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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, but may not sleep more than one to two hours at a stretch. 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:
Total sleep hours
Total hours of nighttime sleep
Total hours of daytime sleep
8 to 9
9 to 10
4 to 5
Once a baby begins to regularly sleep through the night, parents are often dismayed when he or 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, overstimulation, or overtiredness.
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 doctor if your baby begins having difficulty going to sleep or staying asleep, especially if this is a new pattern.
You can help your baby sleep by recognizing signs of sleep readiness, teaching him or her to fall asleep on his own, and comforting him or her with awakenings. Your baby may show signs of being ready for sleep with the following:
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 or her fall asleep. Establishing a routine 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 or she may not be able to go back to sleep on his or 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 or 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 small blanket or soft toy that your baby can take to bed, but not before your baby is old enough (able to roll and sit) to avoid the risk of suffocation.
Tuck your baby into bed when he and she is drowsy, but before going to sleep.
Comfort and reassure your baby when he or 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.
Here are recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on how to reduce the risk for SIDS and sleep-related deaths from birth to age 1:
Make sure your baby is immunized. An infant who is fully immunized can reduce his or her risk for SIDS by 50 percent.
Breastfeed your infant. The AAP recommends breastfeeding for at least six months.
Place your infant on his or her back for sleep or naps. This can decrease the risk for SIDS, aspiration, and choking. Never place your baby on his or her side or stomach for sleep or naps. If your baby is awake, allow your child time on his or her tummy as long as you are supervising, to decrease the chances that your child will develop a flat head.
Always talk with your baby's doctor before raising the head of their crib if he or she has been diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux.
Offer your baby a pacifier for sleeping or naps, if he or she isn't breastfed. If breastfeeding, delay introducing a pacifier until breastfeeding has been firmly established.
Use a firm mattress (covered by a tightly fitted sheet) to prevent gaps between the mattress and the sides of a crib, a play yard, or a bassinet. This can decrease the risk for entrapment, suffocation, and SIDS.
Share your room instead of your bed with your baby. Putting your baby in bed with you raises the risk for strangulation, suffocation, entrapment, and SIDS. Bed sharing is not recommended for twins or other higher multiples.
Avoid using infant seats, car seats, strollers, infant carriers, and infant swings for routine sleep and daily naps. These may lead to obstruction of an infant's airway or suffocation.
Avoid using illicit drugs and alcohol, and don't smoke during pregnancy or after birth.
Avoid overbundling, overdressing, or covering an infant's face or head. This will prevent him or her from getting overheated, reducing the risk for SIDS.
Avoid using loose bedding or soft objects—bumper pads, pillows, comforters, blankets—in an infant's crib or bassinet to help prevent suffocation, strangulation, entrapment, or SIDS.
Avoid using home cardiorespiratory monitors and commercial devices—wedges, positioners, and special mattresses—to help decrease the risk for SIDS and sleep-related infant deaths. These devices have never been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS. In rare cases, they have caused infant deaths.
Always place cribs, bassinets, and play yards in hazard-free areas—those with no dangling cords or wires—to reduce the risk for strangulation.
Bayhealth is Southern Delaware’s healthcare leader with hospitals in Dover and in Milford. Bayhealth provides a wide range of medical services, including cardiovascular, cancer, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, pediatrics, respiratory care, sleep care, surgical weight loss and women’s services.