Is It Possible for Newborns to Sleep Too Much?
If you're a new parent and have spent hours on end awake with your baby you've likely worried about whether or not you'll ever sleep again. But it's also possible to watch the clock and wonder the opposite: Can your baby sleep too much*?
New moms and dads have a way of worrying about any and everything, right?
Rest easy. We asked sleep doctors to weigh in on what normal newborn sleep patterns look like if it's possible for newborns to sleep too much, and—most importantly—when you can expect to resume your eight hours a night (eventually, we promise).
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What's the right amount of sleep for newborns?
In a 24-hour period, babies sleep between 14 and 17 hours a day, according to The National Sleep Foundation. Of course, just as there is variability in how much sleep adults need, there is variability in kids, too. Some babies sleep up to 18 hours a day, explains Luis E. Ortiz, M.D., a sleep medicine physician at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital. It may not seem like it, but that's about 75 percent of baby's entire day.
"It takes energy to eat and their stomachs are very small, so if they are not eating or fussing, babies basically sleep," says Jen Trachtenberg, M.D., a pediatrician, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Plus, the world can be super overwhelming and overstimulating to a baby used to the comfort of the womb, she notes.
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So what do newborn sleep patterns look like?
Well, they're kind of all over the place.
Robin Kusel, 32, mom of a 10-month-old in New York City says that early on, her son would wake up seven to nine times a night, feed, fall asleep, then wake up. "I would be lucky if I got 30 to 40 minutes in bed at a time."
Kara McKenna, a 29-year-old from Hoboken, NJ who has a three-month-old, says that her baby was a great sleeper from day one. "Overnight, she would usually go for four hour chunks, typically 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., wake up to feed and change, then go back to sleep and wake up between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m."
And that's the issue with newborn sleep: While babies might sleep a lot, that sleep is not usually consolidated into one long block, says Dr. Ortiz, but rather it exists in chunks that last 30 minutes to a few hours.
Even more: "Normally these chunks are distributed evenly between day and night for the first month and change," he says. Early on, a baby's circadian rhythm is not set as they haven't been exposed to sunlight, so they may get days and nights confused, he explains. (Yay.)
The good news? "You start to see a more subtle change in sleep patterns around four to six weeks," says Dr. Ortiz. "The infant brain does an explosion of development and maturation during this time and the infant has been exposed to sunlight, so you start seeing the establishment of the circadian rhythm."
By three months, baby is up for around 45 to 90 minutes at a time and total sleep is more like 14 to 16 hrs a day, says Dr. Trachtenberg. A good chunk of kids are sleeping through the night, too, Dr. Ortiz says. Note: That's a loose term and could mean four to five hours of shuteye between midnight and 6 a.m. "By six to nine months old is when we can truly expect infants to sleep through the night, but even then your mileage may vary," says Dr. Ortiz.
Is it possible for newborns to sleep too much?
"For 99 percent of infants, the answer is no," says Dr. Ortiz.
Sleep is super necessary for little ones. "If baby gets the sleep they need during the day, it helps them to sleep better at night. An overtired baby is fussy, cranky, harder to soothe, and more difficult to get to sleep," says Dr. Trachtenberg.
But it's easy to worry. "There were a couple of days when she would take really long naps and I would get nervous that it was too much," McKenna says of her daughter.
Lindsay Davis, a 31-year-old in, Dallas, TX who has a three-month-old daughter also worried about seemingly long stretches. "One of our first nights in the hospital she slept for four hours in a row and she slept for six hours at night when she was three weeks old." While that might seem like a parent's dream, she says she was "truly terrified when she started sleeping for such long stretches."
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To this, Dr. Ortiz says many parents are simply just unaware of typical sleep requirements for children (remember: those 14 to 17 hours). "The 7 to 9 hours is appropriate for adults, but is not efficient for a child of any age."
That said, it is important for newborns to be awake to feed and develop, says Dr. Trachtenberg. "In general, they should have wet diapers every 4 to 6 hours and feed about every 3 to 4 hours." This usually means six to eight feedings a day.
So in the first few weeks of life, if an infant is sleeping a lot, it's hard to wake them up, and when baby is awake they are lethargic, sluggish, and having a hard time eating, it's crucial to touch base with your doctor, Dr. Ortiz says. "Many issues in the first few days or weeks of life that present like this can be pretty dangerous — infections or metabolic or genetic disorders."
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If baby is sick or not gaining enough weight, your doctor might also recommend waking them up to feed every few hours to ensure they're getting the calories they need.
Otherwise? If your baby is gaining weight at a healthy pace and is alert and feeding normally, everything is likely A-okay. "The desire to sleep is just as powerful of a physical response as hunger," says Dr. Ortiz. "So there can be competing desires."
Simply put: Some babies are just bigger sleepy heads than others, he says.