Is There A Rhyme To The Madness Of Newborn Sleeping?

by Jane Forester, DO What do you want to know? Come ask the experts! A selection of answers to your questions...
by Jane Forester, DO

What do you want to know? Come ask the experts! A selection of answers to your questions will be regularly posted on the site. For instant gratification, click here to see what other questions have already been answered. Something not here that you want to know? Well come on -- ask your question! The question:
How long do newborn babies usually sleep? What is a typical nap and sleep schedule? - Barbara in Lynchburg, Virginia

The Physician Answers:
I wish that I could give you an ironclad answer that comes with a sleep guarantee, however there is nothing typical about a newborn baby. I can give you averages and then give you the true range wherein most newborns fall. Within the first month of life, the average sleep time is 16.5 hours within each 24-hour period. The range of "normal" is anywhere between 10 and 23 hours per day. If your infant's sleep falls anywhere within this time frame, it is considered normal.

In the first month of life, a newborn typically sleeps from two to four hours at each session. Formula-fed babies tend to sleep longer, perhaps because the formula takes longer to metabolize, thereby sustaining the newborn longer. A breast-fed infant tends to wake more often because the breast milk is easier for the newborn's system to breakdown into useful nutrients. Often, regardless of feeding preference, infants tend to sleep a little longer at nighttime than they do during the day. As they get a little older and their systems get more on track, their nighttime sleeping periods stretch longer and there is more daytime wakefulness.

One thing that you may notice is that a newborn has an extremely restless sleep, and it may appear that they are not sleeping even when they are. This is because a newborn's sleep consists mostly of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is the active dream part of sleep. Your infant may move, startle, or make noises during this period giving you the impression that he is awake. Take the time to observe if your baby is really awake or just in the middle of an active dream before you get him from his crib (this will ultimately save wear and tear on you).

As your newborn matures, so do her sleep patterns (less REM in exchange for more peaceful sleep) and her length of sleeping in one chunk also grows. Some people may advise you to let your infant "cry it out" to "learn" how to sleep, but any method like this is completely inappropriate until the baby is four to five months old, and only after discussing it with your baby's doctor. During infancy, what the baby needs to have reinforced again and again is that when she cries a pair of loving hands will pick her up and comfort her.

Best of luck!

Dr Jane Forester
Family Physician

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