Newborn sleep patterns: What to expect once baby arrives


Most parents of newborns find it difficult to pin down their newborn’s sleep patterns — with good reason! For the first few weeks, your baby’s sleep patterns will be highly disorganized. That’s because newborns can’t distinguish between day and night, and they need to wake every few hours to feed since their stomachs are so teeny-tiny. So if your little one cycles through wake-eat-sleep patterns that seem totally unpredictable, rest assured: erratic newborn sleep patterns are normal — and temporary.  

Understanding your newborn’s sleep patterns is the first step to helping them develop a more predictable sleep routine. Read on for expert-backed information on newborn sleep patterns and how you can help your little one develop healthy sleep habits.

Your baby’s internal clock explained

“Circadian rhythm” refers to the human 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Your circadian rhythm is like an internal clock that helps to control and schedule your wakefulness and sleep. 

Many factors influence circadian rhythm, but a major one is night and day.  It’s our body’s natural tendency to become active at sunrise and sleepy with the sunset. Environmental cues signal your brain to activate hormones that keep you awake or nudge you to sleep based on the time.

Newborns, however, do not have a developed circadian rhythm and mix up daytime and nighttime. This is why, unlike you, they fall asleep whenever they are tired and have irregular sleep patterns.

“The newborn circadian rhythm typically develops by two months of age,” says Dr. Nilong Vyas, M.D., pediatrician and founder of Sleepless at NOLA. You can help your newborn begin to differentiate between daytime and nighttime by using environmental cues: Keep the house dark and quiet at night, and during the day, go for walks outdoors, and keep the shades open as much as possible to expose your newborn to natural sunlight.

How much do newborns sleep?

Newborns sleep a lot! During the first three months, newborns can sleep up to 14 to 17 hours during a 24-hour period. Unfortunately, newborns don’t sleep in long uninterrupted blocks of time, unlike adults. Your newborn will most likely awaken throughout the night to feed (but this stage doesn’t last forever — don’t worry).

By month four, your baby will gradually begin to sleep longer durations at night. However, they might not sleep through the night without needing an overnight feeding until month six or later.

Can a newborn sleep too much?

If your baby occasionally sleeps longer than normal, it’s probably nothing to worry about. But while newborns need a lot of sleep, they also need to be awake and alert for feeding, bonding, and other essential activities. 

“If a newborn is not awake enough to feed appropriately, that can be worrisome,” says Dr. Vyas. “As long as they are able to be woken to be fed and they are alert enough to eat, then it is not a concern.” But if you find that your newborn often sleeps through feedings or you’re concerned about whether they’re eating frequently enough, consult your pediatrician. 

How long should a newborn stay awake between naps?

Newborn wake windows (or time spent awake between naps) are very short, roughly 45 to 90 minutes. With each passing month, these wake windows increase. According to Dr. Vyas, “During the newborn period, a baby may only be able to stay awake for 30-minute stretches. However, that will increase over the first month to up to an hour of wakefulness.” And by month 12, your baby might spend 90 minutes to 3 hours awake at a stretch before needing a nap.

Knowing how long your newborn should be awake between each nap can be very helpful. Putting baby down to sleep before the wake window ends goes a long way to avoid overtiredness and overstimulation. Watch your newborn for signs of sleep readiness, such as yawning, fussing, or looking away. 

Your newborn’s alert phases 

Your newborn will show varying degrees of alertness during their wake windows.

Quiet alert phase 

Just after waking up, babies are usually still, taking in their surroundings. This is called the quiet alert phase, during which your newborn will look at objects and respond to movements and sounds. 

Active alert phase

Your newborn will progress out of a quiet alert state to the active alert phase, where they are quiet but actively moving their bodies. This is a lovely time to engage with your newborn by talking to them, singing to them, or showing them books or toys.

Crying phase

In the crying phase, your newborn will — well, cry. In this phase their movements become erratic and they may cry loudly. For newborns, crying is usually a sign of hunger or discomfort, but because of the overstimulation of crying they may refuse to eat. So it’s best to feed them and change their diaper before they reach the crying phase.

If they are crying, holding them close or wrapping them in a blanket can help to calm and soothe them.

How to help your newborn sleep

Your little one has just entered the world, so they rely on you heavily to learn. For newborns, who spend most of their time sleeping, this is never more true than in developing waking and sleeping patterns. 

To help your baby sleep and develop a routine, there are a few things you can do:

  • Recognize newborn sleep cues: Yawning, eye rubbing, fussiness, and looking away.
  • Provide a safe and comfortable sleep environment.
  • Help them fall asleep on their own: Newborns tend to fall asleep while feeding. As they get older though, they may expect to sleep in your arms, a pattern that could be problematic. Experts recommend allowing your baby to get drowsy in your arms and placing them in their crib while awake. This way, they learn to fall asleep on their own.
  • Starting a bedtime routine early on will also pay off in the long run. Your baby will begin to associate the routine with falling asleep. Play soft music, dim the lights, give them a massage, snuggle them into fresh PJs, and soon they’ll be off to dreamland — and you can get some much-needed sleep, too.


  1. Baby sleep. 2023. Sleep Foundation. Babies and sleep. 
  2. Circadian rhythm. 2022. Healthline. Everything to know about your circadian rhythm. 
  3. Newborn sleep patterns. Stanford Medicine. Newborn sleep patterns.
  4. Wake windows. Happiest baby. What are wake windows?
  5. Circadian rhythm. 2023. Sleep Foundation. What are circadian rhythms?
  6. Infant sleep. Stanford Medicine. Infant sleep.
  7. Baby sleep duration. 2021. Medical News Today. Is my baby sleeping too much?


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