Newborn Sleep Schedule & Patterns: What To Expect And How To Cope

Picture of Robyn Rosenblum, MD, FAAP
newborn sleeping

The first few weeks with your brand-new baby are incredibly exciting but also tiring — especially when you realize that your little newborn sleeps all the time but somehow leaves no time for you to rest.

Newton Baby is here to help you understand newborn sleep patterns (or lack thereof!) and navigate the first few weeks. We’ll discuss newborn sleep safety, sleep patterns (and how to help them create a schedule!), and how to care for yourself during those happy but exhausting first few weeks.

Safe Sleep For Newborns

Before we dive into newborn sleep schedules and patterns, it’s important that we discuss safety. Considering how much newborns sleep, you might wonder how to keep them safe during all those hours they spend snoozing.

Here are a few safe sleep guidelines to follow from day one:
  • Use a firm crib mattress. Soft, fluffy mattresses are not safe for babies.
  • Make sure the mattress is the correct size. Crib mattresses typically come in two sizes: mini and standard. Whichever one you choose, you’ll need to make sure it fits snugly in the crib without too much of a gap between the mattress and the edge of the crib.
  • Keep blankets, toys, pillows, and crib bumpers out of the crib. They’re cute but not safe for baby to sleep with. Outfit the crib with a basic fitted sheet and skip the rest.
  • Share your room, but not your bed. Your baby can sleep in a bassinet in the same room as you, but it’s not safe for them to sleep in bed with you.
  • Put your little one to sleep on their back, not their stomach or side.
  • Use a breathable mattress. Around four months, your little one will learn to roll over. If they roll over onto their stomach at night, a breathable mattress, like Newton’s Crib Mattress, will help reduce the risk of suffocation.

newborn sleep on a breathable crib mattress

Newborn Sleep Patterns: What To Expect

As you’ve probably already discovered first-hand, newborns sleep a lot. In fact, they sleep the majority of the day — somewhere around 16 or 18 hours out of every 24 hours, although this can vary from baby to baby.

With all those hours they’ll spend snoozing, sounds like you’ll have a chance to get some sound sleep, right? Wrong.

Because they need to eat frequently, newborns only sleep a couple of hours at a time (usually not more than four). Talk to your pediatrician about how frequently your newborn should eat. In some cases, you may need to wake your baby for feedings.

The truth about newborn sleep patterns is that they don’t really exist. This is normal, and your job during these first few weeks is simply to feed, change, and dress your baby when they’re not sleeping.

newborn sleep patterns

You might also notice that your newborn seems to confuse daytime and nighttime. While this can be extra tiring for you, it’s normal and will resolve itself when your little one starts to develop their circadian rhythm.

Circadi-what? A circadian rhythm is our body’s internal clock that tells us when it’s time to be awake and when it’s time to sleep.

Fresh out of the womb, your baby doesn’t really have their own circadian rhythm, but they’ll start to develop it around three months (earlier if you’re lucky!). That’s also probably when they’ll begin sleeping for longer stretches at night.

While it won’t happen right away, developing a circadian rhythm and proper sleep patterns is crucial to both your and your little one’s sleep! The good news is there are a few things you can do to give your newborn a nudge in the right direction.

How To Help Your Newborn Develop A Sleep Schedule

1) Don’t Keep Your Baby Up During The Day

Some parents think that keeping their baby awake during the day will help them sleep more at night. However, this doesn’t really work and might even work against you — your baby can become overtired.

Let them fall asleep and wake up at their normal pace –– swapping between feeding time and sleeping time. In order to help them distinguish between daytime and nighttime, make your daytime feedings noisier, brighter, and louder than your nighttime feedings.

But after you’re done feeding, don’t try and force your little one to stay awake!

If you keep your baby awake when they’re tired, they might just have more trouble sleeping once they finally get to bed. That being said, what you do want to do is include them in the rhythm of a normal day.

2) Include Your Newborn In Daytime Activities

help your newborn sleep by including them in your daily activities

Help your baby start to understand that daytime is for being awake and playing. Let them experience the activity, noise, and natural light of daytime. Play with them during the day and include them in your normal daytime routine.

We recognize that newborns are fragile and can’t “participate” the same way an older baby or toddler might. When we encourage you to include your baby in what you’re doing, just letting them tag along and watch you are perfect for them!

Laundry, cooking, taking the dog for a walk, tidying up — those daily chores that get you out of bed and moving are great things that will keep you (and your onlooking newborn!) preoccupied between feedings.

3) Learn How To Tell When Your Baby Is Sleepy

Once they’ve been awake for a bit, your baby will be ready for another nap. Learn how to tell when they’re sleepy.

Your little one might yawn, rub their eyes, look away, stare blankly, or start fussing. Figure out how to read these cues so you can put your baby down when they’re ready and avoid letting them become overly tired.

As soon as you notice your newborn getting tired, be sure to prioritize their sleep. This is the best way to prevent crankiness or fitful sleeping and help them maintain some sort of schedule.

4) Create A Bedtime Routine

create a bedtime routine to help your newborn sleep

While it may seem that your newborn has no idea what time of day it is, it’s not too early to start forming a routine. A consistent bedtime routine will help your baby understand that it’s time to wind down. And this will serve you for months (and years) to come!

Your routine might include dressing them in their pajamas, reading a book, singing a song, rocking them, and kissing them goodnight. Find out what works best for your family and stick to it.

Sometime during the night, your little one will probably need to wake up and feed. During these feedings, you can help your baby understand (over time!) the differences between daytime and nighttime by cues.

Keep nighttime feedings dark, quiet, and boring. Leave the bedroom lights off, and avoid stimulating them too much by talking or singing to them.

By feeding them and promptly placing them back in their crib, you give your newborn a better chance of falling right back to sleep (and we know you need those stretches of rest, too!).

5) Put Your Baby To Bed Drowsy

For the first few weeks, your baby will fall asleep anywhere, including in your arms. And who doesn’t want those baby snuggles?

But after a couple of months, help your baby learn how to fall asleep by themselves so they don’t always rely on you go to sleep. When it’s time for bed, put your infant in the crib when they’re drowsy but not yet completely asleep.

6) Reduce Activity At Night

Just as you want to get your baby used to the hustle and bustle of daytime activity, you’ll want to reduce activity at nighttime.

Keep your voice and the lights low when you’re getting them ready for bed. And when they wake up in the middle of the night to eat, keep things dark and quiet.

Like we mentioned with feeding, the more boring and uneventful you make nighttime the better!

How To Care For Yourself While Coping With Newborn Sleep

Mom exercising with baby

A newborn’s erratic sleep patterns can be tiring for you as a parent. The good news is that, eventually, your baby will start sleeping more at night and creating a consistent sleep schedule.

In the meantime, here are a few ways to cope with the exhaustion of being a brand-new parent.

1) Acknowledge That You’re Going To Be Tired

Even before your little one arrives, come to terms with the fact that you won’t sleep much those first few weeks, or maybe even months. Don’t let the sleepless nights take you by surprise, and remember that this phase will pass.

Look on the bright side and enjoy the newborn days as much as possible! Your little one will only be so tiny and delicate for a little while.

Bask in that special combination of exhaustion and elation that comes with a brand-new baby. These are the moments you’ll look back on as your baby grows!

That said, if you’re concerned about how tired you’re becoming, reach out to close friends or family. Having grandma or grandpa around to whisk the little one away for a couple of hours, even if only once a week, makes a big difference!

2) Eat Well

You can’t control how much you’re sleeping right now, but make sure you’re doing whatever else you can to take care of yourself. That includes eating well. After all, being tired is better than being tired and hungry!

Emphasize foods in your diet that will fuel you with nutrients to keep you going through your baby’s volatile sleep schedule. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, ample proteins, and healthy fats will have you feeling as alert and healthy as you can.

Especially considering how tired you’ll feel once your new baby arrives, it’s important to make sure you’re taking care of your body.

We know how hard it can be to steal away time from watching over your precious little one (or tending to all the household chores!). Prioritizing meals that are easy, quick, and healthy will be the key to keeping you nourished and feeling your best.

Leftovers, soups, and, if you’re lucky, dishes left at your doorstep by neighbors or family members are your best friends at this time!

Whatever leaves you feeling happy, healthy, and ready for your baby’s coos and cries will work. Just make sure there’s something green in there every now and then!

3) Rest When Your Baby Sleeps

weighted blanket for adults

“Sleep when the baby sleeps” is great advice, but if you can’t fall asleep at the drop of a hat, at least take a rest. Your body will benefit from just a few minutes with your eyes closed, even if you don’t fall asleep.

4) Accept Help

Whether it’s cleaning the house or cooking a meal, don’t hesitate to accept or ask for help. Similarly, consider enlisting help for the nighttime feedings so you can get a good night of sleep once in a while.

If you’re breastfeeding, pump so that another caregiver can give your little one a bottle during the night.

We know it’s tempting to stay by your little one’s side at all times, but self-care is just as important as tending to your baby. Having even an hour or two to yourself can be the charge-up you need!

Whatever usually helps you decompress and de-stress are great options for those little blips where you have help — going for a walk, taking a nap, or grabbing a pastry from your favorite coffee shop.

It’s important to make sure you feel like yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help to get there!

Even if you are a super-parent already, superheroes know when to lean on their sidekicks. Don’t forget to use your support system. They love and care about you and your little one, so let them help!

5) Help Yourself Fall Asleep

When you finally get the chance for some shut-eye, your body might not wind down quickly. If that’s the case, do what you can to make it as easy as possible for your body to fall asleep.

Sip on calming tea, read a book, avoid screens and caffeine, or take a bath.

6) Help Yourself Feel Like Yourself

Mom reading a book outside in hammock

There will probably be days when your mind feels more like a to-do list of things you have done and still need to do. Sometimes, the most productive thing for you (and your health!) is to allow your brain to shut off, even if just for a few minutes.

Taking care of yourself sounds simple enough, but with a new baby in the mix, you might be surprised how quickly the day speeds by.

There will be times that by sundown, you’re covered in spit-up and food and realize you never brushed your teeth that morning!

This is all part of the process. Life with a newborn takes a lot of adjusting! But remember that you deserve care and attention, too. Try to find time during the day to sneak away for a shower or a moment of quiet.

Brush your hair, change into fresh clothes (or even a fresh set of pajamas — let’s be honest!), and don’t feel guilty about taking a few minutes here and there to zone out and shut your brain off while reading, listening to music, or watching television.

We promise those dirty dishes or the pile of used towels can wait. Nothing is worth sacrificing your self-care!

Making The Most Of The Newborn Sleep Phase

newborn sleep tips

In the end, the newborn phase is just that — a phase that will be over soon enough. Enjoy the time you have with them while they’re awake, and when they’re snoozing, make sure they’re sleeping safely on a Newton Baby Crib Mattress.

Finally, take good care of yourself so that you can continue to give your child all the love and care they need!

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