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How Much Sleep Does My Baby Need?

Every parent in the world has asked the question of “how much sleep does my baby need?” at some point in their parenting journey. And this is such a hard question to answer, because the truth is no two babies, just like no two adults will have the exact same sleep needs.  What I mean by this is that we need to remember we are all unique beings with different sets of needs for everything from activity level to sleep preferences. 

One of the things that you often hear in the sleep training culture is this idea that your baby should be sleeping for 11-12 hours consistently through the night, often at an early age. That is actually totally FALSE. Did you know that none of us ‘sleeps through the night’ without waking? We all go through these ‘partial arousals’ when we shift from one sleep cycle to the next. As adults we have learned to make these shifts semi-unconsciously and independently. But our babies haven’t learned this through experience yet, and therefore they need our help.

What is normal or typical sleep for babies anyway?

There is so much conflicting advice and everyone’s experience is different. Some babies seem to sleep through the night right away. Others love to play, cry, eat and do anything but sleep at night.  Truth bomb – there is no magic pill, formula, or schedule for getting your baby to sleep. I so wish there was, and if I could have just one superpower it would be to wave my magic wand and give mamas and babies everywhere long, restful sleep every night. 

Sleep Needs Should Be Looked At in a 24-hour period

The other fun fact is that we only need a certain amount of sleep in a 24-hour period, which changes with age, getting shorter and shorter. And, the more sleep you get during the day, the lower your sleep pressure at night will be.  

This is part of the reason why our newborns seem to sleep all the time but also wake up every hour a night. They can’t handle being awake for too long because their sleep pressure rises much faster than that of older babies or adults, and they get overstimulated and overtired more quickly. This is why they sleep a lot during the day, which means that they are also not yet able to consolidate longer chunks of sleep at night, because their sleep pressure drive hasn’t had a chance to really ramp up and create more pressure. 

As babies grow and get older, their sleep pressure accumulates more slowly, meaning they will be awake longer and the intervals between naps will grow, and they will gradually start to have longer chunks of sleep at night. Understanding that a baby has a 24-hour sleep need that is distributed across the day and night and is divided into daytime naps and nighttime sleep is really helpful to keep in mind.

How Long Should My Baby Be Awake And How Long Should They Sleep?

By now you might be thinking “how in the world do I know how long my baby should be awake, how long they should sleep, and how much is too much, or not enough”?  I know, it can be confusing, which is why the prescriptive schedules and plans do not work and why they create even more stress for you (and your baby).  

This is where the concept of wake windows comes into play.

Sometimes wake windows are also called awake times, or wake intervals. They are the optimal amount of time a baby is awake before needing to go for another nap or go to sleep for the night.  Finding the “right” window of time for your baby is also useful to help prevent overstimulation and over-tiredness, which can lead to fussiness and more difficulty falling and staying asleep (for both naps and overnight). Now, what I do not want you to do is start to become obsessed about rigidly following any specific timing (I see this a lot with the mamas I work with, which is why I mention it here).

I have created a guide, from a few different sources, and include it here, to help you see the average sleep totals in a 24-hour period for babies of varying ages.

  • Use it as a starting point.  Use it to guide you in terms of making sure your baby is not getting overtired while also making sure that they do have enough sleep pressure built up to get longer stretches at night. 
  • Use it to help you figure out if your baby is perhaps getting too much day time sleep, which might be impacting their night-time sleep. 
  • Remember that not all babies are the same – some will need more sleep and some will need less, but this guide will give you an idea so that you can start to play around with naps versus night sleep. 
  • Also, it is helpful to know that, as a general guideline, babies and toddlers are able to extend their awake times by about 15-20 minutes every 3 weeks.

Want more support on sleep, development, reflux, tongue-ties and more for babies 0-2 years? Join our community of mamas in the Sleep Deprived Mamas: Holistic + Heart-Centred Support (without sleep training).

Kaili Ets

Kaili Ets

I help overwhelmed and exhausted moms create a clear action plan around their baby's sleep, developmental, reflux, and overall functioning so they can tune into and trust their mama instincts and feel like the confident super moms they are.

hi! I'm Kaili!

Lovingly known as the Holistic Baby Guru. I have a passion for normalizing and bringing clarity around baby sleep, development, reflux, and more. Wife and mom of two, I understands the importance of trusting your mama instincts. I am on a mission to help mamas tune into their intuition and feel like the confident super moms they are. I like to think of myself as an approachable authority on all things baby-related, as that I provides down-to-earth advice that makes everyone feel like they can do this parenting thing!

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