Ever heard the phrase ‘sleep like a baby’ and then wonder why parents say they are tired and not sleeping?!
Well this is because newborn baby sleep is deep and it often takes young babies a very short time to go from awake to sleeping. However, due to having a really small tummy, they cannot hold much milk so wake regularly for a feed. And then at 4 months, babies sleep patterns change forever! This article talks about newborn baby sleep and then what happens after the 4 month sleep regression.
Many parents worry that their newborn is sleeping too much, however when you first bring your newborn baby home, they will likely sleep for up to 16-20 hours per day. Enjoy all of those amazing newborn cuddles. When my boys were little I couldn’t get enough of the smell of their head as they dozed in my arms.
Newborn Sleep & Newborn Sleep Safety
Because of how much they sleep and feed, they won’t have a newborn sleep schedule as yet and you are quite a few months away from a newborn sleeping through the night! They also typically have their day and night upside down because they’ve been used to being asleep in Mum’s tummy during the day when she’s been active, and the rocking motion has sent them to sleep. Then being more awake at night when Mum is lying more still and trying to sleep herself!
Introducing a bedtime routine and doing daytime naps in the light and fresh air is very helpful for correcting their day and night rhythm. Also, if you do find your newborn is awake during the night way more than during the day, it might be a good idea to start gently rousing them in the day. You can use gentle strategies like a lukewarm bath to stimulate them. You can start off doing this once a day and gradually building to doing it a few times per day and if you are consistent with it, you should start to see that the little awake time that your baby does have during a 24 hour period, should be more in the daytime than at night.
I also regularly get asked what a newborn should sleep in? I really recommend that as part of the bedtime routine, you put them into a fresh sleepsuit, a baby sleep bag (newborn appropriate) or cellular blanket, and have them sleep in a darker environment. If this is in their crib or moses basket, make sure baby is lying on their back. I have an FAQs about safer sleep: everything you need to know which has some of the key questions and answers you need to know about newborn sleep safety . It covers topics such as where a baby should sleep, a baby’s sleep position and a baby’s sleep temperature.
Newborn Sleep Patterns
Regarding a newborn’s sleep patterns, have you noticed that sometimes your newborn is so still and relaxed and other times they are more restless as they sleep? Well, newborns actually spend about 50% of their sleep in something called ‘active state’ and 50% in ‘quiet state’.
In quiet state, they are quiet and still, with no eye movements and they look very relaxed and peaceful. It’s how everyone expects babies to look when they are sleeping. However, when they are in in active sleep it can look very different. Your baby will be less still and will move and wriggle around. They often make noises and their eyes may be open.
When a baby is in active sleep, many parents will rush to pick their baby up thinking they are upset or hungry. However, if they have recently been fed and changed, it can be really helpful for parents to just hang back and monitor them before intervening and picking them up. The baby will often be making grunting noises and it’s likely they are just trying to get back into quiet sleep – they are effectively creating a white noise to help soothe themselves back to sleep. Isn’t that amazing!
Baby Sleep Cycle
It’s totally normal for babies up to about 3 or 4 months old to be transitioning between the two sleep styles regularly. At around 4 months old, babies start sleeping in cycles of light and deep sleep just like us adults. This is a huge developmental step for babies as they are transitioning into a sleeping physiology that will be with them for the rest of their lives.
Little ones will now sleep in about 40-45mins cycles. Their sleep gradually gets deeper as they move through the baby sleep cycle and they are only in a deep sleep for around 10mins per cycle. The diagram below shows you how the sleep cycle works:
As you can see, babies now ‘wake’ between each sleep cycle. Because of this their sleep can often be disrupted through this development and a baby that was sleeping well at night might have a bit of a setback. This is often referred to as the 4 month ‘sleep regression’. It might feel like you were just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and were starting to enjoy a bit more sleep but do remember this phase is so important for little ones and it’s actually a huge development leap.
One thing to be mindful of is that when a baby is drowsy, they are already in their sleep cycle. So if you are working on your little one going into their cot to practice independent sleep, make sure they are content but awake otherwise they have already been helped into their sleep cycle.
One question I get asked a lot by parents of newborns and young babies is ‘how long should my baby be sleeping for?’ Check out my ‘how long does my baby need to sleep for?’ blog for some guidance on basic sleeping schedules for babies of all ages. Most importantly, enjoy all of those newborn cuddles and if things don’t get easier as I am sure you will regularly be told, there is help out there for you when you need it.
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.