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Baby Sleep: What is Normal?

White picket fence, green grass, and blue skies.

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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368 Comments


  1. I don’t understand how to create a set bedtime and wake time. My 12 week old baby (born 3 weeks early so 9 weeks adjusted age) eats every 3 hours and naps great throughout the day, sleeping about 2 hours each nap. But his nightime sleep is inconsistent- anywhere from 4-6 hours and his wake time is different every morning depending on how many hours he slept through the night. So how do I have a set bedtime if every morning he wakes up at a different time so the 3 hour feed/wake/sleep cycles happens at different times every day…? I’m starting to wonder if his lack of a consistent set bedtime is causing his inconsistent nighttime sleep which is less than the 8+ hours you describe in your chart.

  2. Hi, my 9 month old has never slept through! Shes always been a nightmare to get to nap during the day and is a very light sleeper if she was to fall asleep in the day while out in her pram.

    She doesn’t have milk at night but will stir at least 3x a night, and will usually go straight back to sleep if I put her dummy in. But she has recently been sleeping 630/7pm, waking 630/7am cries out about 3x but goes straight back with dummy. Yet she wakes up tired and miserable every morning and has to be put back to bed withing an hour!! Is this normal? Thanks

  3. If my 15 week old sleeps 17 hours a day, is that too much? He does 12 at night and then 3-4 naps during the day for another 4-5 hours total.

  4. Hi! Advice please –
    my 6 week old is a champ sleeper…once she gets to sleep. She occasionally sleeps through the night, but at least for 6 hours for her first stretch. When we’re home, she takes naps as outlined above. However, she HAS to nurse to sleep. This means when we’re out, she’s not car-napping or stroller-napping. We have to go upstairs to her room, rock in the chair, and nurse until she literally falls asleep with my nipple in her mouth. She naps in the swing and sleeps in her crib. I’ve tried letting the swing put her to sleep, and it’s occasionally worked when she’s very very tired (out most of the day, at the drs office, got a shot) but for the most part she starts squawking after 5ish minutes and is in a full-fledged cry after 10.
    I know she is still in the range of “do what works to get her to sleep,” but since staying asleep isn’t her problem, I’m wondering if there are some gentle tips I can try to encourage her to fall asleep without nursing (she doesn’t take a pacifier) so that the transition won’t be so jarring later on. Thanks!

  5. Hi my 7 week old is really fussy when it comes to naps . She sleeps really well at night 6-7 hours which I know is lucky as many mums tell me but in the day she gets to sleep but wakes her self up all the time she’s constantly fussy and rubbing her face until she’s awake or try’s to fight her sleep , seriously one eye open as if she’s going to miss something she’s so nosey the slightest light or sound will wake her instantly . Is that normal I think she sleeps so well at night as she’s shattered.

  6. Hello! Im a little confused about the numbers on the chart. It says that (for a t month old) there are 3 naps between 1-2 hours each, but then the total sleep is between 11-15 hours with the goal of nighttime sleep being 12 hours? Isn’t that 17 hours? Math has never been my thing, but am I missing something? We are having a hard time getting our little guy (5 months) to sleep all night. He takes 2 naps that range between 1.5-2 hours and a 1 hour evening catnap. Could too much daytime sleep be the culprit?

  7. Help, I have a six month little boy, read loads of information on your site which is fantastic by the way! My little boy is still a car sport and awake quite a bit during night! After reading your articles we got rid of dummy a few weeks ago, he is settling well on own with comforter, white noise and very dark room (settles on own) however still wakes after 30mins in day and up between the hours of 3-5 roughly then goes back on and off for about another hour then awake laid still staring around 6:30! I’m awake from the 3ish wake up as he cries and tries to go back but can’t?! We dream feed at 10/30 and has a big bottle before bed, isn’t starving at 7am when feed so don’t think hungry! Tried calpol, still up? What is going on?!! Any help greatly appreciated!!

  8. Alexis – you should update the downloadable sleep chart to say “Precious Little Sleep” instead of “Troublesome Tots.” I print it out all the time for friends and co-workers!

  9. I wonder if my baby is sleeping too much? His bedtime has always been 6-7pm, even though as a newborn that was his last nap. He sleeps from 6-7pm until 7am, with a 4:30 am feed. However, he fights going to bed or he’s usually too tired! By the time 7am rolls around, he’s in a deep sleep. I always have to wake him! We’ve had the same bath,lotion, bottle routine since 6 weeks. He’s now 5 months!

    Bedtime is always a struggle. He has no sleep props (weaned off swaddle and paci) and sleeps in his crib with white noise.

    He usually wakes at 8pm screaming.
    Should I adjust his bedtime? He’s either under tired or overtired by bedtime, then in a deep sleep by 7am!

  10. Hello,
    I am having difficulty with my 6 month old and naps. We usually get a 1 – 1.5 hour nap in the morning (she falls asleep on her own in her rocker), but maybe only a 30 minute nap in the afternoon. I usually have to put her in her crib for the second nap, but she cries for about 15 minutes until she falls asleep. She then sleeps 11-12 hours at night with 1 – 2 wake ups (6:30 – 6:30 due to our work schedules) after we give her a bottle and put her to sleep awake. Are we putting her to bed too early? I would love a scheduled afternoon nap for her and for my sanity.

    Thanks, Kelly

  11. Love this article and chart

    My almost 7 month bit never has two nights the same… We’ve just moved to 4 hourly feeds and he’s consolidated naps well…1 3/4 hours in morning and afternoon and then 45mibs to hour in evening… We fight to keep him awake for a bath at 8.30-9… And then he goes down … Sleeps thru till 7 with one feed at 3-4 am….

    The problem is at night he can have me up every hour to give back a dummy or sleep right thru and wake only for feed (rare )… No two nights are the same…

    I don’t understand why each night can be so different with anything from 1 to 10 interventions?

    And about day naps… He can put himself to sleep quite well.

  12. Hi

    I’m confused by some of the advice but reassured to see most babies of newborn age are awake from 7-11 gping off the chart.

    I’m confused by the fact that you say they can only stay awake for 40mins. My 6 week old seems to sleep in the am and over lunch she feeds inbetween. Is this classed as awake time?

    She will then have a light nap early evening then be awake from from6/7 until 11pm/midnight which is obviously longer than 40 mins.

  13. Hi,

    You mention in your article that 2 year olds need a nap and it is not their decision to drop a nap. You did not mention though how to enforce a nap on a child who does not want to. I have a 2 year old ( 27 months). Who has been skipping his naps for about a month about 3-4 times a week. I leave him in his crib for an hour or so, he just doesn’t go to sleep and yells the whole time. Any advice on what I can do? We put him to bed between 7:30 and 8pm every night- he typically wakes up between 5:30 and 6:30. Even on days he wakes up at 5:30 he will skip his nap. We have a routine at both nap time and bedtime.

    Thanks!
    Nicole

  14. Hi Alexis!
    My 5.5 week old son sleeps during the day for 3 hour chunks. He’ll wake to feed, be up for a bit, about an hour or so and then back to sleep. At night he sleeps for 2-3 hours before waking to eat and then seems to have his witching hour in the wee hours of the morning, from about 3am to 7:30am, which is ROUGH. And then he may sleep for 4-5 hours in the morning! His sleep during the day is great, he’s easy peasy, but night time is tough.
    At this point, are these 3 hour “naps” during the day too long? Is he too young to try to set some sort of schedule, because there is no pattern to his sleeping. Any suggestions are appreciated!

    • Ours is 2 weeks old and is the same, sleeps great mostly during the day 3-4 hours, but at night, after his first feed of the night, roughly 1am, he just wont go back to sleep until 4ish

  15. My daughter gave up naps at 2.5 years (wah!). But we kept a “quiet time” in substitute. She had to stay in her room, or take a bath, for a blessed hour every day. She could do whatever she wanted as long as it didn’t require our energy or attention. We kept that up until she started kindergarten. ūüôā

  16. My baby was preemie ( she came one month early) so do I still follow this chart based on her age or should I consider her sleep has been one month behind? For example, she is four months now so should my expectation be that she should be sleeping like a four-month-old or three-month-old because she was a preemie?

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