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Babies have different sleep needs, alert patterns, and sleep cycles than adults. These sleep needs and patterns change as a baby matures.

Typically, even though a newborn will sleep around 8 hours at night, they will only sleep for 1 to 2 hours at a time, waking up at regular intervals. Most babies do not sleep through the night (6 to 8 hours) without waking until they weigh 12 to 13 pounds or are over 3 months of age. Around half to two-thirds of babies can sleep through the night by 6 months old. As a baby grows, the length of nighttime continuous sleep increases, but the total amount of sleep decreases.

Sleep Needs

The following chart shows the average nighttime and daytime sleep needs for newborns through age 2 years old.

Newborn
Total Sleep Hours: 16
Nighttime Sleep: 8 to 9, (may awake every 2 - 3 hours to feed)
Daytime Sleep: 8

1 Month
Total Sleep Hours: 15.5
Nighttime Sleep: 8 to 9 (may awake every 3 - 4 hours to feed)
Daytime Sleep: 7

3 Months
Total Sleep Hours: 15
Nighttime Sleep: 9 to 10 (may awake every 4 - 5 hours to feed)
Daytime Sleep: 4 to 5

6 Months
Total Sleep Hours: 14
Nighttime Sleep: 10 (commonly awake every 5 - 6 hours to feed)
Daytime Sleep: 4

9 Months
Total Sleep Hours: 14
Nighttime Sleep: 11 (can usually go 8 - 9 hours without an nighttime feed)
Daytime Sleep: 3

1 Year
Total Sleep Hours: 13.5
Nighttime Sleep: average of 10 - 12 hours
Daytime Sleep: 3

1.5 Years
Total Sleep Hours: 13.5
Nighttime Sleep: average of 10 - 12 hours
Daytime Sleep: 2.5

2 Years
Total Sleep Hours: 13
Nighttime Sleep: average of 10 - 12 hours
Daytime Sleep: 2

Alert Patterns

While babies are awake they fluctuate through different levels of alertness. When a baby first wakes up, they are in a quiet alert phase. During this time, a baby may stare at objects, respond to sound and motion, but generally stay still. A baby is receptive to stimuli at this time and is quietly taking in their environment.

After this phase your baby will enter an active alert phase. Your baby will be more interactive with sounds and sights.

After the active alert phase, your baby may enter a crying phase. This may be a sign of your baby being overstimulated. Your baby may cry loudly and move erratically. Calming your baby, by holding them close or swaddling them, may help. During this phase, your baby will not respond to stimuli in the same way as when he or she was alert.

It is better to feed your baby before they reach the crying phase because a baby is more likely to refuse a bottle or breast once they become very tired and less alert.

Sleep Cycles

Infants go through various sleep cycles with different stages and depths of sleep. In one stage, your baby may actively move, and in another stage your baby may lie very still. The two different stages of sleep are called REM (rapid eye movement sleep) and Non-REM sleep.

REM sleep is a light stage of sleep. During this stage, dreams occur and the eyes move rapidly back and forth. About half of a newborn’s sleep time is spent in REM sleep. Adults and older children spend less time in REM sleep. In REM sleep, your baby may awake from noises or startle easily.

Non-REM sleep has four different stages:

  • Stage 1: Drowsiness--dozing, eyes may open and close
  • Stage 2: Light Sleep--startling at sounds of moving
  • Stage 3: Deep Sleep--quiet with no movement
  • Stage 4: Very Deep Sleep--quiet with no movement

A baby will start with stage 1 when they first fall asleep, and then progress through the various stages. After Stage 4, they will begin to reverse back to 3, 2 and 1, and then to REM. They will cycle through the pattern several times. However, newborns will often awaken when they pass from deep sleep to light sleep because they have not yet learned how to fall back asleep unassisted between sleep stages.

If you are concerned about your child’s sleep patterns or feel he or she is not sleeping enough, be sure to contact his or her doctor.

Jennifer Reiser, MD

Methodist Physicians Clinic 192 Dodge Pediatrics

Dr. Reiser answers your questions about child health and parenting. Dr. Reiser enjoys working with children because kids are so fun and innocent and she gets to play all day long. She uses play to make the doctor's office not be so scary and so the kids can still have fun when they are at the doctor. She loves being a pediatrician because working with children allows her to see some of her patients' firsts - like rolling over or taking their first steps. She has a special interest in treat ...

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