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Sleep Requirements for a Newborn

New mothers, exhausted from birth, often find their helpless newborns sound asleep during the first few days of their lives, while they themselves may find it difficult to get some shut-eye. Newborns require 16 hours of sleep, and some sleep more. However, newborns sleep for three- to four-hour stretches in their first weeks of life, which exhausts new parents. Bottle-fed babies need to eat approximately every three hours, while breastfed babies may need to feed every two hours.

Sleep Routine

Consider putting the crib or bassinet in your bedroom. When the baby awakens to eat in the night, you will be able to respond before she gets too worked up. This makes it easier for her to fall back asleep. Place your baby in her crib or bassinet for naps and bedtimes. Rock your baby gently and sing to her before sleep. This is the beginning of a sleep routine. Tell your baby in soft, soothing tones that it is time to sleep and place her in her crib or bassinet. Babies often mix up their nights and days, and it may take a few weeks to straighten this out. Respond to your baby's cries in the early weeks and you will soon be able to decipher whether she is hungry or tired, bored or wet.

Signals for Sleep

Watch your baby for signs of sleepiness and get the baby to bed soon after. If you miss the optimal window for sleep, your baby may become overtired and have difficulty falling asleep. When your baby yawns, fusses, looks away or rubs his eyes, his is ready for sleep. As you get to know your baby, you will be able to notice a pattern to his sleep-wake cycles. These will change as he grows, but a consistent routine will enable a smoother transition. Avoid keeping your baby up during the day. Newborns require sleep around the clock, and daytime sleep is just as important as nighttime sleep. Your baby may become overtired and less likely to sleep at night. This can set up a vicious cycle that is difficult to break. To ensure a smooth transition back to sleep during the night, avoid stimulation during nighttime feedings and diaper changes. Keep the lights low and keep talking to a minimum. This lets your baby know that night is for sleeping.


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies be put to sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. If you use a blanket, make sure your baby's head is uncovered. Use a firm mattress in a crib that meets current safety standards. Place fitted sheets on the mattress and avoid too many blankets, which can overheat your baby. Do not put pillows or stuffed animals in the crib.

Sleep Cycles

The two sleep states are rapid eye movement, REM, sleep and non-REM sleep. Babies spend about half of their sleep in REM sleep, where dreams occur and the eyes move back and forth very rapidly. Non-REM sleep occurs in four stages, which the baby goes through several times a night. As your baby moves from deep sleep to light sleep, she may awaken and have a difficult time falling back to sleep.

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