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It seems like every parent’s dream—a newborn who sleeps longer than a couple of hours at a time. But when a couple of hours turns into three or four, panic sets in, and you find yourself wondering if it’s time to wake your sleeping babe.
Navigating life with a newborn can be tricky, leaving even seasoned parents searching for answers at 2 AM. To complicate matters more, there’s a wide range of “normal” when it comes to new babies’ sleep, and factors like breastfeeding versus formula feeding also come into play.
If you’re worried that your newborn is sleeping too much, your concerns are valid. Let’s explore what sleep typically looks like in the early days and find out some common reasons why some babies may be more drowsy than others.
How Much Do Newborns Sleep?
While most little ones average 14 to 17 hours of sleep in the early days, up to 18 and 19 hours may still be normal, according to Nemours Health. After a brief period of wakefulness, infants become extra sleepy during the initial 24 hours after birth, thanks to hormones, maternal medications, and just being pooped out from delivery.
Beyond the first day of life, newborns continue to do little but sleep and eat. Most of this sleep happens in short bursts of two or three hours since their tiny tummies can only hold a small amount of milk at a time.
According to research, newborns have immature circadian rhythms, which is the internal 24-hour clock regulating activities like sleep. This internal rhythm usually takes one to three months to start functioning properly. This explains why most babies snooze the day away and want to party all night.
We also know that infants have shorter and lighter sleep cycles, which allows them to wake frequently and easily to feed and may have protective benefits when it comes to preventing SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Learn more: How Much Sleep Do Babies and Kids Need?
How to Tell if a Baby Sleeps More Hours Than Usual?
In the early days, little ones should be nursing or drinking formula 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. This means they should be feeding approximately every two hours during the day and every three to four hours at night. No wonder new parents are so bleary-eyed!
Once the first couple of weeks have passed and nursing/bottle feeding is well established, the occasional long stretch of four to five hours may be fine. The best way to tell is to pay attention to your baby’s diapers and weight gain. Newborns should have around three to four dirty diapers and six or more wet diapers a day and be gaining weight consistently.
A great way to tell if your infant is sleeping more than usual is to use a tracking tool. There are plenty of free apps that allow you to log feedings, diapers, and sleep, but you can also do it the old-fashioned way with a notepad and pen.
Potential Causes of Babies Oversleeping
If your little one is sleeping more than usual but seems well otherwise, don’t panic. There are several reasons why healthy babies may be oversleeping, including:
- Medical procedures – It’s normal for infants to snooze a little more than usual after vaccines or procedures like circumcision.
- Growth spurts – These are common during the first week, at 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, 3 months, 4 months, 6 months, and 9 months.
- Developmental changes – Learning new skills can either make infants more tired or cause temporary regressions.
- Illness – Colds and respiratory infections can make it challenging for infants to breathe since they are nose breathers in the early days.
- Bigger feeds – Once that tiny tummy starts growing and can hold more milk, it’s normal for little ones to start sleeping longer stretches (this happens faster in formula-fed infants).
Other reasons that may be cause for concern are if your baby is jaundiced, not feeding enough or having enough wet/dirty diapers, or seems overly fussy or lethargic. Jaundice is common in up to half of all newborns and causes a yellow discoloration of the skin.
What Should I Do if My Newborn Is Sleeping a lot?
The first step is to rule out any medical conditions that may be causing issues. Ask yourself the following questions about your baby:
- Feeding at least 8 to 12 times in 24 hours?
- Having a minimum of 6 wet and 3 to 4 dirty diapers a day?
- Gaining weight steadily?
- Too hot or too cold?
- Having difficulty breathing?
- Overly fussy or lethargic when awake?
- Difficult to rouse?
- Yellow skinned?
- Spitting up large amounts after every feed?
- Soft spots on head appear sunken in?
If you have any concerns, it’s best to call your pediatrician. If being overly tired is the only symptom your newborn displays, there are some helpful strategies you can try.
- Offer the breast or a bottle every 1 to 2 hours while awake.
- Make sure your baby is fully away to ensure they finish a full feed (undressing down to a diaper and talking to your little one can help).
- Feed as soon as they show hunger cues—crying is a late sign of hunger.
- Keep the household temperature neutral, neither too warm nor too cool.
- Use a tracker or manually record hours of sleep (estimates can be way off when you’re exhausted).
Waking Baby for Feeding
To wake or not to wake? If your little one has been snoozing for five hours and you’re staring at the clock, wondering what to do, the answer comes down to two factors: how old they are and whether they’ve consistently been gaining weight.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waking babies to feed every two to three hours during the day and every four hours at night. It’s also important to make sure your infant is finishing a full feed and seems full when they’re done. Keep in mind that the end of a feed is when breastfed infants get the nutrient-dense high-fat milk.
When You Should Call a Doctor?
Most parents have strong intuition when something isn’t right. If you’re concerned, it’s best to reach out to your pediatrician. It’s better to make the call and have it be nothing than to not make the call and something concerning goes undiscovered.
Contact your healthcare provider if your baby:
- Seems overly fussy/irritable and is difficult to soothe
- Has a fever or shows other signs of illness
- Is difficult to rouse from sleep
- Isn’t interested in feeding
- Isn’t having adequate wet/dirty diapers
- Has sunken eyes/fontanelle (soft spots on the top of the head)
Tips for Promoting Regular Sleep Schedules
You can help your little one to develop a regular rhythm by exposing them to plenty of natural light and fresh air during the day, keeping things dark and quiet at night, and developing a bedtime routine, such as a bath, massage, and lullabies.
Some nights it feels like you’ve just laid head on the pillow and your little bundle of joy is awake again. Other nights, your baby’s still asleep after four hours and you wonder if something’s wrong! While healthy newborns can sleep up to 19 hours a day, they also need to feed 8 to 12 times in 24 hours.
If you do the math, you’ll quickly realize this means they won’t be sleeping longer stretches just yet. After the first month, the occasional long stretch may be fine, but only if they’re having plenty of diapers and consistently gaining weight. If you have any concerns about your baby’s sleep patterns, it’s best to reach out to your pediatrician.