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Sleep requirements

Your baby’s sleep – Sleep requirements

In a 24 hour period, newborn babies generally sleep for 16 to 18 hours, and this happens at regular intervals during the day and night.

By three months of age, with development of the brain, sleep patterns will generally become more predictable with most of the sleep occurring at night, and two to three naps during the day.

The pattern of napping usually includes a morning, afternoon and early evening nap. Always remember all babies are different and as such there is quite a variation in the napping patterns of babies. Some babies will not sleep much at all during the day.

From 3 months onwards your baby can stay awake longer during the day, with periods of wakefulness lasting anywhere between two to four hours.

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The following is a guide to the typical sleep requirements of babies:

Age Typical sleep cycle Signs of tiredness Typical number of sleeps during day
0-3 months Typically sleep 16-18 hours a day. Usually only awake 2 hours at a time * closing fists
* arching backwards
* jerky movements
* struggle to focus on faces
4 or more. These will vary in length from short naps to a couple of hours.
3-6 months Sleep for around 15-16 hours a day. * same as 0-3 months
* will look specifically for parent’s face to seek comfort
2 to 3. These will usually be broken down into two shorter naps and one long one.
6-12 months 13-14 hours during a 24 hour cycle, broken down into 10-12 hours overnight and 2 or 3 sleeps during the day of 1-3 hours * clumsiness
* grizzling
* rubs eyes
* struggles to engage with anything
2. This will usually consist of one short nap and one long nap in the morning or afternoon.
1-2 years plus 12-14 hours during a 24 hour cycle. Usually one day sleep of about 2 hours. * impatient
* rejects food
* irritable
* uncooperative
1. This usually lasts for a couple of hours and takes place in the middle of the day. The need for this day sleep can last up until the age of 3 or 4, depending on the child.

Why Some Babies Have Trouble Sleeping

We all sleep in cycles consisting of blocks of:

  • Light sleep and
  • Deep sleep, where we wake and are able to resettle ourselves.

Babies who have trouble sleeping are generally unable to resettle themselves after waking from a deep sleep. This will almost always occur because of the way they have been put down to sleep to begin with.

Babies can be put to sleep a number of different ways.

  • They can be placed in their cots awake and allowed to fall asleep by themselves.
  • We can rock them to sleep in our arms, allow them to fall asleep at the breast, rock them in the pram or have them fall asleep in mum’s bed.

In these situations, once the baby goes off to sleep they are transferred into their cot. They then wake with a fright not knowing where mum and the rocking has gone to. Imagine yourself being all cosy in your own bed and you wake up and you’re sitting in the bathtub, you’d get a bit of a fright too.

At about 8 months old a baby’s sleep cycle changes to around 60 minutes. They also experience what we call separation anxiety, where if mum is not around they become quite anxious.

If these babies are being rocked off to sleep in mum’s arms and resettled sleeping into the cot, they will wake up in 1 hours time, with a huge fright because mum is not there. They cry out, mum goes back into the room and not knowing any other way of resettling the baby, will pick them up, rock them back off to sleep and put them back into the cot. These become bad habits and they are called sleep associations.


A regular routine is the surest way to get a baby or toddler to sleep independently. Babies respond well to a familiar pattern of events, and sleeping in the same environment each night offers them a sense of security and comfort.

Establishing a bedtime routine will not only benefit your child, but also you and your partner. A good night’s sleep works wonders for tired parents and allowing yourselves a bit of ‘quiet adult time’ together at the end of the day will be just as beneficial to your relationship.

You can begin to establish a routine as soon as you bring your newborn home from the hospital. It is important to encourage a pattern with your newborn. This in turn will become a routine, and babies learn from repetition. Keep in mind that it only takes 3 days to create a habit.

When bringing a newborn home it is very easy to get into the habit of passing baby around from visitor to visitor, everyone wants a cuddle. If your baby is obviously in need of some sleep, or sleeping in their arms, rather than feel rude in whipping baby from under them, encourage your family or friends to watch how you settle them into their cot. After all, they could be potential baby sitters at sometime and wouldn’t it be great if they could settle them off to sleep too.

The best way to establish a routine is using the Feed / Play / Sleep method

During the day when baby wakes, first feed them and then place your baby on the floor for some playtime. The age of your baby will determine how long they will play before showing tired signs. Watch for the tired signs and then act on them by implementing the settling techniques.

In the evening, after dinner or a feed, replace play time with a relaxing bath. Have some cuddling time and perhaps a story or two. Massaging your baby with baby lotion can also be very useful for relaxing your baby. Never over-stimulate your child before bedtime or think that the longer you keep them up, the more tired they will become and the easier it will be to get them off to sleep. An overtired baby is always harder to settle.

For more information see Baby sleep or Baby Care