A Guide to Infant Sleep Patterns

sleeping infant in white swaddle

A Guide to Infant Sleep Patterns

A Guide to Infant Sleep Patterns

When talking about newborn and infant sleep, it’s important to recognize that sleep patterns can vary widely, and individual differences are common. The following information is based on typical sleep patterns observed in research and can serve as a general guideline for newborns and infants up to 24 months old. Keep in mind that every child is unique, and above all, it’s essential to pay attention to your child’s cues and adjust their sleep schedule as needed. You should always consult with a healthcare professional if you have specific concerns! Here are our infant sleep tips:

Newborn Sleep

Newborn sleep patterns differ significantly from those of older infants due to both biological and developmental factors. As a result, this can make sleep for the whole family especially challenging during the “fourth trimester.”

  • Sleep cycles: Newborns have shorter sleep cycles, typically lasting around 50-60 minutes. These cycles are characterized by rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep. As a result, newborns often wake frequently during the night.
  • REM sleep: Many Newborns spend a significant portion of their sleep in REM, which is essential for brain development. REM sleep is lighter, and newborns may wake easily during this phase, contributing to their frequent night awakenings.
  • Nap duration: Newborns may have varying nap durations, often ranging from 30 minutes to 2-3 hours. The indicated variability is due to their developing sleep patterns and the need for frequent feedings.

Infant Sleep Development

  • Maturation of sleep patterns: As infants grow, their sleep patterns gradually mature. Around 3-6 months, they start to develop more structured circadian rhythms, with longer periods of nighttime sleep and consolidated naps. This is partly due to the maturation of the central nervous system.
  • Decreased REM sleep: With age, there is a gradual reduction in the amount of REM sleep, and the proportion of deep, restorative non-REM sleep increases. This contributes to longer and more consolidated nighttime sleep in older infants.
  • Reduced night wakings: Older infants tend to have fewer nighttime awakenings as they can sleep through longer periods without needing to feed. This is associated with improved self-regulation and increased nighttime sleep efficiency.

Sleep Readiness Signs

Nap soon…

  • Spacing out/glossy eyes
  • Looking away
  • Losing interest in activity
  • Less movement
  • Quieting down
  • Head nuzzling, clinging, cuddling
  • Red eyes/eyebrows
  • Sucking on hands or fingers
  • Mild fussiness

Nap NOW!

  • Crying/increased fussiness
  • Yawning
  • Rubbing eyes/face
  • Yanking or fingering ears/hair
  • Frantically looking for/sucking breast, thumb, or pacifier
  • Hyperactivity/giddiness

Wake Windows

Wake windows are the periods of ”awake” time in between naps. These help our bodies to build “sleep pressure” – or the ability to effectively fall and stay asleep. Too little sleep pressure and overtiredness both result in disrupted sleep. This is why our top infant sleep tip is to balance total sleep in a 24-hour period as well as increments of awake time.

Sleep Patterns By Age

Age (months) Wake Windows Total 24h Sleep Typical Nap Duration Naps Per Day
Newborn 30-60 min 14-17 h 30 m-2.5 h 4-8
1-3 1-1.5 h 14-17 h 30 m-2.5 h 4-8
4-6 1.5-2.5 h 12-16 h 1-2.5 h 3-4
7-8 2.5-3 h 13-15 h 1-2.5 h 2-3
9-12 3-4 h 12-14 h 1-2.5 h 2-3
13-18 3.5-4.5 h 12-14 h 1-2.5 h 1-2
18-24 4-6 h 11-14 h 1-2.5 h 1


In Conclusion…

Newborn sleep patterns are heavily influenced by the biological need for frequent feeding and the immaturity of their sleep cycles. As infants develop, their sleep patterns become more consolidated, with a greater focus on nighttime sleep, fewer night awakenings, and the transition to a single daily nap. These changes are associated with the maturation of their central nervous system and the development of circadian rhythms. Understanding these biological and developmental differences can help parents and caregivers create appropriate sleep routines for their children at different stages of infancy.

Questions on our Top 5 Infant Sleep Tips? Reach out to our expert infant specialists for support and help at home with our 4T at Home services.


Source: Katie Billingsley CCC-SLP, CBS