Having a newborn is an amazing time. There is nothing like adding an adorable baby into the family. However, your new family members sleep may cause some confusion since babies are not born automatically sleeping 8 hours a night ( but wouldn’t that be nice?). This blog will help you navigate and understand more about your newborn and their sleep patterns.

Over working with countless families with newborns, two common questions come up: How long should my baby be awake and how do I get my baby to sleep while not on me?

Remember your newborn is just that, someone who is brand new to the world. They are learning how to eat, and experiencing scents and sounds they have never heard before, so it’s important to remember that while following awake windows and working on independent sleep will help, it will not always go as planned - and that's ok! Especially with a newborn things will change day to day depending on your schedule, what time they wake in the morning and any outings you may have planned. One big thing to remember is that while sleep is super important for their growth and development, flexibility is needed at this age as every day won’t be the same.

Follow Awake Windows

Newborns sleep a lot, about 16-18 hours a day. At first you will find your little one to be very sleepy, and may even have a hard time waking them for feedings. However, as they grow, you will notice them up for longer and longer periods of time. Ideally, you would like your little one (under 3 months old) to be awake for no longer than 45-60 minutes at a time before giving them the opportunity to sleep again. This is so they don’t become overtired and fight sleep. If a child has too long of an awake window, it can lead to long crying spells as they are unable to regulate themselves to settle into sleep. Their little bodies have gone into a ‘fight or flight’ response, and they are choosing to fight! 

Your child’s awake window will start from when they open their eyes and begin to rouse, before the feeding starts. So if your child wakes up, feeds for 30-35 minutes, there is not much time in their awake window before another sleep situation should be offered. This could come in the form of a contact nap ( in a carrier or held in arms), a stroller nap, a car seat nap (while in the car safely), or a supervised swing or lounger nap. While this awake window with a feed included does not leave much time for “play” such as tummy or floor time, it will come as your little one grows. By 6 weeks the feeding time decreases a bit, leading to more awake and alert sessions before the next nap is needed. 

Around 8 weeks your child’s awake windows will increase again to between 60 to 75 minutes, and increase again once they are around 12 weeks to 75 to 90 minutes. While extending awake windows ensure to do it slowly, only increasing by about 10-15 minutes at a time, to prevent overtiredness and risking your child hitting overtired.

You may notice that your baby is able to stay awake for long periods of time, but it does not mean that they should be. Again remember that they are brand new to the world and every sight, sound and smell are something they are experiencing for the first time. Without assistance, it can be hard to block those out to relax into sleep. Following the above outlined awake windows and bringing your child into a desired sleep situation (in a dark quiet room) will help them sleep easier. 

Sleeping Laying Down, Not On An Adult

Since newborns sleep so much, it is easy to fall into a habit of holding your little one while they sleep. However, you may find that when your arms need a break, you need to run to the bathroom or you want to take a nap yourself, that your little one won’t stay asleep when you put them down. This is super common, so don’t feel alone if you feel like you are never able to put your newborn down and have them remain awake.

Before the 4 month regression newborns have two stages of sleep, and the first 20 minutes after they first fall asleep is a light stage of sleep. So, you have two choices if you know you will need to put your child down for a while. You can 1) Follow the awake window guidelines above and “catch” them before they become overtired, swaddle them and place them down to fall asleep independently. Or you can 2) Assist them to sleep (hold, rock or walk) until they are through the first 20 minute cycle, then place them down. Ensure to swaddle them before you assist them to sleep so they will still feel enclosed and cozy when you do place them down.

The first suggestion will be easiest to do at the beginning of the day when your child is feeling rested from the night and has not yet had a chance to become overtired. If you find your child has a fussy period in the late afternoon, begin to take notice of how much awake time they are having during the day. Although it may seem counter intuitive, sleep begets sleep, so the more well rested your child is during the day, the better they will sleep overnight. 

Thinking about your newborns sleep while they are still a newborn will set you up for a great sleeper for life. Being awake for how long they can tolerate being awake, as well as learning their individual sleep cues will make it easier as they grow to avoid over-tiredness and get them the sleep that they need. 


More questions or looking for individualized support? To get in touch with the author, Jensine Casey - a pediatric sleep specialist - follow her on Instagram at @babyoandi or email us at info@rahoobaby.com so we can connect the two of you.

October 23, 2022 — Matthew Breen