Should newborns be on a sleep schedule?

Getting a full night's sleep is rare for parents of newborns. Find out how to promote a sleep schedule for your baby, and how it might help you sleep too.

Every parent needs a good night's rest. Taking care of a newborn is a full time job, but breaks and time off can be hard to come by. Parents of newborns know a full night’s rest may be scarce for a while. But for how long?

In this article we’ll answer the most pressing questions of sleep deprived parents:

  • Should I put my newborn on a sleep schedule?
  • How much sleep does my baby need?
  • How can I put my baby on a sleep schedule?
  • What is a good sleep schedule for my baby?

As a newborn, your baby spent the last nine months surrounded by comfort, nearly constantly asleep.

Night and day are completely new, and your baby may have some post labor jet lag.

Your baby's sleep will be unpredictable for the first few weeks, and you will need to wait a few months before a reliable schedule can be implemented.

However, there are basic routines and habits that you can begin as soon as you bring your newborn home.

Why should I make a sleep schedule?

Developing a sleep schedule will be one of the first bits of structure in your baby's life. Having a good sleep schedule goes alongside a good feeding schedule in making day to day transitions easy and predictable for your family.

Knowing how long and how often your newborn should sleep is the first step in carving out a sleep schedule. Once you have a sleep schedule you will be able to:

  • Make sure your baby gets enough sleep in the day for their age group
  • Feed your baby on a consistent schedule
  • Create stability and routine for your baby
  • Begin sleep training
  • Reduce sleep deprivation for parents
  • Plan work and accomplish goals during sleep time

How much sleep does my newborn need?

Newborns need 15-18 hours of sleep from birth until about 2 months. You can expect them to sleep about 8 hours during the day and 8 hours at night, waking frequently for feedings.

Even if your baby is able to sleep consistently for more than 3 hours at a time be sure to wake them to eat. Newborns have very small stomachs and need to be fed frequently to meet their nutritional needs.

Falling back to sleep after a night feeding may be easy for your infant, or the stimulation can make returning to sleep more difficult.

Developing a reliable sleep schedule before 4 months will be nearly impossible with night feedings, growth spurts and unexpected changes. Even still, after 4 months parents might be greeted with the dreaded “sleep regression”. Starting good habits for sleep with your newborn will help you avoid long term stress.

We recommend these sleep training tips to help your little one fall asleep on their own. Maintaining a sleep schedule is much more exhausting without the tools to encourage sleep.

You can keep track of your infant sleep needs month to month with this chart. We encourage parents to create an environment where their babies can get plenty of rest to maintain healthy growth.

How can I put my baby on a sleep schedule?

Getting parents on board with a sleep schedule isn’t hard. The difficulty comes in getting your baby on board!

Having a realistic framework for your baby’s sleep schedule is important in staying optimistic and consistent. Your goal may be 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep by 3 months, but you need to be reasonable with your baby and their changing needs. There may be weeks of progress and consistency interrupted by sleepless nights. Like all things parents must remain flexible and find the good in their efforts.

Newborns are growing rapidly and need plenty of sleep and nutrition to grow strong and healthy. Crying and infant stress can come from lack of sleep or food. If your baby has a reliable sleep schedule you can increase your perceptiveness to their needs, and reduce tears.

Sleep scheduling may not always go as planned. If you understand typical newborn sleep habits you can apply proper sleep hygiene for their age group. Consistency and care at this stage can benefit you and your baby for a lifetime.

Sleep Schedule: 0-2 Months

From 0 days to 2 months you will be in survival mode, and any sleep that can be achieved while you are asleep will be a victory.

Start your day at 7am giving your baby 3-5 naps lasting from 15 minutes to 3 hours. If you give your baby half an hour to an hour between naps during the day to play and see some sunshine, you can encourage night time sleep. Nighttime sleep should last 2-4 hours at a time, with breaks for food. If you can plan bedtime between 9 and 11pm your baby is more likely to sleep soundly while you are.

Remember, every baby is different. Your baby may only sleep an hour at a time during naps, or sleeps erratically until 6 months.

If you do not have the basics for getting a baby to sleep then creating a schedule will be impossible.

Learn more about your newborn baby's sleep schedule from this video:

Sleep Schedule: 2-4 Months

Around 2 months, with consistent habits your baby can begin tuning their internal clock to yours. If you notice more predictability in your babies habits you might see more success in your sleep schedule.

Your baby will sleep two or more hours less than their first 2 months. Putting the baby to bed around 8pm-10pm will give you more time to sleep. Wake up around 6am to get the day started and baby fed. The longest stretch of nighttime sleep around this time will be 3-6 hours. If the baby is awakened between 1am and 3am you can feed and return to bed.

Try keeping the baby awake for 45 minutes to 2 hours between nap times during the day. With 3 naps a day ranging from 30 minutes to 3 hours, babies will get their required rest while staying alert during the day. This type of planning is idealistic, but with consistency your baby will learn habits needed for a sleep schedule.

Look for sleep cues at this time to help understand what makes your baby sleepy, and what stimulates them. An overtired baby is more difficult to get to sleep than one who is drowsy and awake.

Sleep Schedule: 4 Months and Beyond

Between 4 and 8 months you can anticipate your baby's regular nap times, and sleepy periods. You may wake up at night still, but you will have a better sense of when it may come. Your baby will be better at falling asleep on their own if you have already set up a sleep schedule. This is the ideal time to begin fine tuning your baby’s sleep schedule.

From 4 months on your baby’s day should begin between 7am and 8am. Including nap times your baby should have 12-15 hours of sleep a day. Setting bedtime between 8pm and 9pm is great for consistency, and allows for nearly 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep. You can set bedtime a little later if you notice the baby waking very early and sleeping through the night.

Babies should still maintain nighttime feedings at least once a night unless otherwise recommended by your doctor. Your infant might be able to sleep 4 to 8 hours at a time overnight. Try keeping baby awake longer in the day for 2 to 3 hour stretches with three daily hour long naps between.

Before 4 months, you can begin experimenting with sleep by keeping your baby on a loose schedule based on your needs. This sleep schedule should be relaxed, and most important should be the safety of your baby’s sleep. This is a good time to establish play in the day, and sleep at night. This way your baby will be more likely to sleep well throughout the night, even though there is no set schedule for sleep.

Key Takeaways for Parents

Preparing a baby for restful nights is a challenge and parents sometimes worry about making sure everything is perfect. If your baby is getting enough sleep and nutrition they will be prepared for a happy and healthy night.

Introduce Allergens Safely and Easily with Ready. Set. Food!

All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.  If your infant has severe eczema, check with your infant’s healthcare provider before feeding foods containing ground peanuts.