Sleep needs for babies

Sleep needs for babies

How much sleep do babies need?

Just like grown-ups, babies all sleep for different amounts of time. But your baby's mood and wellbeing is often a good guide to whether he's getting enough sleep.

If your baby is:

  • wakeful and grizzly, she probably needs more sleep
  • wakeful and contented, she's probably getting enough sleep!

Remember that your baby is unique. He might be doing fine with more or less sleep than other babies the same age.

As children get older, their night-time sleeps get longer and they need fewer naps during the day. Babies and younger children tend to have shorter sleeps at night and more naps during the day. They often wake during the night to feed and might need help to settle themselves to sleep again.

Babies under 12 months: sleep needs

0-3 months
Most newborns don't have definite day and night sleep patterns. They're still learning to tell the difference between day and night.

Newborns generally sleep for 16-20 hours in a 24-hour period, but they wake every 2-4 hours to be fed. They need lots of feeds because they have tiny tummies.

Over the first 12 weeks most newborns start to develop day and night sleep patterns. By three months, babies are averaging 14-15 hours of sleep in each 24-hour period.

3-6 months
At this age, most babies sleep 10-18 hours in a 24-hour period. On average, they sleep around 14 hours.

Although they're growing quickly, babies still need to wake for feeding at this age.

Sleeping patterns vary a lot, but babies generally nap three times during the day. Most babies need help to settle to sleep.

6-12 months
During these months most babies still sleep for around 14 hours in a 24-hour period.

Here's what to expect during the day:

  • Most babies nap during the day.
  • Naps usually last 1-2 hours. Some babies sleep longer. Up to a quarter of all babies of this age nap for less than an hour.

And here's what to expect at night:

  • Most babies are ready for bed between 6 pm and 10 pm.
  • Most babies take less than 30 minutes to get to sleep.
  • Many babies wake during the night and need an adult to settle them back to sleep. About 1 in 10 babies will do this 3-4 times a night.

More than a third of parents say they have problems with their baby's sleep at this age.

Babies often wake up because they're worried about being separated from you. A reassuring touch or cuddle can build your baby's attachment to you and help her learn that you're close by, even if she can't see you. As babies develop they gradually overcome this worry.

Babies over 12 months: sleep needs

At 12-18 months old, babies generally sleep 13-15 hours over a 24-hour period. Most babies have naps twice a day until around 18 months. Around this time babies often go from having two naps to having one longer daytime nap.

Some babies start to resist going to sleep at night, preferring to stay up with the family. This peaks at around 18 months and tends to go away with age.

Concerned your baby isn't getting enough sleep

If you're concerned that your baby isn't getting enough sleep, it can be a good idea to track your baby's sleep for a week or so. This can help you get a clear picture of what's going on.

You can do this by drawing up a simple chart with columns for each day of the week. Divide the days into hourly blocks, and colour the intervals when your baby is asleep. Keep your chart for 5-7 days.

Once completed, the chart will tell you things like:

  • when your baby is sleeping
  • how much sleep your baby is getting
  • how many times your baby is waking during the night over the course of a week
  • when your baby is waking at night
  • how long your baby is taking to settle after waking.

You can also record how you tried to resettle your baby and what worked or didn't work.

Then you can compare the information in your chart with the general information about baby sleep needs above:

  • How does your child compare to other babies the same age? All babies are different, but if your baby is getting much less sleep than others, your baby might be tired and need more opportunities for sleep.
  • How many times is your baby waking up during the night? If your baby is waking only once or twice, your baby isn't that different from most babies the same age. But if it's 3-4 times a night or more, you might be feeling very tired. You might want to think about changing your baby's sleep patterns.

If you decide you need to see a professional for help with your baby's sleep, take your chart with you.

Keep your chart going as you look into ways to handle your baby's sleep problems. It will allow you to assess your progress and see just how much change is occurring.

If you're concerned about your child's sleep for any reason, you should discuss your concerns with a professional. Start by talking with your GP or child and family health nurse.