Sleep patterns for babies

Babies have different sleep patterns. Some take long day naps while others only have quick naps. Some wake up frequently through the night while others may sleep through or wake up occasionally. Their sleep patterns can also change a lot in the first year. While each baby is different, it may help you to understand how babies’ sleep cycles differ from those of adults and also what to expect at each stage.

Normal baby sleep versus adult sleep

  • Babies under 1 are naturally lighter sleepers compared with adults. They spend more of their sleeping time in ‘active sleep’ instead of ‘quiet sleep’.
  • In active sleep, babies breathe shallowly and twitch their arms and legs. Their eyes flutter under their eyelids. Babies can be easily woken up from active sleep.
  • By comparison, adults and adolescents tend to have more quiet sleep, where they lie still and breathe deeply.
  • Everybody has a cycle, where their sleep varies from light to deep. Adults’ sleep cycles are usually about 90 minutes. Babies’ sleep cycles are usually about 40 minutes, so they tend to wake up more often.

All babies are different

Babies are little individuals so they are all different. The information below is a general guide and your baby might be different. Try not to spend too much time comparing how your baby sleeps with other babies. For advice or support at any time, call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436.

Birth to three months

  • Newborns sleep on and off through the day and night.
  • The total sleep varies between babies — it can be from around 8 to 18 hours a day.
  • They tend to sleep only in short stretches because they need to be fed and changed regularly.
  • Newborns generally sleep very lightly: they spend half of their sleeping time in active sleep.
  • Also, a newborn has not learnt to sleep when it is dark. They usually start to learn this rhythm of day and night when they are about 6 weeks old. You can help your newborn to learn to sleep more at night by exposing them to light and playing with them during the day, and providing a dim and quiet environment at night.

Three to six months

  • At this age, your baby might have 3 daytime naps of up to 2 hours each.
  • Most will sleep 14-15 hours of sleep in total a day, with some babies sleeping up to 8 hours at night.
  • The amount of active sleep starts to reduce and they begin to enter quiet sleep at the beginning of their sleep cycles.
  • They still tend to wake up at least once during the night.

Six to 12 months

  • From about 6 months old, your baby’s sleep patterns are more like yours.
  • At this age, babies sleep an average of about 13 hours in total a day. They tend to sleep the longest period at night, averaging about 11 hours.
  • Your baby will start dropping their number of daytime naps to about 2. Their naps are usually about 1 to 2 hours.
  • In general, babies may wake up less frequently during the night because they don’t need to be fed as often.
  • Most babies will wake only once during the night and need settling back to sleep. Some will still wake up more often.
  • At this age, babies may start to worry about being away from their parent or carer. This may make it longer for babies to fall asleep and may temporarily increase night wakings.
  • Regular daytime and bedtime routines may help your baby to fall and stay asleep.
  • After 12 months

From 12 months old, babies tend to sleep better. As they approach their first birthday, babies tend to sleep longer, wake up less often, take a nap once or twice during the day and sleep more at night. By the time they turn one year old, babies are likely to be sleeping 8 to 12 hours a night, waking only once or twice in that time.