How Long Should an Infant Sleep?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Infant sleep can vary with each individual baby. It can be said that most newborns will sleep for about 15-16 hours a day, usually sleeping no more than three to four hours at any given stretch. Some infants may sleep less than this particularly if they have problems with colic, and breastfed babies may sink into a schedule where they wake about every two to three hours to nurse. The breastfed baby may also be willing to go back to sleep after satisfying hunger needs, though again this may vary.

Babies with colic are awake and cry a great deal.
Babies with colic are awake and cry a great deal.

Usually babies under a month old don’t sleep without waking for more than four hours, but as they reach a month, sleep periods may stretch to five or six hours at night. It’s tempting not to give these numbers out because infant sleep can be so variable, and there are certainly parents who have babies who remain wakeful or who catnap so that they wake up or rouse more easily and more often.

Babies less than a month old don't sleep for more than four hours at a time, but that increases when they get a little older.
Babies less than a month old don't sleep for more than four hours at a time, but that increases when they get a little older.

Parents who do have babies will colic may have a rough road at first because of these frequent wake ups, which often include crying a great deal. In general, if a baby is awake for more than eight or nine hours a day, you might want to speak to your pediatrician about infant sleep and any potential conditions that would be interfering with sleep patterns.

After the first month infant sleep may be an average of 12-15 hours a day. The baby has more wakeful periods but also may learn to sleep for longer stretches. Even breastfed babies may skip one nursing at night and possibly wake after three or four hours. This really depends on the baby though, and some continue to wake on a two hour schedule, but will go back to sleep after being burped and changed.

If you have a very young infant, infant sleep may pose a concern if a baby sleeps too much. Though there is a normal range, if infant sleep seems excessive, you should check with your doctor. Since infants do need to be fed every two to three hours when nursing and every three to four when eating formula, they may not be eating enough due to too much sleep. Lots of babies do seem to sleep a lot, with few wakeful periods in the first few days, but if you notice a big change in sleep habits and a baby that seems to never rouse, you should speak to your child’s pediatrician, particularly if sleep habits are interfering with diet, or if sleep habits have changed suddenly and you suspect illness.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@MissDaphne - I think perhaps a surprising number of babies don't get enough sleep. My second baby was a better sleeper than my first and I was worried he wasn't getting enough to eat and that all that sleep was a problem. Then I asked the pediatrician, and she said that some newborns sleep for twenty hours a day!

Apparently, under two months of age it is unusual for a baby to be awake for more than an hour at a time! If you have a tiny baby who is routinely awake longer than that, it might be that baby is having trouble falling asleep. Especially if baby seems cranky after the first hour or so, try helping baby fall asleep by swaddling, rocking, maybe giving a pacifier, etc. An infant sleep "schedule" may be impossible at first, but try to help baby find her own rhythms.


I think the more important question is not how long the baby should sleep, but how you can tell if a baby is getting *enough* sleep. If your baby seems cranky and irritable, it might be that s/he is having trouble sleeping and isn't getting enough.

Of course, too much sleep is also a problem. Your pediatrician will check your baby's weight gain; if baby is gaining weight well, then s/he is probably getting enough to eat even if s/he sleeps a lot. In between appointments, you can count the wet diapers. Output is the best indicator of whether baby is getting enough input!

Some breastfed babies especially will cluster feed; they may sleep for longer stretches, and then eat twice in an hour, rather than maintaining a smooth round-the-clock two-hour schedule.

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