Newborn sleep: how much and when

Newborns usually sleep for around 16 hours in every 24 hours. But all babies are different, and their sleep patterns can vary a lot.

Newborns don’t know that people sleep at night. They usually sleep in short bursts through the day and night. Each sleep usually lasts 2-3 hours. Some newborns sleep for up to four hours at a time.

When newborns are awake, they’re usually feeding. After feeding, your baby will probably want to go back to sleep. This means that ‘playtime’ at this age is very short.

Newborn sleep cycles

Newborns have two different kinds of sleep – active sleep and quiet sleep.

During active sleep, newborns move around a lot and make noises. They can be woken easily during active sleep.

During quiet sleep, newborns are still. Their breathing is deep and regular. They’re less likely to wake during quiet sleep.

When newborns sleep, they go through sleep cycles. Each newborn sleep cycle has both active sleep and quiet sleep, and takes about 40 minutes.

At the end of each cycle, newborns wake up for a little while. When your newborn wakes, he might grizzle, groan or cry. If your baby wakes at the end of a sleep cycle, you might need to help him settle for the next sleep cycle.

Read our article on sleep for more information on normal sleep patterns at every age. And our articles on baby sleep and settling in the early months and the patting settling technique have ideas for helping your baby settle.

At night: newborn sleep and waking

In the first few months, it’s common for newborns to wake several times a night for feeds.

Between one and three months, your baby will probably start waking less often and have a longer period of sleep at night.

By the time your baby is around three months old, she might regularly be having a longer sleep at night – for example, around 4-5 hours. But up until six months of age, many babies still need feeds at night and help to settle.

If your baby is premature or low birth weight, your paediatrician or child and family health nurse might recommend that you let him sleep for only a certain amount of time at night before you wake him for a feed.