Getting Your Baby to Sleep

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Babies do not have regular sleep cycles until about 4 months of age. Although newborns sleep about 16 to 17 hours per day, they may only sleep 1 or 2 hours at a time. As babies get older, they need less sleep. However, different babies have different sleep needs.

Stages of Newborn Sleep

 For newborns, sleep is about equally divided between rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep and follows these stages:

Stage 1: Drowsiness, in which the baby starts to fall asleep.

Stage 2: REM sleep (also referred to as active sleep), in which the baby may twitch or jerk her arms or legs, and her eyes move under her closed eyelids. Breathing is often irregular and may stop for 5 to 10 seconds—a condition called normal periodic breathing of infancy—then start again with a burst of rapid breathing at the rate of 50 to 60 breaths a minute for 10 to 15 seconds, followed by regular breathing until the cycle repeats itself. The baby’s skin color does not change with the pauses in breathing and there is no cause for concern (in contrast with apnea). Babies generally outgrow periodic breathing by about the middle of the first year.

Stage 3: Light sleep, in which breathing becomes more regular and sleep becomes less active.

Stages 4 and 5: Deep non-REM sleep (also referred to as quiet sleep). Twitching and other movements cease, and the baby falls into sleep that becomes progressively deeper. During these stages, the baby may be more difficult to awake.

Here are some tips that may help your baby (and you) sleep better at night.

All babies

  • Stay calm & quiet at night. Try not to stimulate or wake babies when you feed or change them during the night. If you speak, speak softly.
  • Make daytime playtime. Keep babies awake longer during the day. This helps babies sleep for longer periods during the night. Spend time talking, reading, and playing together.

Babies 4 months and older

Put babies to bed when they are drowsy. Do not wait until babies are asleep. This helps babies learn to fall asleep on their own, in their own bed. If you hold babies or rock them to sleep, they may struggle to go back to sleep if they wake up during the night. Remember to place babies on their back to sleep for every sleep until they are 1 year of age. Visit to learn more about how to create a safe sleeping environment for babies.

Do not rush in to soothe a crying baby. Babies need time to put themselves back to sleep, and they need to learn how to fall back asleep on their own. It is normal for a 6-month-old to wake up during the night and then go back to sleep after a few minutes. Of course, you can attend to them—like feeding them, changing a soiled diaper, or comforting them if they are sick—if needed.


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