Baby Sleep: What is Normal?

Baby Sleep: What is Normal?

You’re so tired you forgot to put on underwear. There seems to be dried curry on your pants but that can’t POSSIBLY be right because you haven’t had Indian food in 2 weeks. Is that curry? Your baby just fell asleep in the car and you’re so desperate for a break that you’re going to just drive by your house and take a short jaunt to Canada. Because the minute you stop the car she’s going to wake up. And frankly if that happens you’re going to cry the ugly cry.

All the parenting books say the first year with a baby is spent in a haze of sleep deprivation caused by night feedings, teething, ear infections, etc. The other Moms in your playgroup look equally exhausted and your neighbor is still night-nursing her 5-year-old. So this is all normal. Right?

Is There Normal Baby Sleep?

In a word, yes.

For the first few weeks after birth, baby sleep may be all over the map. They may sleep so much you find yourself wondering why other new mommies seem so tired. Or they may never sleep for more than 45-minute windows leaving you wondering how you can possibly make it through one more night.

Most newborn babies are extra fussy for a few hours in the evening, often from 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM. This is known as the “witching hour.” Everybody is exhausted and you can’t even play “pass the cranky baby” because all the people you want to pass the baby to (grandparents, friends, etc.) are at home lounging on the couch thinking about how glad they are not to have a fussy newborn to deal with.

It’s a rough time for everybody and the fussiness and non-sleeping tends to peak at 6 weeks. That doesn’t mean you end up with an easy baby at the 7 week mark but things start to gradually get easier from that point on.

Somewhere between 2 to 6 months your baby will consolidate their naps. This means that instead of taking 4-5 tiny naps throughout the day they’ll take ~3 chunky (45+ minute) naps. However regardless of the configuration of their naps (many small vs. few longer) the total amount of time they spend napping and the total hours of sleep at night should be close to the targets outline in the chart below.

Baby Sleep: How Much, When, How Long

Age # Naps Duration of Naps Time Between Naps Bedtime Hrs of Sleep @ Night Total Hrs of Sleep per Day
Birth – 6 Weeks 4-8 15 minutes – 4 hours 45 min – 1 hour Variable but often late 9:00 – 11:00 PM 8-14 14-18 hours
6 Weeks – 3 Months 3-4 30 minutes – 2 hours 1 hour – 1 hour 45 minutes Variable but often late 8:00 – 11:00 PM 8-13 11-15 hours
3-6 Months 3 1-2 hours ~2 hours 8:00 – 10:00 PM 9-12 12-14 hours
6-9 Months 3 1-2 hours 2-3 hours 8:00 – 10:00 PM 9-12 12-14 hours
9-12 Months 2 1-2 hours ~3 hours 7:00 – 8:00 PM 10-12 12-14 hours
12-18 Months 1-2 1-2 hours 3 hours 7:00 – 8:00 PM 10-12 12-14 hours
18 Months – 3 Years 1 1-2 hours NA 7:00 – 8:00 PM 10-12 11-14 hours

Sources: Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, R. Ferber, M.D. & Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, M. Weissbluth, M.D.

Keep track of how much your baby is sleeping for a few days. If you’re somewhere close to the numbers in the chart you’re doing OK. If not, maybe it’s time to make a change.

Common Baby Sleep Problems

Baby is Awake Too Long

Use the chart as a guideline. If your baby is awake dramatically longer than what is indicated in the “time between naps” column, she is likely overtired. This is probably the #1 sleep problem that trips up parents with babies under 1. People think babies will simply fall asleep when they need sleep. It would be great if babies worked that way. It would also be great if babies were born knowing how to use the potty. Sadly neither of these is the case.

Baby is Not Getting Enough Sleep

Your baby should not be getting substantially less sleep than is indicated in the “Total Hrs per Day” column. I can’t tell you how often people try to convince me that their baby just doesn’t need that much sleep.

Bollocks.

I’m not saying that helping babies get the sleep they need is easy. Nor am I saying that you should beat yourself up if you’re doing everything you possibly can and your baby isn’t quite getting as much sleep as you would like. But I AM saying that the chart gives you a pretty good idea of how much sleep your child needs. If you’re vastly off the mark, that’s OK. But let’s keep working towards these numbers as a goal.

Bedtime is Too Late

This is the #2 sleep problem people run into. Typically it is caused by two things. The first is that younger babies (under 6 months) tend to take naps late in the afternoon or early evening which means their bedtime is fairly late (9:00PM – 10:30PM). Whey they stop sleeping in the late afternoon their bedtime should be moved up closer to 7:00PM (parents forget this step and keep the original late bedtime). The second cause is that babies generally wake up far earlier than you would like to. Parents will do just about anything to try to get their baby to sleep past 6:00 AM and they often think that keeping them up later at night will do the trick. However generally keeping your baby up late just reduces the total amount of sleep they’re getting and leads to a chronically sleep-deprived baby.


No day is so bad it can’t be fixed with a nap. ~Carrie Snow

Baby Doesn’t Nap at All

If your child is under 3 they almost always need to take a nap. I see parents all the time who have a 2 year old who doesn’t nap who will tell me about how “Little Timmy decided to stop napping just after his 2nd birthday.” Why did Little Timmy get a vote in this decision? Naps are your friend. Even if it seems inconvenient (especially if you have a non-napping older sibling) to maintain a consistent nap schedule with your 2-3 year old preschooler, this is something their little body needs (even if they don’t seem to WANT to do it). Two year old kids are challenging boundaries all day long and are likely to challenge naps as well. Don’t confuse this with a signal that they no longer need a nap.

Baby is Getting Too Much Sleep

I used to believe that there was no such thing as a kid who sleeps too much. In fact I always wanted to be the parent of one of these kids. But I’ve come to learn that some kids who sleep more than expected often have some underlying medical issue that leaves them unusually tired. This is REALLY rare, most often your kid is sleeping longer because you got lucky. If you’re worried, the most frequent causes of sleeping TOO much are sleep apnea and things like celiac disease that hinder your child’s ability to absorb nutrients. Both of which are totally manageable conditions. But if your baby is over 3 months old and seems to sleep far more than what is suggested in the chart, it’s probably time to talk to your pediatrician just make sure everything is OK.

This chart is pretty handy (she pats herself on back) so you may want to download and print out a copy to keep on your fridge for future reference.

DOWNLOAD SLEEP CHART


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284 Comments


  1. Hi Alexis,
    My 17 month old son used to sleep really well. I put him to bed at 7:30 and he would play in his crib for 45 min happily before falling asleep. He would wake at 7:30am and have one nap during the day from 1-3. Now he is a nightmare. He wakes up at 5:45 and refuses to go back to bed. I have no idea what has changed. He looks so tired and he is so crabby.

    • he is not getting enough sleep. you have to make him go back to bed, gently of course. he has to know he can sleep more and doesn’t have to get up because somebody else is or because he sees a light (sun light, hall light, etc.)

  2. Hi Alexis,

    I am a lurker of your site :) Love it!!! Quick question: my son just turned 8 months yesterday. He typically takes a nap about 1.5 hours after he wakes up. However, it is now taking him much longer to fall asleep for that morning nap. I just read everywhere that this is the most important nap of the day bc it’s what prevents him from being overtired the rest of the day. What do you suggest? About how long should an 8 month old be staying awake in the morning before a nap?

  3. Hi! I have a 3 week old who does nothing but sleep! 3 hours total of alertness a day. – can this be normal??!

  4. Hi,
    I’ve been really concerned and a bit worried because when my baby was a new born he didn’t really sleep at all and since 2nights ago he’s had a dramatic change from not sleeping to sleeping all night and waking up till 4am to eat then 7am and sleep all morning and wakes up around 2pm and is awake for 3hrs then back to sleep for hours . Its a big change and I wanted to know if that was normal he is now 8 weeks old.
    Brianna Aguilar recently posted..Pediatrics Study on White Noise: Sounding Off on Sound MachinesMy Profile

  5. Sleep chart – figures don’t make sense.

    I am confused about translating the sleep chart to the reality of my baby. Lets take the 3-6 months entry: 3 naps or 1-2hrs each with ~2hrs between naps, 9-12hrs at night, and a total of 12-14hrs per day. So lets take a baby having 9hrs at night. He should have at least 3hrs of nap time per day. So in the 15hrs of ‘day’ he should fit in 3 naps. Well, those naps are going to be far further apart than 2 hours – more like 4hrs apart. So if a baby is on this schedule, is it ok? He fits the total sleep requirement and number of naps, but spends a long time awake.

    I guess my real question is “whats most important”? Getting the total daily sleep in any pattern? Having long naps with long awake periods, or short naps more often? And I assume that night time sleep isn’t referring to unbroken sleep?

  6. Need some advice…I feel like we are going through some inconsistency issues with my 6 month old. Here’s a rough outline of our routine:

    Wake between 6:30-7:30am and feed formula (sometimes a fruit too).
    Play, songs, activities until she has been up for around 1.5-2hrs.
    1st nap, usually starts between 8:30-9:30 and can last for 45mins-2hrs.
    Wake and feed formula and fruit or veggie.
    Playtime, walk, run errands, etc.
    2nd nap starts between 12:30-1:30p..never know how long it will last but I can usually count on 45 minutes.
    Wake and feed formula and fruit or veggie.
    Playtime, errands, etc.
    3rd and final nap is typically a short one and starts anywhere between 4p-5:30pm depending on when she’s ready to go back down.
    Up from catnap no later than 6pm, then it’s playtime again.
    At 7p we start bath and bed routine. She gets her bath, then a bottle, then put down by 8pm at the latest (usually closer to 7:30).
    Dream feed always offered between 10p-11p. Never know when she will take it or refuse it.

    Overnight..used to STTN no problems…last 2 or so months though she has been on/off waking around 2-3am, sometimes at 1am then again at 3am…I never know anymore what I’m going to get. Sometimes she takes a bottle and sometimes I just need to pat her back or rock her back to sleep. Last night for example she cried at 2am..offered bottle, she drank a bit, didn’t even fully wake and went right back out (and then I was up the rest of the night).

    Other things to note…I always try and put her down fully awake for naps. This is hardly ever an issue with her morning nap as she will usually put herself down. After that though, the afternoon naps can be a disaster…again I never know what I’m going to get. Today I tried putting her down awake for her middle nap and she was NOT having it..I had to do pick-up/put down for an hour and finally rocked her for just a few minutes before putting her down to sleep. My husband puts her to bed and he always puts her down in that drowsy but awake state and she always goes right to sleep.

    So I need someone to help me analyze this “routine” we have and see if anything sounds off…is she getting too much sleep during the day? Bedtime too early or too late? I guess my biggest issue is the waking in the middle of the night which she never used to do. She also seems to be refusing the dream feed more often than not and I feel like if I could get her to drink during that, she maybe wouldn’t be waking during the night? I am in unpredictable “routine” hell so all help is appreciated!

    • I will add that for the naps, lately she has not been staying awake a full two hours before getting sleepy. She usually is ready to go down for her nap after being awake for 1.5hrs..sometimes she’s even rubbing her eyes after only being awake for an hour.

  7. Trying to figure out what to do with our seven-month-old’s third nap. He goes down around 8 usually and wakes up around 7-7:30. He gets a dream feed at midnight.

    A good nap will last an hour and a half. He usually falls asleep after about 2.5 hours awake. So he will go 930ish to 11ish, 230ish to3ish Ina good day. But when he has two good naps he almost always skips his last nap. We do his routine and put him in the crib and he just hangs out and babbles happy as a clam for an hour. If he doesn’t have two good naps, then he’ll often go down and we end up having to wake him to feed him and do our nighttime routine. What should we do?

  8. Need help. My daughter who is 5.5 months won’t sleep unless its her nanny rocking her or me nursing her or she’s really tired. My problem is she is on the heavy side and is getting too heavy to be rocked and at the same time she only wants to be rocked while lying down horizontally and only by that particular nanny. She won’t sleep if she’s in a vertical position even with rocking or if rocked by other people. She would actually cry and twist her body around if rocked by other people. Because of this (among other reasons) we want to start sleep training her. We tried putting her down sleepy but awake (w PDPU) but she ALWAYS wakes up and would end up staying awake so we end up giving up all the time. Would you recommend CIO at this point? Im worried that she just might not sleep with CIO.

  9. My baby is 10 months old and we started CIO 11 days ago. So far so good, but recently has has not been taking great naps which causes nights to be semi-sleepless. He has been waking up from his last nap aound 3 and goes to bed at 7:45p. Is this too much of a gap? Also, I have always heard naps no longe rthan 2 hours but if he is sleeping good still, can he nap longer?

  10. My daughter is 6 weeks old and will not sleep At night she is in a swing we have tried everything!! She is full not wet I just don’t no the scary thing is she doesn’t sleep during the day either maybe 45 mins twice during the day what can I do??

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