The Truth About Normal Newborn Sleep (Hint: It’s Erratic!)


In a mom’s group the other day I saw a question from the mom of an 8-week-old baby. She was wondering what to do about her newborn who was waking 2 or 3 times a night. I was the first to reply that this wake, eat, sleep pattern was quite normal. But others chimed in with solutions that were shockingly unrealistic for a newborn.

But what does “normal” newborn sleep look like? Simply put, normal newborn sleep is erratic and can vary wildly from one baby to the next.

Some parents bring home unicorn babies that sleep through the night right. Others find themselves waking to feed their new bundles of joy every 2-3 hours throughout the night. Guess what? Both of these scenarios are NORMAL!

You may be wondering what to expect, then, from a “normal” newborn. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Newborns are not born with established circadian rhythms (eat/wake/sleep cycles) like adults. This means that sometimes they may sleep for 20 minutes and sometimes they may sleep for several hours before waking to eat. Remember – this is normal!
  • Healthy, full-term newborns lose weight after birth. During this time, your pediatrician will likely have you wake your baby to eat every 2-3 hours until she is back up to birth weight. Once your baby is back up to birth weight (and is healthy!), you may wait for your baby to wake up to eat.
  • Some babies are born with day and night confusion. This means they sleep more during the day and less during the night (yikes!). It can take a few weeks to rectify this but you can help the process along by keeping daytime bright and noisy, and nighttime dark and quiet. Get your baby out into the sunshine during the day in order to start regulating those circadian rhythms I mentioned earlier. Try to limit daytime naps to 2 hours to promote longer stretches of sleep overnight. 
  • Newborns only have two stages of sleep – active and quiet. They spend 50% of their time in active and 50% of their time in quiet sleep. When a newborn is in active sleep you may mistake her for being awake! That’s right, she may kick, squirm, flutter her eyes, or even cry out softly during active sleep. Try to give your baby some space to see if she is actually awake or if she is simply in active sleep. 
  • Newborns can only handle about 45- to 60-minutes of awake time before becoming overtired. This means that when your baby wakes, you’ll likely only have time to feed her, change her, and get her back to sleep. This is normal newborn sleep! Be sure not to try to keep your baby awake for too long. When a baby is overtired, her body fills with stress hormones that make it difficult for her to fall asleep and/or stay asleep. Read: baby is inconsolable! 

If you’re still struggling with your little one’s sleep around the 4-month mark, you can start to begin some behavioral interventions.

Don’t worry about starting any bad “habits” in the newborn stage. Remember, there is no “normal” when it comes to newborn sleep!