Child Care: Sleep Pattern of the Newborns

Sleeping problems are the most common complaint of mothers and fathers in the first few years. And more often than not, being a parent means having to get used to NOT sleeping fitfully almost every night. Let’s face it. You need your baby to sleep at night not just for her sake – you need sleep too to remain sane and function effectively. For this, it is important to know that there’s a great variability in babies’ sleep patterns and needs.

Just as every pregnancy and every birth is different, so too, is every baby. Some babies need 20 hours of sleep a day others only 10. Some will sleep for 3 to 4 hours at a stretch. Others never more than 15 to 20 minutes at a stretch (i.e. a short nap). Such sleep patterns are in-built and there’s little you can do to change it. But what you can do is to influence your baby’s attitude to sleep. Establishing some kind of ritual with regard to sleep time is a fundamental requirement for many babies. And though there are no magical solutions to sleeping problems, here are some ideas you might like to try.


• Being fed to sleep, then moved gently into bed.
• Being rocked (Research shows that the effective rate is about once a second).
• Being patted on the back or head when put to bed.
• Being sung to.
• Walking around with he nursed in your arms or in a sling.
• Being pushed backwards and forwards in a pram or stroller.

Such rituals may take up to an hour for the first week or so, but gradually your baby will get the message: “It’s time for sleep”. After a month or so, most babies will quite miraculously fall asleep after two to three minutes of whichever ritual they are accustomed to i.e. they become conditioned to that ritual.

It is also very important to help the baby understand the difference between night and day. Some of the useful steps that the parents can try (when it is night) are:

• Make sure the baby’s room is dark so that she doesn’t think its day time.
• Leave lights off when feeding.
• Change nappies quickly, burp the baby and put her back to bed quickly without play and talk as during the day.
• Make sure she is comfortable and securely wrapped. Put your baby to sleep in the same cot in the same room each night.


Sleep is a pleasant thing that nature has blessed us with. It is a means of rejuvenation. Sleep is the best antidote for fatigue and those who have a good, sound sleep feel mentally and physically relaxed the next morning. Even a one day old baby (who doesn’t even know the meaning of sleep), dozes off after satisfying her hunger.

The parents are often worried about how much the baby should sleep. There is no definitive answer to this question, simply because every baby has her own pattern and duration of sleep. However, a newborn sleeps approximately 18 hours/ day, which is reduced to 12 hours/day by the age of 2 years and then to 8-10 hours/ day by the age of 6 years. Remember babies, unlike adults don’t have worries and tensions, and thus cannot suffer from insomnia (sleeplessness) at least till the age of 2 years. Thus they cannot miss out on their full quota of sleep. So parents should not worry about it.

A newborn baby doesn’t have any fixed pattern of sleep and so parents may complain that the baby sleeps too much in the daytime while during the night it keeps awake. New-borns cry often at night for the initial 4-6 weeks and sleep during the day. This is just the opposite of what adults do. It is very disturbing to the parents because they can’t get proper sleep during the night. The parents want that in some way, the baby should sleep more in the night and thus disturb their sleep less, a feeling that is quite natural.

One possible solution is that the parents try to keep their baby awake in the daytime which is difficult as the baby will continue to sleep. Parents should realise that it is not the baby’s fault but just a continuation of the intra-uterine pattern. During fetal life, the mother’s activities during the daytime have rocking effect on the fetus and thus lull him to sleep. During night the opposite happens. This pattern persists after the baby is born and only by 4-6 weeks is the baby able to change and fit its sleep rhythm to the adult pattern.

As babies get older they cut down on their sleep. By the end of first year, the child may be having 2 naps, one in the afternoon and one in the night. As the child grows older, he may even forego the afternoon nap and sleep only during night.

Parents should inculcate in their child the habit that he should go to bed after dinner and not engage in any activities post dinner like play, watching T.V. etc. In Indian custom, the child mostly sleeps with the parents till he is 5-6 years old or even more. It becomes a habit with him that unless the parents (at least one of them) is not in bed with him, he cannot go to sleep. In western countries, the culture is to make the baby sleep in a separate room by the age of 6 months or earlier, which is difficult for us to accept as we think it as being “harsh” to the baby.

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