"Get sleep now because you won't be getting any once the baby comes." Chances are you heard this in some form while you were awaiting the arrival of your bundle of joy.
Well-meaning friends usually say things like this not to scare you, but instead to help get you ready for what's to come. Except no matter how much you try to prepare for the lack of schedule filled with sleepless nights and bleary-eyed days, you really don't know what it's like until your newborn arrives.
You love your baby more than anything, but naturally want to know when your he'll start sleeping better and more like a "normal" person. Even though this is different for every baby and there is a wide range of what's considered "typical," there are general sleep patterns that almost all babies will follow.
In this comprehensive guide, with expert input from Lauren Lowenstein of Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting, we go over all of those newborn sleep patterns to expect the first year. We'll also offer guidance on how you can create a flexible schedule for your baby depending on their age.
I'm not going to sugarcoat it and tell you that perfect sleep will happen overnight, but with patience and some extra parenting effort on your part, more and more sleep will come through that first year. I promise!
Why Knowing Your Baby's Sleep Patterns Can Help You
Though some might say that ignorance is bliss, I prefer to be armed with as much information as I can be. When it comes to baby sleep, having an understanding of what your baby is experiencing at each stage and knowing the strategies that will help them can only help you both sleep better. And sooner.
That's why we've put together this guide that dives into the sleep patterns your baby is experiencing at each age as well as a typical schedule that might fit your baby during each of those timeframes.
Just remember to use this as a helpful outline, not the end-all-be-all. Your newborn has a mind of his own and will give you cues showing what he is ready for. Ultimately, you'll need to use your parental instincts to determine what's best for your unique little baby. These together will surely get you and your little one the good night's sleep you've been dreaming of.
We've broken down your baby's sleep into five age stages with patterns to notice and a sample schedule to work from to create what works best for your baby and your family:
We'll discuss each age in depth, but the following chart gives a great overview of what to expect in terms of sleep as your baby grows.
The Fourth Trimester Part 1 (0 - 8 Weeks) Stage Sleep Patterns and Schedule
If the term "4th Trimester" is lost on you, definitely check out our article Understanding the 4th Trimester and Tips to Help Your Baby. They're those first several weeks of your baby's life where her senses are still developing and most of what she's capable of doing are limited to eating, sleeping, and crying. It's a time as a parent where you're experiencing polar emotions - more love you've ever known along with a fretful "I have no idea what I'm doing!" (Mixed in with a whole lot of tired.) All new moms have been there - and we all make it through!
These first 6 weeks will be anything but scheduled. In fact, we highly recommend just following your baby's lead. At this age, they are incapable of following a schedule and trying to get them to follow one is just going to leave you frustrated and more exhausted.
Here's what to expect those first six weeks in terms of your baby's sleep patterns:
Early Newborn Sleep Cycles
Typical sleep at this age is...a lot. Even though you probably feel like you're getting the least sleep of your life (because you probably are), your baby actually sleeps the majority of their day. Whereas they can fall asleep instantly and be fine with two-hour stretches in the middle of the night, you most certainly are not. This is why so many people tell you to sleep when your baby sleeps. We can't recommend this enough! Let the chores go, leave the dirty dishes in the sink, and allow yourself to nap midday whenever you can. Give yourself grace and remember - it's just a phase!
Expect your little one to sleep 15 - 18 hours a day at this point. These will be in two - three hour stretches in the early weeks.
So what's driving so much sleep in such short increments? It's important to remember that life in the outside world is extremely stimulating and that zaps your little one's energy very quickly. Babies this young are also growing at an incredible rate. Combine those factors with a tiny tummy that can't hold a lot of milk, and you get a sleepy little human who needs to feed frequently yet can only stay awake for so long.
Total Hours of Sleep Per Day: 15 - 18 Hours
Number of Naps: Varies - a baby this age has erratic sleep patterns and can only happily stay awake for about 30 - 50 minutes. Though scheduling nap time at this age isn’t recommended, you want to start working towards shorter stretches of sleep by day (less than 2.5-3 hours) and saving the longer stretches for night.
Sleep Patterns to Notice: Until your milk comes in your baby will need to eat a lot. This gets better after that first week or two. Most babies can go around 3 hours between feeds and will have some awake time, too. Babies at this age alternate between only two stages of sleep: non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) meaning each sleep cycle is only about 45-50 minutes long. It is very different from the sleep they'll start to experience around 4 months of age. We discuss this more in our article, “A Useful Guide to Your Baby’s Sleep Cycles.”
Helping Your 0 - 8 week-old Baby Sleep Better: Though scheduling and sleep training aren't advised at this point, that doesn't mean you can't start creating good sleep habits for your baby from the start. You'll want to watch for your baby's sleepiness cues. Fussiness, yawning, and eye-rubbing are obvious signs. At this point, swaddling your baby in a Dreamland Baby Weighted Swaddle to calm and relax them is one of the best things that you can do. This special swaddle creates a womb-like environment for your little one and gives similar comfort to your touch through its weighted design. It also limits their Moro (startle) reflex, which is something all babies have at this age. Because this reflex can easily wake them up, which we discuss in-depth in this article, using a Dreamland swaddle can make a huge difference.
Dreamland Baby's "Scheduling" Tip: We're not going to give you an outline schedule to follow at this age because it's not recommended, nor realistic. But in order to get started on the right foot in order to move into some form of schedule around 8 weeks, our biggest tip is to get your baby to understand the difference between her days and nights. How do you go about this? Make sure that day is filled with activity and sunlight, while the nights are as calm, quiet, and dark as possible. It's pretty amazing how quickly they can figure this out when you stick to it.
Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting offers their top tip for your 0 - 8 week old:
"The biggest thing you can do to relax a bit during this stage is let go of any sleep expectations or schedules because their circadian rhythm is not developed yet. Try not to keep the baby awake though, when the baby wants to sleep, let them sleep so you can try and rest as well!"
The Fourth Trimester Part 2 (2 - 3 Months) Stage Sleep Patterns and Schedule
I'm not going to tell you that you'll be out of the fog by the time your baby is 2 - 3 months old, but there is often a vast improvement in your day-to-day well being as well as in your confidence as a new parent. You've gotten to know your little one and are enamored as you watch them grow and change every day.
This is the time when your baby will actually start being awake more and being able to interact with you. You'll notice actual sleep-eat-wake patterns and can start helping your little one learn this healthy routine. However, it's important to realize your baby is still in the "4th trimester" at this point. Meaning, your baby still gets overstimulated easily while her body continues to develop at a quick rate. Because of this, wake times shouldn't exceed the 1.5-hour mark. But your baby is maturing, and you will notice. By the time this phase comes to an end, you can have some real sleep routines established that your baby is ready to thrive on.
Total Hours of Sleep Per Day: 14 - 16 Hours
Number of Naps: typically 3 full naps, and possibly an evening power nap
Sleep Patterns to Notice: At this age, your baby is still alternating between only two stages of sleep (Non-REM and REM). It won't be until the end of this timeframe that your baby's sleep cycles will start resembling yours. It's also the norm for your baby to still need to wake to eat at this age. As the weeks stretch on, you'll see that your baby has the ability to stay awake for longer periods without showing signs of fussiness. The good thing for you is that you know your baby very well now, and the signs will be much more obvious. This means you can start your baby's sleep routine as soon as those first fusses and eye rubs begin.
Helping Your 2 - 3 month-old Baby Sleep Better: This time of your baby's life in terms of sleep is all about setting good habits and a clear sleep routine. Whatever you do now really sets the precedent for upcoming months. Your baby is ready to start following your lead.
Some best practices for a bedtime sleep routine include:
- Give a calming bath 45 minutes – 1 hour before bedtime
- Infant massage - The Sleep Lady gives a great explanation on how to perform this and why this is so helpful for your little one's sleep.
- Swaddle with the Dreamland Weighted Swaddle
- Dim the lights and turn on calming music or nature sounds for a soothing environment
- Nurse or Feed until drowsiness (but not fully asleep)
- Rocking baby, snuggling and singing your favorite lullaby
- Lay baby down on her back – still awake, but clearly drowsy
Clear nap times can also be established. Most babies will need 3 naps, and you should try to make these happen around the same time each day. Your baby may also need a quick cat nap in the early evening hours, also known by many as the "witching hour."
Lastly, this is the time that implementing a "Dream Feed" around 10 p.m. each night can start helping your baby to sleep a night stretch more similar to yours. What is a dream feed exactly? We’ve put everything you need to know about dream feeds in this post, but here's the gist. You lay your baby down at their normal bedtime. You then stay up as late as you can (or whatever time works best for you) and give your baby one last feed essentially while they're still (half) asleep. Hopefully, you will get much more uninterrupted sleep this way! I can't tell you how much of a game changer this can be.
Let's look at what a typical sleep schedule could look like for your 2-3 month old that starts at 6:30 a.m.
If you find that your baby is having a hard time making it to the 6:30 bedtime without becoming overstimulated and cranky, you can make the choice to implement a 30-45 minute catnap. Bedtime may need to be pushed back a bit. Or, you can skip the catnap and move the bedtime up. Remember to use this as a guide and adjust based on how much sleep your particular baby needs.
We cannot express enough how helpful the Dreamland Weighted Swaddle or Blanket can be at this age. We get reviews all the time about how much it's helping babies to get more sleep. Such as this mom, Allison W.
"I am very glad I purchased this item. My 10-week old daughter never liked to be swaddled and would throw her legs up in the bassinet and keep herself awake, but the blanket helps her stay drowsy and sleep longer. She extended her 2 am feeding to 5 am and it has been amazing for mom and dad to get that longer consecutive sleep.”
Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting offers their top tip for your 2 - 3 month- old:
"The best thing you can do to help your baby’s sleep progress at this age is keep them from becoming overstimulated! An overstimulated baby is an unhappy baby and you will become a very frustrated parent fighting them for sleep. The goal is to be getting them down for a nap at the end of their awake window."
Transitional Phase (4 - 6 months) Sleep Schedule
By the time your baby hits the 4-month mark, it's likely you have some pretty good routines in place. That doesn't mean that your baby isn't capable of setbacks, however.
It is completely normal for your little one to have a couple of great nights of sleep and then a poor one, as well as a day where naps just don't go as well as you'd like. It's important to remember that this is a process that you are building on each and every day, and your baby is still a tiny little human with her own quirks and preferences. It's nothing that you did wrong! One of the best things you can do is nurture and love that sweet baby while continuing to stay the course.
So, why do we call the 4 - 6 month age time frame the "transitional" phase? Well, remember how we said that previously your baby only had 2 sleep cycles? At around 4 months, your baby's sleep undergoes a very big change. We talk all about it in our post, Getting Through the 4-Month Sleep Regression. I'll warn you - this time of your baby's life can be a doozy and look a lot like they forgot how to sleep. In actuality, their body is adjusting to the type of sleep cycles they'll have for the rest of their life. Instead of just 2 sleep cycles, they now have 5.
Though it's called a regression, they are maturing right on schedule. This is when it's crucial that your baby learns to fall back asleep all by themselves.
Total Hours of Sleep Per Day: 13 - 16 hours
Number of Naps: 3, about 1.5 - 3 hours long
Sleep Patterns to Notice: Around the 4-month mark, you may notice your baby waking more frequently. This is because it's completely normal for someone to wake between sleep cycles. The difference is that whereas you usually go right back to sleep and don't even remember waking, your baby isn't used to these new cycles. So unless your baby has already gotten very good about putting themselves back to sleep, your baby may start to wake more frequently and take shorter naps...which leads them to cry out wondering where you are! But once they learn to sleep on their own, your baby's sleep will start to greatly improve for the long-term.
Helping Your 4 - 6 month-old Baby Sleep Better: This stage is all about your baby learning how to put themselves back to sleep independently. And it's up to you to teach them how to do this.
That's why it's considered the perfect time to sleep train. And no, by sleep train, we don't mean "cry it out." In fact, there are lots of different methods as we explain in this article. There's surely a method amongst these that you'll be comfortable utilizing to help your baby be an independent sleeper. NPR spoke with Jodi Mindell, a psychologist at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, about sleep training. She stated:
"You just have to figure out what works best for you, your family and the baby's temperament...parents are looking for like what's the most effective method. But what that is depends on the parents and the baby. It's a personalized formula."
Because if you go to your baby every time she cries out (even if it's at 45 minutes when their nap should be at least double that), then they will always expect this. Staying consistent with the routines you established earlier on is important.
- Continue to use a weighted sleep sack (if your baby is rolling over this is the perfect transition away from the weighted swaddle)
- Begin to eliminate sleep props such as swings, nursing to sleep, or rocking to sleep.
Though experiencing a few rough days during this time period is unavoidable, standing your ground will help teach them a lot faster than if you don't.
Your 4 - 6 month-old baby's day could look similar to the below schedule:
For more read: Establishing a Sleep Schedule for Your 4-6-Month-Old Baby
At this age continuing the dream feed is ultimately up to you. If it is working for you and your baby, keep doing it! If you find that it just disrupts your baby's schedule more and you prefer for them to wake on their own in the middle of the night to eat, then that works, too. Your baby will get enough sleep either way - this is much more about you getting the healthy sleep you need, too.
Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting offers their top tip for your 4 - 6 month- old:
"This is an excellent way to help babies get a longer stretch of sleep which in turn gives mom (or whoever is on hunger duty) a longer stretch of sleep too! Dream feeds are also a great way to get in some extra cuddles and quiet moments."
Less Napping Phase (6 - 9 months) Sleep Schedule
Up until now, your life has likely been built around your baby's naps. Maybe you were flexible and did some of them on the go, but you've probably realized your baby does much better napping at home in their own crib. But that also means you're tied to the house a lot those first 6 months!
Well lucky for you, this is about the age that your baby can start to reduce daily naps to two. The hope is that your baby can get a long stretch of naptime in the morning and a long stretch of naptime in the afternoon. This is also nice for you because you have two large chunks of the day to either get stuff done...or nap yourself! (And I used to always squeeze any errand I needed to get done in between those two time slots.)
Now, don't expect this to happen immediately at 6 months. For babies who require more sleep, it will take a little longer.
Total Hours of Sleep Per Day: 12 - 15 hours
Number of Naps: 2 longer naps - 1 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon
Sleep Patterns to Notice: Your baby now has well established asleep cycles just like yours. They should know how to self-soothe and put themselves back to sleep. Now the question is trying to determine when your baby is ready to reduce to 2 naps. The sign of readiness is usually shown by taking a long time to fall asleep for the third nap, at bedtime, or both. You might go a couple of weeks where your baby needs the third nap on some days, but not on others. This will continue until you drop it altogether. Reading “Successful Nap Transitions: What to Do When It’s Time to Drop a Nap” will give you all the tips you need to get this accomplished smoothly.
Many babies are capable of sleeping through the night at this age, but not ALL of them do. It's important to have realistic expectations (outlined in “When do babies sleep through the night without feeding?) and know that it is perfectly normal for your baby to wake up to eat once or twice per night.
Helping Your 6 - 9 month-old Baby Sleep Better: According to parents.com, up to 80% of babies sleep through the night by 9 months. So here's hoping! But even more than hoping is continuing with the sleep routine you've been working so hard on to keep all along. That's one of the best bets for helping your baby learn to sleep through the night. Near the end of this timeframe, your baby may show signs of separation anxiety (the worry babies have about when they'll see you again). If you know your baby isn't hungry, you can go in and calm your baby by rubbing her back or singing a lullaby. Resist the urge to pick her up unless you know she needs to eat.
Here is what your baby's schedule might look like between 6 and 9 months of age:
The above schedule includes a cat nap, but it's likely your 8/9-month-old won't need one. In that case, you may need to move bedtime up a little earlier. This is also around the time that your baby will drop the dream feed.
For more read: A Sleep Schedule for Your 6-9-Month-Old and What to Expect.
Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting offers their top tip for your 6 - 9 month- old:
"Have a flexible schedule but keep your routine predictable. Children crave predictability, especially more sensitive difficult to please babies who are extra fussy. A predictable sleep routine helps ease anxiety. Allow enough time for your whole routine so that you don’t miss their tired window!"
Let's Sleep Through the Night Phase (9 - 12 months) Sleep Schedule
It's likely been the most rewarding, exhausting, and exciting 9 months of your life. Your baby's personality is starting to shine through and the amount of growth that's taken place in such a short time is truly amazing. But the fact is that many parents are still very tired and wondering when they're going to get their old sleep back. This is the age when your baby is truly capable of sleeping a solid stretch of 10-11 hours without needing a feeding.
Total Hours of Sleep Per Day: 11 - 15 hours
Number of Naps: 2 longer naps - 1 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon
Sleep Patterns to Notice: The amount of total sleep your baby needs hasn't changed significantly in the last several months. Your baby still needs to average about 13-14 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
Helping Your 9 - 12 month-old Baby Sleep Better: Sleep regressions (setbacks) are common in this age timeframe, usually between 8 and 10 months. Separation anxiety becomes more pronounced. Your baby wants to be with you and waking up to find you're gone is something that can send them into a tailspin. It can be frustrating to have a little one who is sleeping well but then is suddenly waking up once again or trying to nap strike.
So, what can you do when your baby starts waking up more suddenly?
Continue to make sure your baby is getting fed enough milk during the day so they have full tummies for naps and nighttime. Additionally, continue using your weighted sleep sack (you can transition to the 12 -18-month size if they are ready) alongside the rest of your tried and true sleep routine. Being firm and confident in your abilities is important; and your baby will soon realize that when you show them it's bedtime you mean business. You can be firm in your expectations while still loving them with your whole heart!
As far as setting up a schedule for your 9-12 month-old, this is what it may look like:
We're not saying your baby will take two 3 hour naps, but it's common for a baby to take a short nap in the morning and a long one in the afternoon (or vice versa). If your baby takes two 1.5 hour naps, that’s great, too.
Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting offers their top tip for your 9 - 12 month- old:
"Many babies need some gentle help when it comes to learning how to sleep. Their awake times may be way too long, their bedtime may be too late, their sleep tank may be depleted, or they don’t know how to fall asleep on their own. We want to replace these with positive sleep associations to create healthy sleep habits. Soothe them and comfort if needed, but give them the opportunity to fall asleep on their own. This takes time so prepare yourself that it may not happen the first try. Be their coach rather than their crutch."
For more read: Continuing a Sleep Schedule for Your 9-12-Month-Old
A Final Word on Baby Sleep Patterns and Schedules
If one thing is certain, baby sleep can be erratic during the first year. Though most of this is normal and can be improved with the helpful sleep associations as mentioned, if you're ever concerned, it's important to contact your child's physician. Colic, reflux, and ear infections are all examples of times when your baby's sleep is being disturbed by something other than typical sleep patterns.
Lastly, don't forget through this whole journey that your baby is unique. You've heard the saying "comparison is the thief of joy" and that goes for your baby, too. It's hard not to compare your baby to your friends' babies (or even their older siblings). But the truth is that every baby is different. And you can only control so much with your baby's sleep. Ultimately that comes down to sticking to a consistent routine and doing what you know is best for YOUR baby.
And if you feel like you just need an expert eye into your baby's sleep, sleep coaches can work wonders! Between a consultation with Lauren at Sweet Dreams Sleep Consulting and using your Dreamland Baby Weighted Sack, you'll have your little one into a routine in no time.