How Much Sleep Do Infants Need? An Age-By-Age Guide

How Much Sleep Do Infants Need? - Illustration by Theresa Chiechi

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

One thing new parents are often surprised to learn is just how much their baby will sleep during those first few weeks after birth. Typically, newborns will wake up to eat and go right back to sleep.

What this amounts to is very little awake time and lots of total sleep time, broken up by frequent feedings around the clock. And because newborn sleep patterns vary drastically from older children and adults, it's natural to have questions. In one survey, 40 percent of parents of young babies indicated that they were concerned about their infant's sleep.

To help you make sense of your baby's sleep patterns and needs, we have put together some expert-approved guidelines on infant sleep. We explain how much sleep babies need at different ages and why so much shut-eye helps them thrive.

General Infant Sleep Guidelines

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), newborns typically sleep up to 18 hours a day. While this sounds like a lot of sleep, their sleep doesn't really follow a pattern early on. Yes, they need to wake up frequently to eat. But they lack an internal biological clock, or circadian rhythm, to dictate their sleep-wake cycles.

Newborns only have two sleep stages—REM sleep and NREM sleep—instead of four stages like older infants, children, and adults, says Nikki Smith, MEd, NCC, NCSC, CSWC, a certified pediatric and adult sleep consultant with SleepWise. What's more, their sleep patterns are often not related to the daylight and nighttime cycles, making it hard sometimes for you to recognize a pattern at all.

As time goes on, most infants will develop more predictable nap and sleep patterns. Until then, focus on bonding with your baby and building the feeding relationship. Most newborns eat every two to three hours (or eight to 12 times every 24 hours). If you worry that your baby's sleep patterns might interfere with their ability to get enough milk, be sure to talk to their pediatrician.

For babies, sleep safety is even more important than comfort. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician to make sure you are doing all you can to protect your baby from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and other sleep-related hazards. Follow the ABCs of safe sleep by putting all babies under age 1 down alone (without any soft bedding, loveys, or you or another caregiver); on their back; and in a crib, bassinet, or play yard that's certified safe by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

How Much Sleep Does My Infant Need?

It is helpful to pay attention to how much total sleep your baby is getting since babies need plenty of rest to grow healthy and strong. Although newborns need about 18 hours of sleep every 24 hours, babies will need only about 14 hours of sleep every 24 hours by their first birthday. Recognizing your baby's tired cues—crying, fussing, or turning away from lights, your breast, or the bottle—can prompt you to settle your baby down to sleep when they need it.

However, it is important to remember that every baby is different. Some babies will sleep a little more and some will sleep a little less, and just because your little one may deviate from what is considered "the norm" does not mean that you should worry or that something is wrong.

"Every baby is different, and every family is different," Smith says. "It's OK not to fit the mold. Sleep recommendations are just that—recommendations. Some kids are going to have different sleep needs and that is totally OK. The goal is to set your baby up for a lifetime of solid sleep skills."

The following are general sleep guidelines for babies at different ages and stages. Do not hesitate to call your pediatrician or a certified sleep consultant if you are concerned that your baby is getting too much sleep or too little.

Approximate Infant Sleep Needs
Age Total Sleep  Nighttime Sleep Daytime Sleep
Newborn-2 Months 16 to 18 hours 8 to 9 hours 8 to 9 hours 
2 to 4 Months  14 to 16 hours  9 to 10 hours  4 to 6 hours 
4 to 6 Months  14 hours  9 to 10 hours  4 to 5 hours 
6 to 12 Months  14 hours  10 to 11 hours  3 to 4 hours 
Courtesy of American Academy of Pediatrics, Stanford Children's Health, and Nikki Smith, MEd, NCC, NCSC, CSWC

Up to 2 Months

Typically, newborns sleep about eight to nine hours at night and about eight hours during the day, but they may not sleep more than one to two hours at a time. Not only are they waking up to feed, but they also may not appear to sleep soundly.

"Newborn sleep can be super chaotic," Smith says. "Those first four to six weeks, not a lot is happening except eating and sleeping. The focus should be on establishing those good, full feeds— making sure they are awake enough to feed and then go back down."

Around 5 to 6 weeks, your baby's eyes are open a lot longer and that is when you might notice a little more quality awake time of 45 minutes to one hour at a stretch.

"A baby this age is going to eat eight to 12 times in a 24-hour period," Smith says. "I don’t recommend clock feeding, especially in those first four weeks. It's important to watch your baby, not the clock, and establish that good feeding relationship whether they're nursing or bottle-fed."

Babies this age also may look restless when they are sleeping. In fact, it is common to see them twitch their arms and legs, smile, make faces, and make sucking noises. These movements are largely due to reflexes that they cannot control and are nothing to be concerned about.

2 to 4 Months

By the time infants reach this age, some are already beginning to have more consolidated blocks of sleep at night, with three or four naps during the day. By 3 or 4 months of age, your baby should be sleeping about 14 to 16 hours in a 24-hour period.

As your baby's sleep patterns start to become more predictable, it is important to make sure you are having quality time during the day and cuddling when you can. Not only does cuddling and comforting help your baby feel more secure, but babies who feel secure are better able to handle separations, especially at night.

Renee Turchi, MD, MPH, FAAP, the medical director of the Pennsylvania AAP Medical Home Program and AAP member recommends making sure your baby also is getting plenty of tummy time on the floor. Typically, you can start giving your baby tummy time when they are about 2 months old and able to lift their head.

"It is important for infants to have tummy time," Dr. Turchi says. "[Aim for] twice a day when they are most wakeful and they can get a little bit of a workout."

Another way to promote good sleep is to start watching your baby for sleep patterns and pay attention to their awake times. Instead of looking for sleepy cues, Smith advises paying attention to awake times recognizing that after 1 hour or more, your baby may be ready to sleep again.

"I like to focus on a routine rather than set a schedule," says Smith. "Babies are not robots. We cannot program them to go to sleep at the same time every day. We have to allow for growth spurts and the development that is happening. A routine sets everyone up for success and it is less stressful than scheduling by the clock."

4 to 6 Months

At around 4 to 6 months, your baby may start to sleep longer stretches at night before waking up to eat. They also start to settle into a more predictable nap schedule of about two naps per day—one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

You also can start establishing good sleep hygiene around this age. Look for opportunities to begin creating a bedtime routine that is soothing and conducive to sleep. Not only are you helping build a foundation for good sleep habits, but you are helping support your child's development.

"Sleep is very important to the growth and brain development of infants," explains Sarah Denny, MD, a pediatric primary care specialist with Nationwide Children's Hospital who is passionate about safe sleep. 

A good starter bedtime routine might involve giving your baby a bath and reading a story before bed. These predictable aspects of a sleep routine signal to your baby that now is the time to fall asleep.

"[At this age], it is also important to follow a routine of wake, eat, play, sleep," says Smith. "You also do not want to feed your baby super close to when you want them to sleep. And pay attention to the changes that are happening and follow that routine and flow."

6 to 12 Months

By the time your baby is 6 months old, they are probably taking two naps a day and may even be sleeping through the night. In fact, about two-thirds of babies can sleep through the night on a regular basis by age 6 months.

What's more, your baby is likely to be more active and engaged while awake. Not only are they sitting up, but they also are starting solid foods and soon will be moving around quite a bit—first creeping, then crawling, and eventually walking.

They are also gaining language skills and perfecting fine motor skills. They may even experience separation anxiety. All of these developments can impact their sleep. The key is to help your baby to stay engaged and learn about the world around them, but not at the expense of sleep.

You also can solidify bedtime routines by putting your baby to sleep at night at predictable times. For instance, it is not uncommon for babies to go to bed around 7 or 8 p.m. at night, depending on the family's schedule and work commitments.

By establishing a regular bedtime routine, you can work toward creating more predictable wake-up and nap times. "I usually recommend working backward," Dr. Turchi says. "If you want to put your baby to bed around 6 or 7 p.m., work backward to determine when your baby will wake and nap in order to get that 10 hours of sleep at night."

A Word From Verywell

If you are struggling to make sense of your newborn's sleeping patterns, remind yourself that this chaotic and unpredictable phase does not last forever. Soon, a more predictable sleeping pattern will emerge, and you will be able to get more extended periods of rest as your baby does.

As long as you pay attention to your baby's cues and begin working to establish a routine, your baby will have a more predictable sleep pattern in no time. If you are concerned about the amount of sleep your infant is getting—or not getting—be sure to talk to your child's pediatrician. They can advise you on making sure your baby sleeps as soundly and safely as possible.

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8 Sources
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