Understanding Baby Sleep Schedules During the First Year

Knowing what average sleep schedules look like during the first year can help you learn what to expect.

Published April 6, 2023
Sleeping newborn

Baby sleep schedules are completely dissimilar to ours, and that can be a challenge for new parents. By understanding a baby's first-year sleep patterns and a few best practices to help them get into a routine, though, you can get some more much-needed zzz's.

How Much Sleep Does a Baby Need for the Fist Year?

Most parents have first-year sleep struggles, but the one that seems to top the list is the sleep deprivation. From newborns to one-year-olds, babies go through a huge routine shift in just twelve months. And, since their circadian rhythms don't even kind of resemble an adult's, the constant cycle of feeding and lulling to sleep and feeding again can feel inescapable.

Yet, if you make sure to keep your baby on the appropriate sleep schedule for their age, you'll find the nights and early mornings a little less maddening.

Baby Sleep Schedules by Age

The following is a general range for the first year:

Baby's Age Amount of Sleep Baby Needs
Newborn 16 hours
1 Month 15.5 hours
3 Months 15 hours
6 Months 14 hours
9 Months-1 Year 14 hours

Newborns: 16 Hours

According to Stanford's Medical Department, newborns should be getting 16 hours of sleep a day. They break this into 8-9 hours per night and 8 hours per day. This total does include naps (which is where all of those daytime sleep hours come in).

1 Month: 15.5 Hours

In just a month, babies still require a ton of sleep - 15.5 hours to be exact. This still looks like 8-9 hours during the nighttime. But they need two hours fewer during the day than a month ago, making it 7 naptime hours.

3 Months: 15 Hours

By three months, your baby's still dividing quite a lot of sleep time between the day and night. Specifically, they should be breaking up their 15 hours of total daily sleep into 9-10 at night and about 4-5 during the day. At this stage, you might start feeling like you're getting a little bit of your regular sleep routine back.

6 Months: 14 Hours

Naturally, a 6-month-old needs a lot of sleep, but they should be getting the majority of theirs during the night. Of their total 14 hours, they should only be napping 4 hours during the daytime, and about 10 in the night.

9 Months-1 Year: 14 Hours

A nine month old's sleep schedule is almost identical to a six month old's except you're weaning them closer to being full-time night sleepers. This looks like only 3 hours of nap time during the day and 11 hours of sleep at night.

After Their First Birthday

Once they turn a year old this changes a little. Babies between ages one and two generally need 11 -14 hours of sleep per day, with one to two daytime naps.

Why Do Babies Sleep So Much?

Since these are just averages, some babies may even sleep more than than the numbers shown above. Why do babies sleep so much? Their little bodies and brains are growing so quickly - the first year for a baby is a period of substantial cognitive and physical growth.

While some babies sleep more or less than the averages, there can be too much sleep for a baby in some cases and it may signal underlying concerns. If you're worried whether your baby is sleeping too much, check with your pediatrician to help rule out issues with feeding, illness, or other problems.

Understanding Baby Sleep Patterns

It's also important to note that even though there are overall averages of how much a baby sleeps in a 24-period during the first year, the way they sleep is going to be very different from an adult's.

Baby's Short Sleep Stretches - and When They'll Start Sleeping Longer

Even though babies might need 14 to 16 hours of sleep per day, they will only sleep short stretches at a time, especially when they're younger. Newborns might only sleep one to three hours at a time. By two or three months old, your baby may be sleeping more than three hours at a time - but this remember this can vary.

When do babies start sleeping longer periods of time, though? Although it can be as early as three to four months, babies usually won't start sleeping longer stretches at night until they're about six months old. And for a baby around six months, sleeping through the night might only mean a five to six-hour stretch. By the time they're eight to 12 months old, babies may sleep six to twelve hours a night - but remember every baby is different.

Need to Know

While setting down some consistent practices and getting into routines can help even young babies build a better sleep schedule, it's generally recommended not to start strict sleep schedules or start sleep training until a baby is at least four to six months old.

When Should You Wake Your Baby Up?

One of the reasons babies have shorter sleep windows is that babies need fed every few hours: early on, breastfed babies usually need to eat about every one and a half to three hours, while formula-fed babies typically need fed every two to three hours.

Should you wake your baby to feed them? The answer, according to Mayo Clinic, depends on their age, weight, and health - but keep in mind newborn babies need to be fed eight to twelve times in a 24-hour period. You may need to wake younger babies for feedings every three to fours hours until they show signs of weight gain. Once your baby has regained their birthweight, you may not need to wake them for feedings.

Other situations when you might want consider waking your baby up (generally over four or five months) are:

  • If they are on a more consistent nap schedule during the day and they've slept past their normal nap time
  • If they are napping too close to bedtime

Baby Sleep Stages

A baby's typical sleep stages cycle through light and deep sleep. The usual pattern is:

  • REM (Rapid Eye Movement) light sleep: About half of a baby's sleep time per day is in REM sleep.
  • Non-REM sleep: This includes several sub-stages - drowsiness, light sleep, deep sleep, and very deep sleep. Babies generally go through these cycles several times while they are sleeping.

After babies wake, they typically go through quiet alert, active alert, and crying phases.

What Do the Stats Really Mean, Though?

It's important to remember that no two babies are alike, and that sleep schedule and pattern estimates are based on the averages pulled from various medical studies. These are guides to help you better organize your baby's sleep schedule as they grow over the first year. Whether you put them down for a nap at 12pm or 2pm isn't as important as making sure they hit the right number of hours every day.

And consistency is a vital part of setting up your baby's sleep schedule for success. Try to always feed, nap, and set down for the night at the same time every day. This'll help you not miss an important sleep hour.

How to Encourage Your Baby to Have a Better Sleep Schedule

Getting that sleep schedule set in is way more important than painting a nursery or setting up a newborn photoshoot. The sooner you build a routine with your baby, the quicker they'll start to get sleepy at the same time every day. You'll get to maximize on your time free (whether that's to nap yourself or get some tasks done) and give your baby the quality of sleep they need to grow big and strong.

Struggling to manifest an easy sleep schedule? Here are some situations you might be running into and ways you can mitigate them as soon as possible.

Watch Your Baby's Sleep Signals

You might be pushing your baby to last too long before laying them down for a nap or for sleep at night. Make sure you're paying close attention to their sleep signals. Some of the signals a baby'll start showing when they're getting tired include:

  • Yawning
  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Looking into space
  • Flushed (pinkish) eyebrows
  • Pulling at their ears
  • Crying

If you notice your baby showing these signs, try putting them down to sleep. If they nod off pretty quickly, you'll know to look for those signs again in the future.

mother holding yawning baby

Cue Sleep Time Using a Consistent Pattern

Humans love routine, and you can't get them hooked on one early enough. Babies of all ages thrive when you set up a routine that their body and minds can predict. Get your baby onto a better sleep schedule by initiating the same steps before every time you lay them down. It can look something like this:

  • Being rocked with a specific lullaby and laid in bed.
  • Carrying the baby to their sleep area, turning the lights off, laying them down, and saying the same phrase to them like "time for a little nip-nap."
  • Cue a nap by announcing it's nap time, taking them to the changing table to change them (if needed) or just lay them there and hum to them. Then bring them to their sleep area and set them down.

These routines can look wildly different from parent to parent. The only thing to remember is that you need to build one and be consistent with it.

Help Them Learn the Difference Between Night and Day

Getting into a routine of helping your baby understand the difference between night and day early on can also be helpful. You can help establish routines by keeping the lights low and distractions minimal for nighttime feedings, and working in more stiumulating activities during the daytime.

Get Every Carer on the Same Page

Unfortunately, having a baby means (for many couples) one person becomes the primary caregiver and the other doesn't participate as much. By not participating, this less active care giver can build entirely dissimilar routines or practices to the primary one.

It's vital that everyone is on the same page and following the same routines. If everyone's not game for it and consistent with it, the cracks will start to show. Your baby doesn't care if you're well-meaning or not; they need your actions (not your thoughts) to be right.

dad looking at sleeping baby in crib

Don't Worry About Following the Guidelines Too Closely

Parent shaming is a huge problem in the social media-driven world we live in, and everyone has their opinion about what's the right way to raise kids. Yet, every year old practices that we were raised on are being altered or completely debunked. So, don't worry too much about following the exact number of sleep hours your baby should have to a tee.

They might need more sleep, as preemies often do, or they might need less and are getting fussy because you keep lying them down for naps they don't want. Kids develop at their own pace and might need an hour or so less or more than the average. Tailor their sleep schedules to their needs while staying in the range for their age group.

Sleep is the Secret Sauce to Your Baby's Health

You might not realize it, but sleep is the secret sauce to your baby's health - and you can help them build great sleep habits early on. That isn't to say it's always easy; but, if you're persistent with your routine and listen to your baby's needs while following medical guidelines, you should be able to catch a few more zzz's yourself.

Understanding Baby Sleep Schedules During the First Year