How to Set Good Sleep Patterns for Your Baby

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on October 04, 2023
5 min read

Caring for a newborn can make you feel like you're on an emotional roller coaster. One minute, you're excited and full of energy. The next, you're bleary-eyed and cranky because of sleep deprivation. it's just a fact: Since brand-new babies can’t sleep through the night, neither can you.

The good news? This sleepless stretch doesn't last forever. 

The amount of sleep a baby needs depends on a lot of things, but here are some general guidelines:

1-4 weeks old: 15-16 hours of sleep per day

Babies this young don't yet have an internal "clock" that tells them to sleep at night and stay awake during the day. Because of that, they usually sleep about 15 to 18 hours a day, but only in short periods of 2 to 4 hours. 

Premature babies (babies born before their due date) may sleep longer, while colicky babies (who may cry for 3 or more hours a day) may sleep less.

1-4 months old: 14-15 hours per day

As early as 6 weeks of age, you may start to notice more regular sleep patterns. Your baby may now sleep as long as 4 to 6 hours, usually during the night.

4-12 months old: 14-15 hours per day

Not only is your baby much more social at this age, but their sleep patterns are starting to be more adult-like. While up to 15 hours of sleep at this age is still ideal, most babies up to 11 months old get only about 12 hours of sleep.

At the start of this time frame, your baby may take three naps a day. Their morning nap may start at 9 a.m. and last about an hour. Midday naps often happen between noon and 2 p.m. and last an hour or two. And your baby's late afternoon nap may start anywhere from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and vary in length.

Once your baby's able to sleep through the night (usually when they're around 6 months old), they may drop from three naps to two.

To help your newborn establish the sleep patterns of your dreams , here are some simple steps you can follow.

Your baby will let you know when they need sleep. Watch for these common signs that they feel tired:

  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Yawning
  • Looking away from you
  • Fussing

Don’t wait until your baby is overtired to put them to bed. An exhausted baby will actually have more trouble falling and staying asleep. Try to stay a step ahead by looking for the signs that they're getting sleepy before they become cranky.

Starting when your baby is 2 weeks old, try to teach them that nighttime is for sleep and daytime is when you have fun. During daylight hours, keep things busy and active for your baby. Try to keep them awake after they feed, but don't worry if they conk out anyway for a nap. Babies don't always stick to plans!

When it's dark outside, make everything more low-key for your baby. For instance, if you have to go into their room to feed them, keep the lights low and your voice soft. They'll soon learn that nighttime isn't super exciting, so they might as well sleep when it's dark outside.

After the first month, try not to let your baby fall asleep while you’re feeding or rocking them. You want them to figure out how to put themselves to sleep without your help.

Your baby may eat a little, doze a little, then eat some more. They may even do this a couple of times in a row. If they go to sleep and keep sleeping when you’re feeding them, stop and put them to bed.

You might have heard that giving more formula, breast milk, or baby food could help make your baby sleep longer. This isn’t the case. Just like you when you’ve eaten too much, your overfed baby won’t be comfortable enough to rest well.

Note: Never prop a baby bottle in your baby's mouth when you put them to bed. It can lead to choking, ear infections, and cavities.

If your baby is in good health and gaining weight the way they should, you usually don't have to wake them at night for feedings after the 2-month mark.

Here are some times when you should wake your baby:

  • They're sleeping more in the day than at night and missing their daytime feeds.
  • They've gone more than 4 hours without eating during the day (3 hours for a breastfed baby). If so, you may need to wake them up to feed at night, but it's probably better to try to change their daytime habits rather than keep waking them every 4 hours at night.
  • For premature or special-needs babies, you may need to adjust feedings.

There's a lot to learn when you have a baby. You aren't supposed to have all the answers right away. When questions come up, ask your pediatrician.

Talk to other caregivers, like your partner, babysitter, or family members, about how you're trying to get your baby to sleep. That way, you can all try to stick to a routine and do things the same way. 

For instance, setting up a calming bedroom routine will help your baby start to learn when it's time to sleep. Maybe you play soft music, dim the lights, or gently rock them. Once your baby's in bed, make sure their bedroom is dark, cool (but not cold), and quiet.

If you have older kids, think about setting regular go-to-bed and wake-up times for them to follow – even on weekends. That way, you'll know they're getting the sleep that they need, too. 

For the first few months of your baby’s life, their sleeping habits are probably going to be hard to predict. If you can, try to sleep when they do – that may be your best chance to rest.

If your baby's sleep pattern changes all of a sudden, check for any signs of illness. Sometimes, too much or too little sleep can be a sign of an ear infection. Or it may simply be that your baby is growing. If you're not sure, call your doctor with any concerns.