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Navigating Newborn Sleep Rhythms

I remember bringing my newborn home, and wondering whether or not someone from the hospital was going to come with me or not? They seriously weren’t going to let me bring home a tiny human on my own right?! Jokes aside, I was scared…and tired. I had no idea what I was doing and one of the first elements I struggled with was sleep. How do I navigate this child’s sleep? When is she supposed to sleep? How long is she supposed to sleep? Where is she supposed to sleep? Oh yeah…and when do I sleep?

After having three kids and helping hundreds of families sleep better as a sleep consultant, I am going to share some insights and tips to help parents navigate the world of newborn sleep with confidence.

Understanding Newborn Sleep:

The first two weeks of your newborn’s life will be such a whirlwind for everyone, just try to get used to everything.  You will be working on breastfeeding and you will be emotional.  Newborns have no concept of day or night, and their small stomachs can only handle enough milk to last them for a few hours.  They will also be sleeping a lot, like 15-20 hours a day but in short 2-4 hour stretches. 

Newborn sleep is vastly different from adult sleep. Newborns have shorter sleep cycles, typically lasting around 40-50 minutes. During these cycles, they move through different stages of sleep, including active sleep (similar to REM sleep in adults) and quiet sleep. Additionally, newborns have small stomachs and need to feed frequently, which can disrupt sleep patterns.

Establishing a Sleep Routine:

While it may seem daunting at first, establishing a consistent sleep routine can be incredibly beneficial for newborns. A bedtime routine can include activities such as a warm bath, gentle massage, changing diaper, putting on jammies, feeding, a book, and soft singing, and down into the bassinet. The key is to keep the routine calm and consistent, signaling to your baby that it's time to wind down and prepare for sleep.

Creating a Sleep-Friendly Environment:

Creating a sleep-friendly environment can significantly impact your newborn's ability to rest comfortably. Keep the room cool, quiet, and dark during sleep times, and consider using white noise machines or fans to drown out any external sounds. Additionally, ensure that your baby's sleep space is safe and free from hazards such as loose bedding or soft toys. Steer clear of using any kind of mobiles above the bed, and make sure to put the bassinet somewhere in the room that is not close to a window.

Understanding Sleep Cues:

Newborns often display subtle cues that indicate they're tired and ready for sleep. These cues can include yawning, rubbing their eyes, or becoming fussy or irritable. By learning to recognize these signs, you can help your baby transition to sleep more smoothly and prevent overtiredness, which can make it harder for them to settle down. Typically, a newborn can last 45-60 mins before needing to go down for sleep again.

Implementing Gentle Sleep Techniques:

While it's natural for newborns to wake frequently during the night for feedings and comfort, there are gentle techniques you can use to help them learn to self-soothe and fall back asleep independently. These techniques, such as the "pick up, put down" method or gentle rocking, can help babies feel secure and comforted while still encouraging them to develop healthy sleep habits.

Navigating newborn sleep can be a challenging experience, but with patience, consistency, and support, it's possible to help your baby establish healthy sleep habits from the start. By understanding your baby's unique sleep needs, creating a nurturing sleep environment, and implementing gentle sleep techniques, you can set the stage for restful nights and peaceful days for both you and your little one.


About the author

Amanda Medley

Why didn’t we try this sooner?! As we speak he is sound asleep in his crib – and has been since 7:15 pm.

Karianne Wanggaard

Sleep Well Sleep Specialists

Don't go through another night of bad sleep.

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Working with Shannon, I went from 2-3 wake ups every night to 1 or 0. She aligned the plan with my preferred sleep cycle. She was always coaching, never judging. Shannon was great, I have referred MANY people to her! That's the best testament to her work that I can give.

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