What are an infant's sleep needs?

Sleep needs for babies vary depending on their age. Newborns do sleep much of the time. But their sleep is in very short segments. As a baby grows, the total amount of sleep slowly decreases. But the length of nighttime sleep increases.

Generally, newborns sleep about 8 to 9 hours in the daytime and about 8 hours at night. But they may not sleep more than 1 to 2 hours at a time. Most babies don't start sleeping through the night (6 to 8 hours) without waking until they are about 3 months old, or until they weigh 12 to 13 pounds. About two-thirds of babies are able to sleep through the night on a regular basis by age 6 months.

Babies also have different sleep cycles than adults. Babies spend much less time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (which is dream time sleep). And the cycles are shorter. The following are the usual nighttime and daytime sleep needs for newborns through 2 years old:

Age Total sleep hours Total hours of nighttime sleep Total hours of daytime sleep
Newborn 16 hours 8 to 9 8
1 month 15.5 hours 8 to 9 7
3 months 15 hours 9 to 10 4 to 5
6 months 14 hours 10 4
9 months 14 hours 11 3
1 year 14 hours 11 3
1.5 years 13.5 hours 11 2.5
2 years 13 hours 11 2

What are the signs of infant sleep problems?

Once a baby begins to regularly sleep through the night, parents are often unhappy when the baby starts to wake up at night again. This often happens at about 6 months old. This is often a normal part of development called separation anxiety. This is when a baby does not understand that separations are short-term (temporary). Babies may also start to have trouble going to sleep because of separation anxiety. Or because they are overstimulated or overtired.

Common responses of babies having these night awakenings or trouble going to sleep may include the following:

  • Waking and crying one or more times in the night after sleeping through the night
  • Crying when you leave the room
  • Refusing to go to sleep without a parent nearby
  • Clinging to the parent at separation
  • Sleep problems may also happen with illness. Talk with your baby's healthcare provider if your baby begins having trouble going to sleep or staying asleep, especially if this is a new pattern.

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