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Can a baby sleep too much?

By Cradlewise Staff

When it comes to babies, there’s one thing we know for sure—they absolutely love sleeping (and they do a LOT of it).

For new parents, it’s your baby’s sleeping patterns that might come as a surprise. Unlike you, your little one won’t sleep for seven to eight consecutive hours at night. Instead, you might find yourself waking up to feed them every two to three hours. Or they might snooze away most of the day, and sleep for shorter stretches at night. Or they might sleep for long stretches one day, and wake every few hours the next. 

Newborns sleep in largely unorganized chunks of time that can feel hard to predict. So if you’re a parent of a newborn baby, one question you might be asking is, “Can your baby sleep too much?” And if so, how much sleep is too much for a newborn?

If your baby is sleeping a lot, congrats—many sleep-deprived parents would envy you. But it’s important to understand your baby’s sleep patterns to protect their health. 

Read on to discover the answers and to understand the potential risks and causes of excessive sleep in newborns.

How long do newborns typically sleep?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns need 14 to 17 hours of sleep (including daytime naps). For older infants (four to 11 months old), this range is about 12 to 15 hours of sleep each day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

As they grow older, their sleep cycles will start maturing to become more adult-like. Around three to four months, your little one will begin developing their own circadian rhythm

Why do babies need so much sleep?

baby sleeping

Newborn babies need so much sleep because their bodies and brains are rapidly developing and growing.

According to a study published in Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews, your baby’s brain size will double in the first 12 months of life. They are taking in a whole new world and learning how to talk, sit, and crawl, among other things.

During sleep, the brain releases growth hormones and consolidates new memories and neural connections. Every second your little one is snoozing, their neural connections are forming at a meteoric rate—processing all the information (words, sensations, colors, faces, and everything else) and consolidating them in their long-term memory.

Additionally, sleep helps regulate your baby’s temperature, heart rate, and immune system.

While babies do sleep a lot, it’s not in a single stretch. Especially at first, your baby will wake up every two to three hours to feed.

Why is a baby’s sleep fragmented?

All the growth and development babies do in the first year of life requires massive energy. Babies need nutrition (breast milk or formula) for this energy. 

Now, considering the size of babies’ stomachs, it makes sense why your kiddo wakes up so frequently.

When your baby is born, their tummy is only the size of a marble! And it can only take in one to two tablespoons of milk at a time. By day 10 of their life, their stomach grows to the size of a ping-pong ball. Now your baby can take about two ounces or four tablespoons of milk at a time.

Your baby needs to wake up frequently for feeding thanks in part to their tiny stomachs. They get hungry very quickly. If your newborn is a heavy sleeper and they don’t cry when they get hungry, you might have to wake them on your own to feed them.

Can a baby sleep too much?

baby sleeping

Yes, a newborn and an older infant can sleep too much. While newborns need a lot of sleep, they also need to be awake and alert for feeding, bonding, and other essential activities. 

Dr. Nilong Vyas (MD, Pediatrician), founder of Sleepless at NOLA, confirms, “A baby can sleep too much. However, it’s not something that’s reported too often. If it does happen, it’s usually secondary to a medical concern.”

It’s okay to let older babies sleep a little longer, since their tummies are slightly bigger, and they can go without feeding for longer periods of time. However, this is not true for newborns since their tummies are much smaller, and they need to feed frequently to regain their birth weight.

Oversleeping can also be a particular concern for babies who are born prematurely. Preemie babies do need to sleep a lot, as Dr. Vyas notes, because “they are still growing as they would if they were still in utero.”

But if you’re worried that your premature infant is sleeping too much, according to 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. Oversleeping would be considered if when woken to feed, a baby is unable to stay alert enough to eat and thus gain weight.”

How much sleep is too much sleep for a newborn?

When you first bring your baby home, they can sleep up to 22 hours, but this changes rapidly and decreases to 20 hours within the first couple of weeks.

Normally, in the newborn stage, babies can sleep up to 22 hours out of a 24-hour day. By 4 months of age, that decreases to 17 hours or less per day of sleep. Too much sleep would be higher than those averages.
– Dr. Vyas

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as every baby is different. However, it’s generally considered “too much” sleep if a newborn sleeps for longer periods than usual (more than six to eight hours at a time) or if they are difficult to wake up for feedings.

It’s also worth noting that if a newborn consistently sleeps for more than 20 hours per day, this may be a cause for concern.

Potential causes of babies oversleeping

“For a newborn who is sleeping too much, it could be secondary to an infection, jaundice, metabolism issue, dehydration, or as a result of a medical procedure,” says Dr. Vyas.

She suggests that if you suspect your baby is sleeping too much, not feeding well, not passing urine and stool, or seems lethargic, bring the baby to the pediatrician and or emergency room right away for an evaluation.

“In my line of work, I typically see babies that aren’t sleeping enough, which can be concerning. However, too much sleep in an infant is considerably more concerning,” she adds.

Here are a few potential causes of babies oversleeping:

  • Overfeeding: If newborns get more milk than they need, they may sleep more as their body processes the excess.
  • Exhaustion: A consistently overtired baby may sleep more to catch up on sleep.
  • Growth spurts or developmental leaps: Both take up a lot of energy, so your kiddo might be feeling tired and, therefore, snoozing a little more than usual.
  • Dehydration. This can also cause a sunken soft spot on the top of the baby’s head, sunken eyes, and cold and discolored hands and feet. 
  • Medical condition: Excessive sleeping in newborns can be a sign of an underlying health issue such as a respiratory infection or anemia.
  • A reaction to medications.
  • An underdeveloped sleep-wake cycle.
  • A disruption in their daily routine. 

How can I tell if a newborn is sleeping too much?

There are a few signs that you can look for to determine if your newborn is sleeping too much:

  • They are difficult to wake up for feedings
  • They are not alert and awake for at least a few hours per day
  • They are not gaining weight as expected

A way a parent can tell if an infant is sleeping too much is if they’re not waking for feeds. An infant should feed every 2.5 to 3 hours and be wakeful during the feed.
– Dr. Vyas

If a newborn is sleeping excessively and there is no obvious explanation (such as a growth spurt), it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider to determine the cause and address any potential concerns.

It’s also important to note that you know your baby the best. So if your baby had a tiring day and you know they are exhausted, they might sleep a little more because they’re tired.

FAQs

Q: How much sleep should a newborn get?

A: Newborns typically need a lot of sleep and should sleep around 16 to 17 hours daily.

Q: What is too much sleep for a newborn?

A: If your baby sleeps more than 18 hours per day and is not waking up to eat, it is important to consult your pediatrician.

Q: What are some signs that my baby is sleeping too much and needs to be woken up?

A: Some signs that your baby may be sleeping too much and needs to be woken up include not having enough wet or dirty diapers, appearing weak or lethargic, and having trouble latching onto the breast or bottle. If you have any concerns, it is always a good idea to consult your pediatrician.

Sources:

  1. Newborn sleeping hours. 2020. National Sleep Foundation. “How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?
  2. Baby sleep hours. 2020. American Academy of Pediatrics., “Healthy Sleep Habits: How Many Hours Does Your Child Need?
  3. Baby’s brain size. 2016. Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews. “Special Issues on NICU Design and Infant Mental Health in the Intensive Care Unit and Beyond.
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