Understanding Your Newborn's Sleep Cycle

Posted on: 1 June 2015


Any new parent is all too familiar with the seemingly random sleep cycle of their newborn. Newborns do not know what day and night is, and frequently wake after sleeping for as little as half an hour. By understanding what to expect from your newborn's sleeping habits, you will be better prepared as a new parent juggling newborn care.

Are There Sleep Patterns With Newborns?

Your child's sleep patterns may seem random, but there is some rhyme and reason to them. Expect your newborn to sleep between 8-9 hours during the day, and for 8 hours at night, and for it to stay this way until they are 3 months old. Due to the small stomach of a newborn, they will need to wake about every 3 hours to eat.

Even though newborns sleep for 16-17 hours per day, they are not very sound sleepers. They spend much of their time sleeping in what is called active sleep. It's a sleep state that has lots of vocalization, fluttering eyelids, irregular or rapid breathing, and they can be easily woken up.

Why Do Newborns Not Understand The Difference Between Day And Night?

The human body uses circadian rhythms to follow a sleep cycle where you naturally want to sleep at night and be awake during the day. Sunlight helps the body maintain its internal clock, with sunlight keeping you awake when you are exposed to sunlight first thing in the morning. Your body actually produces a hormone that keeps you alert during daytime hours, and produces less of the hormone as your day goes on and nighttime comes.

Unfortunately, newborns do not have a strong circadian rhythm, and their bodies do not know when to produce the hormones that keep them awake during the day. Until their bodies start to learn the difference between night and day, you may be experiencing many sleepless nights as a parent.

How Can I Help My Newborn Adjust To A Proper 24-Hour Sleep Cycle?

There are ways that you can help your newborn develop a circadian rhythm so that they form better sleeping habits that align with your own.

  • Make your newborn part of the daily routine.
  • Reduce light exposure during night feedings.
  • Keep windows open during the day to introduce light.
  • Get outside occasionally for a little sun exposure.
  • Avoid exposure to television at night that can throw off circadian rhythms.

By having a better understanding of your newborn's sleep cycle, you will be able to help them adjust to a proper 24-hour sleep cycle.