How do I know if my baby is getting enough sleep? What Can I Do?
It's a common concern of parents to wonder if their baby's not sleeping enough. With a newborn's erratic sleeping patterns, it can be difficult to determine what's normal and what's not. Everyone told you sleep would be difficult to come by once the baby arrived, but until you're actually in the thick of it with a little one, that can be pretty tough to wrap your head around. The sleepy fog that settles upon you during your baby's first year makes you wonder if good sleep will ever be back for any of you.
It can seem like your baby isn't sleeping enough when they actually are...because a baby doesn't operate on the same sleep schedule you do. However, there is a certain amount of sleep your baby should be getting and it is possible that your baby isn't getting the good sleep they need.
Here we'll go over:
- why sleep is important for your baby
- that "normal" baby sleep is sometimes confused with a sleep problem
- what you should expect for your baby's sleep at certain ages
- signs your baby isn't sleeping enough and how to fix it
Why Sleep is Important for Your Baby
There are so many reasons why a baby doesn't just come into this world sleeping like you wish they would. In the beginning you're so enamored with your little one that the lack of sleep is a small price to pay for more love than you've ever known. But sleep is so important to our health and well-being that it doesn't take long for the lack of sleep to take its toll. And good sleep is just as important for your baby. We want you to be realistic in your expectations of a little one whose sleep is developmentally normal, while at the same time working to help them get the healthy sleep they need. You will all be getting plenty of sleep soon enough with a little bit of work.
So, why is sleep so important for babies?
Sleep plays an important role in your baby's cognitive development. When an infant is born, their brains are growing at a rapid rate. They need an enormous amount of sleep to foster all of that growth. Your baby is learning with you while they are awake, but it's when they sleep that it becomes engrained.
Sleep for physical growth is just as important. If your baby isn't sleeping enough and restoring their body each night, it will be difficult for them to meet adequate growth by day. Being ready to tackle a day of milestones starts with good sleep.
Normal Baby Sleep Versus Sleep Problems
Before we get into specifics of how much sleep babies need at certain ages and what might be getting in the way of that necessary sleep, let's first put out a few important facts you should know.
- According to the Stanford Children's Health, when talking about babies, "sleeping through the night" is considered to be a 6-8 hour stretch of time without waking. Now I don't know about you, but 6 hours doesn't really equate to sleeping through the night in my mind. But that's often what the experts mean. So, just be clear on the fact that when you see that your baby should be "sleeping through the night" this doesn't necessarily mean a solid stretch of 10+ hours that older babies and kids eventually can do.
- Standford Children's Health also goes onto say that about 2/3 of babies are able to consistently sleep through the night by 6 months. But that's ONLY 6-8 HOURS! The true sleep through the night, you put them to bed, and they don't wake up until the sun comes up that you're so desperately longing for is not what they mean. This can be very confusing.
- There is a very wide range of normal when it comes to baby sleep. Some babies need less and some need more. There are also those unique personalities they each have to consider, as well as all of the outside influences around them. So we can't say for sure when your baby will sleep a full 8-12 hours without needing a feeding and even the experts vary in what they say.
What we're getting at is that often it can seem like your baby isn't sleeping enough when they actually are. When another mom starts bragging that her little one's already sleeping through the night and yours isn't even close, it can be discouraging. You wonder what you're doing wrong and it might make you worry. In actuality, there's often no reason to be concerned.
So first, take a deep breath. Let's look at how much sleep your baby needs and then we have some solutions for you if you don't think they're quite where they need to be.
How Much Sleep Your Baby Should be Getting By Age
If you're looking for a full rundown on your baby's sleep patterns for each stage, read our article, "Baby's Sleep Patterns and Schedules for the First Year for an extensive look. Here we have the simplified version of what you can expect for how much your baby should sleep at each age:
Newborn to 2 months
Total Hours of Sleep in 24 hours: 15 - 18 hours or more
Number of Naps: Your baby is too young for formal naps and may sleep a lot throughout the day
At this age, your baby will sleep a lot. They can go from awake to asleep (and back again) in an instant and will fall asleep pretty much anywhere. Your baby is growing at an incredible rate and over stimulation happens quickly - both causing them to need a lot of sleep.
On the other hand, your baby's tummy is so tiny! He can only hold so much breastmilk or formula in there and it's usually digested within 3 hours.So even though he sleeps a lot, he also has to eat a lot, too. And that means long increments of sleep just aren't possible yet.
2 - 3 months
Total Hours of Sleep in 24 hours: 14 - 16 Hours
Number of Naps: typically 3 full naps, plus a possible evening "catnap"
This is the age when your baby's sleep starts to take on more noticeable patterns. They can stay awake for longer periods without getting overstimulated, making it easier for you to start moving into more designated nap times. This is still a good age to follow their cues, but you'll be able to get into a daily rhythm where they start showing signs of sleepiness around the same times of the day.
If you haven't yet established a good bedtime sleep routine or yet, now is the perfect time to start doing so. This can include the use of the Dreamland Baby Weighted Swaddle (which transitions to a sack design once they start rolling over). Visit this article, to find out our best practices for a sleep routine - including moving your baby to their own crib if you haven't yet done so.
4 - 6 Months
Total Hours of Sleep in 24 hours: 13 - 16 Hours
Number of Naps: 3 naps, about 1.5 - 3 hours each
And herein lies the dreaded 4-Month Sleep Regression. It's also a time when a lot of parents wonder if their baby is sleeping enough, because it often seems like the amount of sleep is actually getting worse instead of better. Which is probably true. This is because your baby is transitioning into the type of sleep cycles they'll have for the rest of their lives. Up until now, they flowed through 2 sleep cycles - now it will be 4-5.
In short, your baby will be waking up more often as they move between cycles. They may have a hard time going back to sleep. If you think this is what your baby is experiencing, it's not just normal, it's healthy! Luckily, it's usually temporary and they'll be back to getting the proper amount of sleep very soon.
If you need tips on how to help your baby during this regression period, check out our article all about this topic.
6 - 9 Months
Total Hours of Sleep in 24 hours: 12 - 15 Hours
Number of Naps: 2 longer naps - one in the morning, one in the afternoon
During the 6 - 9 month time frame, a lot of babies do have the capability to sleep through the night. They've made it through the 4-month sleep regression, and they are able to take in larger amounts of food at a time that take them longer to digest. That allows them to go for longer stretches between feeds and hopefully get a long stretch of sleep at night. But this is more likely for formula-fed babies. That doesn't mean breastfed babies won't do it, but breast milk is digested more quickly so it may take a little longer.
However, just because babies are physically ready to sleep through the night doesn't mean it's not normal if they don't. Even this article from the AAP conducted a study and found that over half of the 6-month-old babies didn't sleep a full 8 hours, and about 43 percent of 12-month-olds weren't sleeping the full 8 hours. So even if it seems like everyone else's babies are sleeping through the night, they're really not!
9 - 12 Months
Total Hours of Sleep in 24 hours: 11 - 15 hours
Number of Naps: 2 longer naps - one in the morning, one in the afternoon
By this age, your baby is definitely capable of sleeping through the night as long as they are getting enough calories through breast milk or formula by day. But even if they aren't sleeping a full 8 or more hours, as long as they are able to fall back asleep after night feedings and are getting adequate daytime sleep, there isn't usually a "sleep problem". You may WANT them to sleep all the way through, but total hours of sleep is what's important for their health.
On the other hand, you don't have to settle on the fact that they won't ever sleep through the night. With a little work, which we'll discuss in our solution steps below, you can get the old sleep back you've been dreaming of.
Signs Your Baby Isn't Sleeping Enough and How to Fix It
So now you know that there is quite range of what's considered "normal" for baby sleep at each age. But at the same time, there really are babies who aren't getting the sleep they need to get the optimal brain and physical development they need.
If you saw above that your baby should be sleeping 12 -15 hours in a 24-hour period as a 7-month-old, for example, and yours is sleeping significantly less, then you'll want to take steps to help your baby sleep more. We would advise a consult with your pediatrician as a first step.
But there are other signs to look for that your baby's sleep could be improved. We've listed them below along with some advice. Read on to find out our number one tip to helping your baby get the sleep they need!
- Your baby is fussy, whiny or cries a lot during the waking hours. Babies aren't happy all the time - we know that! Just like we get in bad moods or feel frustration, so do they. And this is how they show it. However, if you feel like you see these emotions more often than contentment and happiness, more sleep is probably needed. If your baby has been fed and changed and are still acting like this, it's probably time for bed! Even if it means an extra nap, or an earlier bedtime, the chances are likely that they need it.
- Falls asleep during short car trips. Sometimes this can't be helped, and isn't a big deal if it happens on occasion. But if it's happening consistently, your baby probably isn't getting enough sleep at home. Maybe you are trying to fit in errands when your baby should actually be napping at home. This can be more difficult if there are older siblings, but it's really important to carve out large chunks of time for your baby to get in a good nap at home and in their own crib.
- Is overly clingy and constantly wants to be held. You'll definitely want to rule out sickness or teething before you point to lack of sleep, as these are normal signs of those situations, too. But if you know it isn't that, and your baby acts like this often, they are probably overtired. Pay attention to how many hours of sleep your baby is getting and how closely it aligns with the amounts we've stated above. If it's less than the recommended amount, then you can assume your child needs more sleep. We recommend moving up your baby's bedtime in small increments over the course of several days. Getting in that extra hour can make a big difference!
- Wakes up grumpy, crying, or whiny. We're going to guess this is happening when your baby wakes up early from a nap or in the middle of the night. Babies usually wake up happy if they've had enough sleep. But this is also your baby's way of telling you that they want to see you and be held. If you know it's not time for them to get up, you need to allow them to go back to sleep on their own. Otherwise, their naps will always be cut short. We know this can be tricky, so we offer helpful ways to go about doing this in our article: "A Helpful Guide for Sleep Training Your Baby."
We've offered you tips to follow in specific situations, and they're all-around great sleep strategies to follow. But one of the best ways parents can help their child get their best sleep is by creating a proper sleep routine. You're essentially making the perfect environment for your baby to learn to fall asleep in on their own. This includes things like eliminating sleep props, making a room dark, singing to your baby and using a Dreamland weighted sack to calm your baby. We recommend doing this early on, but it's never too late to start!
Getting your baby to fall asleep independently is your best bet in helping them get the sleep they need, both for naps and eventually through the night.