It’s helpful to think of your baby’s sleep as a journey. As your baby grows and changes, so do their sleep needs. In this article we’ll review the six phases of your baby’s sleep journey that occur in their first 12-months of life, and what you can do to help them establish healthy sleepy habits along the way.
What are “normal” baby sleep patterns?
The sleep patterns of babies can vary widely for many reasons. Circadian rhythms change as babies get older, and each has their own sleep needs and develops at their own pace. As babies grow, the amount of sleep they need everyday changes, as do their wake windows (the amount of time they’re awake between naps).
While every baby is different, there are general guidelines for what may be considered “normal” for each age group:
- Newborns (0-3 months) typically sleep for 14-17 hours a day, with sleep cycles lasting 2-4 hours. Their sleep typically revolves around their need to eat, and because their circadian rhythm isn’t yet mature they don’t know the difference between day and night. Towards the end of the newborn stage is a great time to start establishing the fundamentals of good sleep.
- Infants (4-11 months) generally sleep for 12-15 hours a day, which includes daytime naps. During these months they’ll go through 2 or 3 nap transitions as their wake windows get larger.
- By the age of 6 months, many babies start sleeping longer stretches at night, with some even sleeping through the night. However, it's common for infants to still wake for feedings.
- As babies approach their first birthday, they may sleep for 11-14 hours every day. They still take at least one nap, with most of their sleep occurring at night.
No matter which sleep stage your baby is at, safety always comes first. So before we go into each phase, here are some basic safety guidelines for putting your baby down to sleep for a naps or at night:
- Always place them down on their back.
- Use a firm, mattress with a well fitted sheet
- Clear the crib or sleeping space of blankets, toys, or sheets.
- Keep them sleeping in your room for the first 6 months.
- Swaddle them or dress them in a sleep sack. Watch for overheating, though, which is shown by flushed cheeks, damp hairlines, rapid breathing, or sweating.
Phase 1: Birth to 6-8 weeks
Newborns typically exhibit irregular sleep patterns characterized by frequent wakings to eat and short sleep cycles. Newborn babies sleep for an average of 14 to 17 hours a day, but this sleep is divided into short segments, usually lasting for two to four hours at a time.
During this time your newborn sleep may seem completely disorganized. This is with good reason; their circadian rhythms have not matured, they don’t yet know the difference between night and day and there is simply no pattern or schedule to their sleep. In fact, pretty much anything goes. From a short 20 minute power nap to a longer 90 minute nap – both are totally normal and expected. What’s important is to ensure your newborn is feeding well and may be worth considering seeking help from a lactation consultant and or doula if needed.
It might sound crazy, but my first piece of advice is to enjoy this phase as much as possible! Enjoy every snuggle, every newborn noise, don’t stress about schedules and most importantly know that you cannot spoil your newborn, this time is all about bonding and getting to know each other. Your newborn is simply not biologically ready to ‘be scheduled’ and cannot organize their sleep, so do whatever it takes to safely help your newborn (and you) get as much rest as possible.
That said, there are a couple of things we can do to help your newborn adjust to life outside of the womb in these early weeks that will help set them up for sleep success:
1. For fussy or unsettled newborns, we want to try and spark their calming reflex, Dr Harvey Karp’s 5 S’s can be helpful to trigger soothing:
- S – Swaddle: A cozy swaddle (loose hips) can help mimic the womb.
- S – Side Position (while being held): Gently hold your newborn on their side.
- S – Shush: White or brown noise or your own ‘Shush’ noise delivered at the same level as the crying mimics the sound of blood flow in the womb. (Demo this for the audience)
- S – Swing: Fast but tiny movements while supporting your newborn’s head can help mimic the natural wiggle of being in the womb.
- S – Suck: Offer a pacifier, many newborns will calm instantly when sucking.
2. For newborns who are more awake at night versus during the day, there are ways to help them start to recognize the difference between nighttime sleep and daytime sleep. If they are up a lot at night, keep the lights off during nighttime wakings and feedings, ensuring you keep any needed interactions minimal and calm. You can also make sure to expose them to lots of light during daytime hours. By 8 weeks this confusion should pass. But remember: Don’t keep them awake for longer during the day to see if they’ll sleep better at night. That will only deprive them of sleep and make them irritable and overtired at night.
Phase 2: 6-8 weeks
Somewhere between 6-8 weeks, your newborn will reach their first sleep milestone. You’ll notice their night sleep may become more organized and you may see at least one overnight sleep stretch last a little longer (maybe as much as 4-6 hours). They will still need to eat during the night but the time between eating may be longer. Physical signals that your newborn is reaching the end of this phase of sleep are:
- Your newborn starts to knows the difference between day and night.
- The Witching Hour is starting to peak (perhaps with the exception of newborns with colic).
- Their first social smile, this signals they are starting to make connections! This is HUGE, and seriously is there really anything better than seeing a newborn react with a smile when you enter the room?
Now that we know your newborn is making connections and reaching new developmental milestones, they will be able to follow cues and notice patterns. This is a great time to start building healthy sleep habits. Experts recommend downloading the Smart Sleep Coach by Pampers™ app, which can help guide you step by step on how to establish sleep fundamentals.
Sleep fundamentals include:
1. A consistent sleep nourishing environment
Now is a good time to start getting them used to their crib, starting with naps, but is it also super important that the space your newborn sleeps in is:
- Pitch dark – use blackout shades or curtains.
- Cool – 68°F (max 72°F). Many newborn monitors offer relative room temperature and humidity readings.
- Quiet while maintaining a steady background noise. A white noise machine running at 50dB (the maximum level recommended by the AAP) is ideal.
2. Understanding and acting on their sleepy cues. About 45-mins after they wake up you might notice your newborn:
- Rubbing their eyes
- Getting fussy
- Zoning out or their eyes kind of glaze over
- Pulling their ears
- Turning their head side to side
These are all signals your newborn is tired and ready to sleep again. Catching your newborn when they give these signals should mean you can prepare them for sleep before they become overtired.
3. Introducing a consistent, soothing sleepy time routine
Your goal here is to soothe your newborn as a cue for them to fall asleep. The act of actually falling asleep is the newborn's job, and you want to reduce the use of anything the newborn can’t do themselves to fall asleep, these could include props such as a stroller or car ride, things like rocking, bouncing or patting.
A good soothing routine can include a song, a story, a diaper change, a feeding, anything really – what is most important is that you:
1. Complete the routine before your newborn falls asleep, you want to place your newborn down drowsy but awake.
2. Keep the same steps in the same order each time and follow your newborn’s cues to either speed up or cut short your routine as you see them becoming more tired.
There are no hard and fast rules here, but some tips that might help you along the way:
1. Remember your #1 goal is to avoid missing the window where they are ready to sleep, this will result in an overtired baby .
2. If your child becomes irritated during the routine, it could be a sign they just need to be put down (on their back) to sleep. Equally if you have followed the steps in your routine and your newborn is calm this is a good opportunity to put them down (on their back) to sleep.
3. If you put your newborn down (drowsy but awake) and they start crying, you can of course pick them up and soothe them – remember you cannot spoil your newborn at this age. They rely on your support to calm down!
4. Remember you’re not on a ‘schedule’ – the sleep day may be erratic and nap lengths will still differ in length; you’re following your newborn’s sleepy cues to manage their sleep.
5. Falling asleep independently is a skill they will be ready to learn in the next few weeks, but now is a great time to see how they do if they wake up early from a nap. Leave them for a few minutes in their sleep area before getting them. They may be able to soothe themselves and go back to sleep!
Phase 3: 8-16 weeks
The newborn phase is nearly over! Now is a good time to continue to build your baby’s healthy sleep foundation, by following their sleepy cues, delivering a consistent sleepy time routine and ensuring your baby sleeps in a safe, sleep nourishing environment.
As the weeks pass, you’ll notice your baby’s wake windows start to extend anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes. Bedtime will naturally move earlier, often between 6-7pm, and overnight sleep stretches will more consistently become longer. When your baby approaches 16-weeks and beyond you may start to notice a new pattern of daytime sleep. This is because around this age is when their circadian rhythms start to mature.
As your baby grows and develops each developmental progression can, and will, impact their sleep. Experts say there are more than 20 developmental events that can affect sleep! Understanding when these changes are coming and what to look out for, will help you stay one step ahead of your baby’s sleep so you can confidently adjust how you support them and foster healthy sleep habits.
Enjoy these first weeks and months, it is super precious time!
Witching Hour or Purple Crying - Peaks between 3 and 5 months (12-20 weeks) of age
If your baby seems fussy in the early evening, you could be experiencing ‘The Witching Hour’ or the ‘PURPLE Crying Period’. This crying often seems to come out of nowhere – and lasts as much as 5 hours a day. It can increase week over week, peaking at month two and tapering off from months 3 to 5. It is completely NORMAL and is experienced by many young babies. Quite often the baby may appear to be in pain and resist soothing, but they most likely are not in pain.
My eldest went through this, I remember finding it so very tough to make dinner and try to pacify her. Dr Harvey Karp’s 5S’s can really help here. When the crying lasts a long-time it can be very frustrating. It’s ok if you need to put your baby down safely in their crib for a moment to take a mental break. I also recommend wearing your baby when possible and proactively enlisting the help of friends and relatives to give you a break. As hard as this is to deal with in the moment, know this too will pass.
Also, to soothe yourself, check out the mindfulness exercises in the Smart Sleep Coach app – they’re easy, effective “me time” moments that really help you feel confident and in control during these early days.
Phase 4: 16-24 Weeks
Between 16 and 24 weeks, babies undergo notable changes in their sleep patterns. During this stage, infants typically require around 12 to 16 hours of sleep per day, with nighttime sleep assuming greater significance. Nighttime sleep continues to consolidate, and many babies may start sleeping for more extended periods, often ranging from 4 to 8 hours at a stretch.
Daytime naps remain an essential component of their sleep routine, with infants taking 3 to 4 naps throughout the day, though the duration and frequency can vary from baby to baby.
As babies gradually become more responsive to external cues, some may even begin to develop a more predictable nap schedule. Smart Sleep Coach can help you create a sleep schedule for your baby that’s both developmentally appropriate and aligned with their unique biological rhythm.
Nighttime feedings may still be part of the routine for some infants, but others may start to drop night feeds as they consume more nourishment during the day. This period marks a transition in sleep patterns, laying the foundation for more predictable and extended periods of sleep as your baby continues to grow and develop.
Phase 5: 6-9 Months
Between 6 and 9 months, babies experience further refinement in their sleep patterns. At this stage, infants generally require around 12 to 14 hours of sleep per day. Nighttime sleep becomes more consistent, with many babies achieving longer periods of uninterrupted sleep, often ranging from 10 to 12 hours.
Around this time is when daytime naps often consolidate into 2 to 3 naps, and the duration of these naps becomes more predictable. As your baby becomes more adept at self-soothing and adapting to a routine, nighttime feedings may become less frequent. The transition to solid foods during this period can also contribute to more substantial daytime feedings, further supporting the reduction of nighttime feeds. While some babies may experience sleep regressions due to developmental milestones, establishing a consistent bedtime routine and sleep environment remains crucial for fostering healthy sleep habits during this stage of infancy.
Phase 6: 9-12 Months
Between 9 and 12 months, babies continue to refine their sleep patterns as they approach their first birthday. At this stage, infants generally require around 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day. Nighttime sleep becomes more consolidated, with many babies achieving 10 to 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep during the night.
Daytime naps typically settle into a routine of 2 naps per day, and the duration of these naps becomes more consistent. With the gradual reduction in nighttime feedings, babies increasingly rely on daytime feedings and solid foods to meet their nutritional needs. Some infants may experience occasional sleep disruptions due to teething or developmental milestones, but overall, establishing a consistent bedtime routine remains essential for promoting healthy sleep habits. As your baby becomes more mobile and curious, ensuring a safe sleep environment becomes crucial, with attention to any changes in routine that may impact their sleep. Consulting with a pediatrician can provide tailored guidance to navigate the evolving sleep patterns of infants in this age group.
Baby sleep patterns after 12 months
Beyond 12 months old, toddlers continue to undergo changes in their sleep patterns as they transition from infancy to early childhood. At this stage, most toddlers require about 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day, which includes both nighttime sleep and daytime naps. Nighttime sleep tends to remain relatively stable, with many toddlers sleeping for around 10 to 12 hours at night.
Daytime naps often consolidate into a single nap, typically lasting 1 to 2 hours, though some toddlers may continue with two shorter naps for a while. Sleep routines become increasingly important during this phase, providing a sense of security and predictability for the child. Bedtime rituals, such as reading a book or singing a lullaby, can help signal that it's time to wind down. It's common for toddlers to test boundaries, and occasional sleep challenges may arise due to factors like teething, illness, or changes in routine. Consistency, patience, and creating a sleep-conducive environment are key elements in supporting healthy sleep habits as toddlers continue to grow and develop.
How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.