Newborn Baby Sleep Basics: What You Need to Know

Want to help you baby – and, subsequently, yourself – get the best night of rest possible? Follow these must-know basics on newborn baby sleep.

Most of us know that quality sleep is magic. And healthy sleep isn’t just important for babies. Your sleep matters too, mama. When we sleep 7-9 hours at night, we improve our short-term memory, mood, and immune system.

We decrease our chances of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. There are so many benefits to healthy sleep for adults. Overall, getting quality sleep is an absolute must when maintaining a healthy mind and body.

baby sleeping in crib

Why sleep matters for your baby

Newborns sleep a lot.

In fact, most sleep 14-17 hours during a 24 hour period and can only handle being awake about 45-60 minutes before they are ready for another snooze.

So the next time your little settles down for slumber, here is a list of all of the wonderful benefits of sleep for babies.

  • Boosts immune system
  • Promotes growth
  • Boosts learning
  • Regulates emotions (which can mean less crying)
  • Builds and repairs tissue
  • Restores energy

Set your baby up to sleep well

Newborns need help with everything, including sleep. You can help your baby sleep by rocking, bouncing, a pacifier, etc. The goal is to eliminate sleep props eventually so that your baby can feel secure and fall asleep independently. 

If you are helping your baby get to sleep, it’s beneficial not to do it the same way every time.

For example, a baby might fall asleep rocking, but try not to make that the only way your newborn can drift into sleep.

The ultimate goal is the teach your baby self-soothing strategies, so he becomes a great independent sleeper.

We all of ways we get ourselves to sleep. For some of us, it’s having a fan in the room, a favorite pillow, or laying in a certain position.

If your baby depends on a  “prop” or sleep association to fall asleep – such as nursing, bottles, pacifiers, patting, rocking– it could be a challenge for him to get back to sleep after waking without that same sleep “prop.”

One of the most common sleep props is breastfeeding, so have in the back of your mind that you will try not to feed (breast or bottle) to sleep every time, and as the weeks pass, it will get easier.

Of course, this is next to impossible to achieve 100% of the time. Putting your baby down in the crib already asleep from time to time will not ruin their sleep habits.

mom putting baby in crib

Newborn sleep basics

Focusing on preventing overtiredness, developing a schedule, and implementing a bedtime routine is a great starting point.

1. Prevent overtiredness

Keeping your baby from becoming overtired is key when working on healthy sleep. Make sure your little one is not awake for more than 45-60 minutes at a time.  

When a baby is not overtired, he will most likely be less fussy. And, it’s easier to get a full feed and establish a feed routine when a baby is well-rested. 

When a baby becomes overtired, it triggers cortisol and adrenaline, which will make it harder for him to fall asleep. Watching the awake window helps a baby fall asleep and stay asleep.

2. Develop routines throughout the day

Remember: eat, play, and then sleep.

Having your baby eat after waking up from a nap instead of right before a nap helps prevent feeding and sleeping association. This is one of the key elements in teaching independent sleep skills. It also encourages full feeds throughout the day and night.

3. Establish a consistent bedtime routine

Bedtime routines help prepare a baby for sleep. When the same steps happen each night, he understands and prepares his body for sleep.

Along with exposure to natural light during the daytime awake hours and a pitch-black room at night, a bedtime routine will help define days and nights.

Starting a bedtime routine off with a bath is a great step one. It’s such a significantly different experience that your baby will soon learn that a bath means bedtime is near. 

Example bedtime routine:

  1. Bath/wipe down 
  2. Massage
  3. Pajamas 
  4. Feeding*
  5. Swaddle (only up to 8-10 weeks) 
  6. Song or book 
  7. Kisses goodnight and into the crib with white noise 

*Note: scheduling the feed in the middle of the routine, instead of the end, for a newborn will help keep from creating a feeding and sleeping association.

baby crib with hanging stuffed animal

Create a perfect sleep environment

New moms tend to get excited about creating a beautiful space for their babies to sleep in. But beautiful doesn’t always mean it’s sleep-supportive. Here are four tips to help create the perfect sleep-friendly environment for your newborn.

1. Keep it dark

Make it dark, darker, and then even darker. You cannot make the room dark enough for an infant, as fear of the dark does not happen until around 2.5 or 3 years old.

Most of the families I work with already have blackout curtains, but with light streaming in from all sides, it just doesn’t do the trick. Investing in quality, easy-to-install, full-coverage blackout blinds is a solid choice for a chunk of your budget.

Even covering the windows with dark trash bags can help significantly. And you’ll find naps go down with a lot less fuss if there’s no light coming into the room.

2. Keep the temperature cool

It’s believed that babies, like adults, sleep best in a room between 68 and 72° F.

Obviously, you should follow your baby’s lead on this, but a warm, comfortable sleep sack with a onesie or pajamas underneath is usually all you need.

Bamboo cotton pajamas (our editor loves these) can help keep your baby cool in the summer months and warm in the colder months.

If you want extra support regulating your baby’s body temperature, the year-round Woolino sleepsack does just that and is a great option when the baby is out of the swaddle around 8-10 weeks of age.

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3. Keep it quiet

For newborns, white noise can trigger a calming reflex. White noise blocks unwanted exterior noise that might pull them out of a sleep cycle prematurely for older babies.

Keep it about 4-6 feet away from the baby’s head and leave it on for all sleep situations. This noise is both consistent and a cue.

The Hatch sound machine is an easy option that can be pre-scheduled to turn on and off at certain times and even acts as a dim light while getting the baby ready for sleep. This mini sound machine is a great option for travel, in the car, and the stroller.

4. Keep it boring

Lullaby music, colorful murals, spinning mobiles, and Disney stuffies all sound like a pretty perfect room for a baby, right? Wrong.

Soft colors, white noise, a basic crib, and a changing table are all you need. Stimulation and excitement should not be part of the bedtime and naptime process.

baby sleeping in crib in a yellow sleeper

A quick recap on baby sleep basics

Taking a few moments to learn the basics of newborn sleep can have a tremendous positive impact on your entire family.

Start slowly, be consistent, and remember these basics sleep tips:

  1. Only keep a newborn baby awake 45-60 minutes to prevent overtiredness
  2. Get on an Eat, Play, Sleep schedule
  3. Establish a bedtime routine
  4. Keep baby’s room, cool, dark, quiet and boring

Resources you might find interesting

Andi Metzler

Pediatric Sleep Consultant

Andi helps tired parents find the best sleep training method for their baby to achieve a good night's rest. After struggling with her daughter's sleep, she was desperate for a solution to help them sleep better throughout the night. She's now a certified sleep consultant helping families rest better every night.

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