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How long should my baby sleep?

  • Newborns can sleep almost 18 hours a day
  • By six months, babies might be sleeping through the night
  • You will start to recognise your baby’s sleep cues

Sleep is one of the most discussed topics for babies and young children. How much they sleep, babies who won’t sleep, what keeps them from sleeping and how to establish a good sleep routine are all things new parents discuss endlessly.

But how do you know how much sleep your baby should have or how does their sleep pattern change as they grow?

Here are some helpful pointers that sleep experts have observed over the years.

Why does a child’s sleep pattern change?

Babies have different needs for sleep depending on their age.  At birth they will sleep almost all of the time (though usually in quite short spans).

Gradually, a baby begins to sleep for longer stretches and has their longest span of sleep during the night, with naps during the day. Eventually, a child will be able to stay awake in the day and sleep during the night.

As you’ll see from the chart below, a newborn baby will sleep an average of 16 to 18 hours per day. That’s usually broken into eight or nine hours in the daytime and eight hours at night. Usually at this age, their sleep duration is about an hour or two. This is because they need to keep waking to feed and they also wake if their nappy needs a change.

By the time they reach around three months, babies may be able to sleep through the night, though most will still wake for a feed at night. Around 60% of babies can sleep through at six months. This may of course be disturbed by things such as illnesses and disturbances such as teething. At this age, you can start to establish a sleep routine.

Interestingly, the way babies sleep is actually different to adults and they have shorter cycles of sleep and fewer patches of rapid eye movement sleep (REM), during which we dream.

What are the average sleep durations for children from birth to five years?

chart to show how long babies and young children should sleep

These are only average times as all babies are different. Some may sleep through the night from an early age, while others might still be waking well into their second or third year.

What might change?

Sometimes babies who have been having a good and established sleep routine will regress and start having sleepless patches again. This can be due to a number of things:

  • A growth spurt
  • Teething
  • Illness
  • Changes in development, such as learning to roll and crawl
  • Being over-tired or over-stimulated
  • Fear and separation anxiety; this is a developmental stage where babies start to worry when their parent is away or when the baby does not like to be left. It can cause problems when leaving the baby with a babysitter, nursery or a creche, for example. This can lead to sleep problems as your baby may wake and be scared not to find you there. Babies have trouble realising that things that go away can come back again – and so can’t understand that when you are going out, you’ll come back again.

Baby sleep cues

You will start to recognise signs that your baby is tired as they will exhibit types of behaviour. When you spot these signs, you will know that it’s soon time for a nap or for bed.

They may:

  • rub their eyes,
  • pull at their ears
  • yawn,
  • be more unsettled than usual and grizzly.

When you see this, it’s time for that bedtime routine and light out!


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