Newborns sleep often but not for very long, and their patterns can be surprising. Here are some facts that will help you better understand your newborn and encourage sleep!
#1 Night and Day Reversal
Some newborns are very sleepy during the day and more active at night. If your baby wants to “party” at 3 am, we want to change that! This is something we can start to focus on as soon as baby is born.
Our internal clock uses light, food and activities as key inputs to figure out where we are in the day. Expose your baby to bright light in the morning and early afternoon. In the evening, dim the light so she knows it’s the end of the day. And at night, keep it dark and in sleep mode: be calm and quiet. Take care of your baby but don’t play. If we play at 3 am, we will reinforce that it’s time to be up! Over time they will gradually shift to be more active during daytime.
#2 Some Newborns Go to Bed Late
Some newborns go to bed around 10-11 pm. Over time, their bedtime will gradually shift earlier. Follow your baby’s lead and move bedtime earlier as they look tired earlier. By the time they are ~4 months, many babies go to bed between 6-8 pm.
#3 Awake for Short Periods
Newborns can only be awake for short periods before needing to sleep again. Between 0-6 weeks, their windows often are 45-60 min (but some may be awake for 90 min). That means that after you change and feed them, there’s not a lot of awake time before they need to sleep again!! If they stay awake for too long, they will get overtired, which often makes it harder for them to sleep. Over time, their “windows of wakefulness” will get longer.
#4 Newborns Can Be Surprisingly Loud at Night
Newborns make all sorts of sounds when they are sleeping! If you hear grunting, fussing, flailing, moaning – they may still be sound asleep! Make sure you don’t intervene unless they are truly awake!
#5 First Stretch = Longest Stretch
Babies usually have their longest stretch of sleep when they first fall asleep at bedtime. After that initial longer stretch, they wake up more frequently. As we get closer to morning, it’s harder to get them back to sleep and usually need more help from us.
#6 Look for Those Sleepy Cues
Some newborns fall asleep whenever they are tired, regardless of where they are and what is going on around them. Some need a little more help, but give us cues that they are getting tired. These sleepy cues can include: yawning, looking away, rubbing their eyes, mild fussiness (but not a full meltdown), red eyes, etc.
When your baby starts to show their sleepy signs, it’s time to get them ready for sleep. We want to help them go to sleep before they get overtired and have a meltdown.
However, some babies do not show any sleepy signs and can keep going on and on like the Energizer Bunny! They may seem ok and act like they can be awake for many hours at a time, but in reality, they are overtired.
To help your Energizer Bunny baby (we also often call them FOMO – fear of missing out – babies) get the sleep they need, use a timer. When they wake up, set the timer for their usual window (usually 45-60 min , see #3). When the timer goes on, take your baby to a dark room and try to help them fall asleep. It may take a few days to adjust the right timing but eventually you’ll get in a rhythm.
#7 Naps Can Be Tricky
Newborn naps are inconsistent: some naps will be long, some naps will be short, and the pattern may change from one day to the next. That’s normal, daytime sleep takes longer than night sleep to organize. In the meantime, our job is to help them get some sleep throughout the day.
Babies tend to need more help with naps. Babies can have a hard time napping flat on a mattress (even if they sleep pretty well on that mattress during the night). They usually need some extra help to nap: movement, being held, etc. It’s good to have a few different ways to help them nap that you can rotate through.
The first nap of the day is usually the easiest. They get increasingly harder as the day goes on, so expect to help them take that last nap of the day (for example, watch Netflix, have some tea and hold your sleeping baby).
You can also join my free private Facebook group for sleep support.