How Long Should Baby be Awake?

Kid with a large alarm clock lying on the bedA tip for expectant parents – You know that feeling you get when you look at your first cable bill and see all of the extra charges they’ve laid on top of the price you were quoted?

Multiply that by about a billion, and that’s the feeling you’ll get when you’re first trying to figure out your new baby’s sleep patterns.

If you Google “How long should infants sleep for,” you’ll get a sweet, succinct answer right at the top of the page.

“Generally, newborns sleep about 8 to 9 hours in the daytime and about 8 hours at night. Most babies do not begin sleeping through the night (6 to 8 hours) without waking until at least 3 months of age, or until they weigh 12 to 13 pounds.”

Piece of cake, right? 8 hours at night, and a few 3 hour naps during the day! Wake up a few times a night for a few months, and then it’s back to the same old routine. This motherhood thing is going to be a cool breeze!

Oh, sweet, optimistic young mother, how I wish it were so.

But as you’re quickly going to find out, the sleep routine is a precarious balancing act wrapped inside a juggling routine. There are dozens of unpredictable factors that come into play, and each of them has an effect on the other.

As such, you’re going to find yourself in a lot of situations where baby hasn’t slept well, either the night before, or during his last nap, and you’re left wondering how to adjust.

When this happens, and it will happen often, the best solution is to go by how long baby’s been awake.

  • Newborns (birth to 10 weeks) 45 min to an hour. (That means baby is awake, has a full feeding, a diaper change, a bit of play time and then it’s back to bed.)
  • 11 weeks to 3. 5 months: 1.5 hours of time awake
  • 3.5 months to 5 months: 2 hours of time awake
  • 5 months to 7 months: 2.5 to 3 hours of time awake
  • 8 months to 13 months: 3 to 4 hours of time awake
  • 14 months to 3 years: 5 to 6 hours of time awake

So, say baby’s up an hour before her normal wake-up time in the morning. First, try and get her back to sleep for another hour. Give her a little bit of soothing, and lay her back down with a reassuring reminder that it’s not time to get up yet.
Assuming that doesn’t work, you’ll want to start compensating in small increments. Lay her down her her nap 10 minutes early, and see how it goes. If all goes well, do the same for her other naps as well as bedtime.

With a little luck, this will go over smoothly, repaying the sleep debt without throwing baby’s schedule out of sync.
Our bodies are fascinating machines, and they’re capable of adapting to an astonishing number of situations, but lack of sleep isn’t one of them. In fact, when we’re overtired, our brains typically overcompensate by letting out excessive amounts of hormones designed to keep us awake.

That’s why babies who have missed their sleep window don’t appear tired. They get wired, cranky and hyperactive, making it much harder for them to get to sleep.

It’s a frustrating, unpleasant cycle, so avoid it if you can. Keep a close eye on their wake-up times and plan your day accordingly.

Your sanity may depend on it.

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