When you first start telling everyone you are pregnant, immediately after the hugs and congratulations, come the jokes about the impending lack of sleep. Every parent knows that sleep loss is part of having a child. But the question is ‘how much sleep should your child be getting at different stages of their development?’
To give you a guide I’ve put together a general pattern of sleep at varying ages.
Newborn 0-6 Weeks
Your newborn baby’s sleep pattern will be irregular and erratic. Your baby will spend most of their time sleeping and only waking to feed. They typically cannot stay awake for longer than 40 minutes at a time.
Ironically this is the time you get the least amount of sleep yourself! Your baby will be awake again within two hours and the process of feed, nappy change and sleep starts again. As their little tummies can only hold a small amount of milk you need to feed on demand. The only ‘sleep rule’ during this stage of your baby’s life is to ensure you are following safe sleeping practices.
Despite the erratic sleeping patterns at this stage, you can start to teach your baby the difference between night and day from day 1. This is an essential skill for them to learn as you start to introduce a more scheduled routine as they get older. Things like feeding your baby their first feed of the day in a room with as much natural light as possible is just one of the tips to help them start to recognise day from night early on.
Your little one is getting ready to start a more scheduled routine in this age range. They will still be sleeping for a large part of a 24hr cycle (about 16-18 hours) but they will now be able to stay awake a bit longer between feeds. Getting daytime naps down to about 4-5 longer stretches is the key during these early months. As their tummies have now stretched to hold larger amounts of milk these longer naps are possible. You want your baby to be tired and content but awake when you put them down for their naps.
The ideal amount of sleep is 15-16.5 hours however it‘s during this time that I see the most differences between babies’ sleep patterns. Some babies have settled into their rhythm and are down to three naps per day and sleeping a 11 or 12 hour night (maybe with as little as one wake during the night). Others are still finding their way and need some additional help getting there and some are in a great pattern but are going through a sleep regression. If your baby still hasn’t found their rhythm it is so important to remember that this is no reflection on you or them; some babies just need that additional support.
My top tip for this stage is to really focus on your baby’s self-settling. This is something I am very focused on in my training programs and to me is one of the most important aspects of your baby’s sleep routine. It is so important when putting your baby to bed at night that you find it an enjoyable experience whilst ensuring they stay asleep all night.
Your baby should now still be sleeping between around 15-16.5 hours a day but this will ideally be heavily weighed to 11-12 straight hours at night and three naps in the day: two longer naps and then a short power nap before bed. The power nap is one that many parents don’t do with their babies at this age because they are worried it will impact bedtime, when it’s actually the opposite! A baby should be able to have a 45mins nap that ends about 1.5-2 hours before the scheduled bedtime and still be fine to sleep at night. In fact, they will feed better and settle better because of it. If you don’t have this nap, you will probably find a baby who becomes very overtired, and go through something parents often refer to as “witching hour”.
One of the hardest things about this period is listening to the stories of your friends. Whilst your baby is still waking twice at night for milk, your friend’s baby is sleeping through the night! Remember that your baby will get there, some just need a little bit of extra help to do so and you can read more about this in my blog ‘When to ask for help with your child’s sleep’.
You will find your baby is doing about 14-15 hours per day spread over 11-12 hours at night and two day naps which are usually a short 45mins nap in the morning and a 1.5-2 hour nap after lunch.
It’s at this stage that you might find the hardest thing is sleep regressions which can occur between 8 and 10 months old, usually driven by separation anxiety and their physical development increasing. Separation anxiety can be a challenging time for you and them, as parents often feel guilty by not letting their little ones creep into their bed at this stage. I have worked with so many families going through this and we can still work on independent sleep together during this phase.
At the early end of this age spectrum, your toddler will start to drop to one solid daytime nap, lasting anything between 1.5-2.5 hours after lunch. Over the course of the 24 hour period, they will likely sleep around 13-14 hours and be able to be awake for about 4-4.5 hours before bedtime.
When a child is approaching three years old, this is when you will start to see signs of them wanting to drop their nap. The signs will be them beginning to fight their daytime nap or not falling asleep as quickly at bedtime as they used to. The days of those 2 hour breaks in the day will be long gone! However, in the early days of the nap being dropped, it’s important to give your child some “quiet time” so that they have the opportunity to rest and be less active.
At any time throughout your baby’s first year, and going into the toddler years, you can instil good sleeping habits to give your child the best opportunity to have the right amount of sleep at the right times. And below is table which summarises the average amount of sleep per day over a 24 hour period and the expected number of naps in the day for each age group.
I’m a baby and toddler sleep consultant specialising in designing gentle sleep training programmes for babies and toddlers. I work with clients on a one to one basis and I also have a series of age-specific online courses for you to implement at your own pace.