the place of your pediatrician’s advice.

If you are struggling with finding a strategy for dealing with your newborn, please contact me for help. Working with a sleep coach allows you to talk through strategies to figure out what works best for your new baby.

April 18, 2024


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Trust me: you don’t want your baby to hit this point. If you notice any of these seven signs, it’s time to put your baby to sleep — NOW!

7 Signs Your Baby Is Overtired

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