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How to Rock Out a Newborn Sleep Schedule

I’ll be honest with you, a newborn sleep schedule has less to do with you and more to do with your newborn.

In fact, a newborn schedule in the first 4 weeks doesn’t look too much like a schedule.  There’s no napping appointment at 9:30.  No “bottle at 11” to check off the list.

If a standard schedule is like playing Bach, a newborn sleep schedule would be improvising jazz.  Both schedules have the same general notes to follow (feeding your baby, napping, etc.), but at the end of the jam-session they sound completely different.

Goals For Your Newborn Sleep Schedule

We have three goals to focus on with our newborn sleep schedule.  They are…

  1. Learn what are the typical rhythms of eating and sleeping newborn babies go through.  This helps you know roughly what to expect.
  2. Learn the difference between “napping” and “habituating”
  3. Learn how to adjust a sample newborn schedule to fit your baby’s preferences and needs.

This newborn schedule has been designed for full-term babies. If your baby was born premature, certain adjustments will be required. I teach how to do that  in my milestone book.

A Newborn’s Natural Rhythm

For the first week, your infant is going to be sleeping about 16-18 hours every day.  (Doing the math…this means she’ll be awake for only 6-8 hours, and half of that is eating.)

By week four, she’ll adjust to sleeping around 15-17 hours a day (7-9 waking hours), and get up about 2-3 times during the night to eat.

For breastfeeding moms, you can expect her to eat every 1.5 hours (minimum) to 3 hours (maximum).  Don’t allow her to go longer than 3 hours between feedings or your milk may suffer and she may not gain weight.

For formula feeding parents, your baby will eat less often.  Expect her to chug 2-3 ounces every three to four hours.

The Sneaky Snacker

If you find yourself breastfeeding your newborn every hour or so, you may be satisfying a Sneaky Snacker. Next time she eats, watch her closely.  Can you see her jaw clearly dropping and hear her swallowing?  If so, find a local lactation consultant who can help you make sure your milk supply is staying up with demand.

Napping vs. Habituating

You have an enemy. An enemy who can transform a happy content baby into a fussy, unsootheable monster within just 30 minutes. It’s the cunningly destructive Captain O.

Also known as Overstimulation.

How much power does Captain O have over your newborn?  Depends.  Some temperaments are more sensitive than others. And honestly, since you’ve only really known your infant for a few weeks (if that) it’s going to be difficult to tell how susceptible she will be to the powers of Captain O.

Observation is your best offense against Captain O

Identifying Captain Overstimulation

When you think about it, it’s not surprising that newborns are so easily overstimulated.  She just spent 9 months in a warm, dark, muffled place.  No bright lights.  No jarring noises. If you’ve spent more than 30 minutes trying to calm your little bundle, your very attempts to soothe may have overstimulated her.

Swaddle her up, lay her down in her crib with the lights dim, and give her a few seconds to calm down.  Oftentimes the sudden lack of sound or movement will surprise and soothe her.

This may not work all the time, especially if your baby is struggling with acid reflux or colic, but is still worth the try.

The Dangers of Habituating

Habituating is a term The Sleep Lady uses to describe when a newborn is “fake napping”.

Basically, your infant is verging on the brink of overstimulation, and so shuts down.  She looks like she’s sleeping, but really she’s trying to self-soothe.  It’s common for babies until they are 6-8 weeks old.

How do you know if your newborn is habituating?  She will wake fussy and irritable, like she hardly slept at all.  (Yeah, I know.  That’s no flashing neon sign.)

If your newborn can’t find quiet tranquility during the day (constantly habituating), she will seek it at night.  This means she’ll be alert and ready for play when you want to be unconscious on a pillow.

Your best defense is an offense: prevent the need for her to habituate in the first place. So try your darndest in those first four weeks to keep your baby isolated from the bright and noisy Captain O.  Get a good noisemaker to drown out active siblings.  Stay home as much as possible.  (Whispering would be overkill.)

A Sample Newborn Schedule for the First 4 to 6 Weeks

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, your newborn schedule should sound like JAZZ, not BACH. Remember, you want to catch her natural rhythms.  Use the times listed as “suggestions” to when you may spot her hunger and sleep cues.

This sample newborn schedule to rotates every 3 hours. Thirty minutes of feeding, thirty minutes of playing, and then a two hour nap. (With one exception at the end.) If your baby shows signs of being hungry or needing to sleep, give her what she needs and then adjust your newborn schedule from that new time.

I highly recommend keeping a baby journal. It will help you keep track times (which you won’t remember, trust me) and allow you to easily look back and pick out her emerging natural patterns.  

Patterns like, She always gets tired around 9:30 am, or She sleeps better after a 45 minute playtime… and other important cues.

At this point in the newborn sleep schedule, we make a few adjustments.  You want her last feeding of the day and your bedtime to match to maximize sleeping time for you both, somewhere around 10:00 or 11:00 pm.

So, to help give that last nudge of getting-ready-for-longer-nighttime-sleep, try to keep her awake for one or two hours before bedtime.  (This is great Daddy bonding time!)

If she can’t make it to 10 or 11pm, feed her and put her to bed earlier, keeping track of her signals and times for future reference.

To continue our sample newborn schedule, let’s begin again at the 7:00 pm wakeup…

As you can see, the last playtime of the day is extended (if possible) to 2 hours instead of the usual 30 minutes.

The danger, again, is overstimulation (Captain O strikes again!) you have to lay her down for bed while she’s tired, but not too tired.  If she’s too tired, she’ll have a hard time calming down to sleep.

Tracking your newborn schedule and habits in a notebook or baby tracker can teach you what her “moving to exhausted” signs are.  The sooner you jump on those, the easier getting her to sleep is going to be.

Want another perspective on what a newborn schedule can look like Julie over at Jules and Co. gives an example of what her newborn’s daily routine looks like, along with a free printable to hang on your fridge. Check it out here.

The Overnight Newborn Sleep Schedule

Once she’s down for the evening, don’t wake her unless it’s been longer than 3-4 hours.  At this young age, you don’t want her to “sleep through the night”.  It’s not healthy for her.

When she starts stirring for a meal, probably around 1 am (if your last feeding was 9:30), feed her in near darkness with little sound or movement.

Unless she’s got a poopy diaper, has leaked, or has a bad diaper rash, lay her back down to sleeping without a diaper change.  There’s nothing like cold air on a cute bum to overstimulate and ruin your sleeping chances!

Your Next Step

Now that you’ve got a good idea about what your newborn sleep schedule should look like, let me depress you a little.

Next month it all changes.  But I’ve got your back.  Get your cheating schedule for the next month.  And while you’re cheating, check out my 62 tricks to encourage sleepiness.

Be patiently persistent! And remember…with every day your newborn gets bigger and bigger, which means that tiny tummy is getting bigger and bigger…which means she can sleep longer and longer!

We Love Citations

Newborn Sleep: How Much is Enough? SleepLady.com
REM Sleep Cycle of Your Baby. NestedBean.com
Newborn Sleep Patterns. StanfordChildrens.org

Have You Read These Yet?

We  honesty!  This post contains affiliate links that provide extra money for our mutual coffee habits addictions. Click here to learn more.

168 thoughts on “How to Rock Out a Newborn Sleep Schedule

  1. Virginia, the first thing I would do is have her looked over by the doctor and make sure there’s no silent reflux or medical reason for the wakeups. Then I would start experimenting with different sleeping locations (in a swing, in the car seat, in the crib, while you’re carrying her in a baby carrier, etc.)

    Thirdly, don’t be too discouraged. Newborns are often all OVER the place when it comes to sleeping and eating. They are trying to figure out how to deal with this brave new world! Keep feeding and cuddling with her. The older and bigger she gets, the easier all this will become. xox

  2. My newborn is 7 weeks in 2 days and after every feed during the day the max sleep she will get is 45min… I have no idea how to fix this. Sometimes she will take 120mls of formula and some feeds will only be 60mls. Im hoping this is just a faze.

     

    I try and put her back to sleep but nothing works.. if it does works..she sleeps for 10min. Is there something I’m missing? She was born at 41 weeks.

  3. Rita, at this age it’s very common for some babies to just be all OVER the place when it comes to sleep. A few little tips come to mind, hopefully they can be helpful.

    1. Try to make sure he’s not habituating too much during the day. That can lead to him being over-tired by the time the night arrives. By all means, run errands and leave the house, but you may want to try to stay around the house and put him down for naps in a dark room with a noisemaker like this one or something to drown out any noises. Even if he’s in a swing or his car seat, trying to limit loud bright lights in the late afternoon may help.

    2. When he does go down for naps, you can help him learn the difference between day and night by slowing down, speaking quieter, and moving to a darker part of the house. Then, when he’s up do the opposite – speak louder, move faster, and open the shades. This eventually can help him understand the difference between bedtime and playtime.

    I hope this can help!

  4. Hi,
    my 7 week old sleeps well during the day but at night he never goes to bed before 1am! his schedule during the day is really close to the one you guys have but starting around 9pm he will wake up and stay up crying or just awake until 1am. Then he will sleep all the way until 730am.
    How do I get him to sleep earlier if he is not willing to go down?

  5. Hi Sarah!

    Wow! You’ve had a great start! I’m glad for you. Yes, it is a little challenging because she eats slowly, but she IS very young.  In addition to that, she was born early. The good thing here is that she caught on and is nursing well! So what you need to look at is her real age. For instance, if she was born four weeks early, she’s actually only 2 weeks old right now (developmentally speaking). At this age (heck even at 6 weeks) you’re still nursing them quite often. This should encourage you in that it is very expected that you may need to nurse her again before she sleeps. Preemies catch up, but it requires more frequent feedings until they catch up to their adjusted age. So give your self the freedom to nurse her a bit before she goes back down for the next nap. Your eventual goal will be to make sure that she is awake when you lay her down so that she doesn’t need to nurse in order to fall asleep (that could turn into a pesky little sleep crutch before you know it).  For now, it really sounds like she needs a few extra calories as she works towards catching up. When she is a more efficient nurser and she has physically matured, you can certainly go back to your eat play sleep schedule. Great plan! Hope this is very helpful!  You are doing GREAT! Enjoy your sweet little one! Amy

  6. Hello! Our newborn (5 1/2 weeks old) is on a semi routine. By the way she was a week and a half early. However it looks different and I wanted your feedback if we should modify anything. Basically she’s following the feeding 2-3 times a night. However sometimes for example she will wake at 6am, nurse for an hour (she’s a very pokey water and nursing took her a very long time to even do so I can’t always make it go faster). Then she’s awake for another hour. Then at that point I can sometimes get her down for a nap but other times she’s hungry again because it’s been two hours so I have the nurse her and then put her down. I’m trying to stick to the eat play sleep schedule but because she eats slowly and then stays awake she needs to eat again. Any suggestions? Like I said she was born early.

  7. Hi Chelsea!

    I think you are already on to the same idea that I am…I think that you may be putting her down a little too soon. (when she is only up for 45 minutes before another nap) Your little one is at the stage when she is likely to have regular moments of the dreaded “fussies”. This is a lovely time (between 5-8 weeks) when babies are just a little fussier than they have been previously (especially in the afternoon and early evening). The good news  is that she will likely move through this in the next few weeks,  and you will be closer to the age when you can more easily regulate naps. The not so great news is that “the fussies” can be easily confused with tiredness. I suspect that this may be happening for you right now. She may actually need a little more interactive playtime with you so that she is truly more ready for a good nap. Consider that babies at this age require approximately 6-7 hours of daytime sleep at this age, spread over 3-4 naps. Enjoy some intentional playtime with her to keep her engaged and stimulated until she is truly tired and not just fussy in general. On the other hand (although I don’t think that this is an issue for you) don’t let her stay up longer than two hours in between naps because then she will indeed be overstimulated and tired.  Also, be sure that she is actually awake at that 45 minute wake from a nap. She may just be stirring, so give her a bit of time to work that  out first.

    It’ s important to note that some of her naps will just be shorter ones. Naps at this age are difficult to regulate because her little brain just hasn’t developed to the point of sorting out daytime sleep as well as night time sleep… .yet. But she will. 🙂  However, if her naps are consistently only 30-45 minutes, you can try quietly going into her room when she wakes and pat her and “sh-sh” her in the hopes of helping her back to sleep. If this doesn’t work, then get her up with happy smiles and try again at the next nap (if it is also a short nap).

    Heather and I would be happy to work with you individually on this, if you’d like. We have one-on-one Super Sessions available where we analyze your sleep logs and make recommendations and create a plan with you to work through. Click here to learn more about these one-on-one sleep sessions.

    do hope that this has been helpful Chelsea! Keep us posted and take good care, Amy

  8. Hi there! I’ve been having trouble getting my 6 week old to nap. It takes me forever to get her to sleep and then she has short naps. I swaddle her, rock her to sleep, put her in a swing, make the room dark, and play white noise (not in that order). In the evening she’s often over tired and it’s hard getting her to sleep but then she sleeps great at night, only waking to eat. Occasionally she’ll have a good day and have two or three hour naps, but lately it’s been about twenty minutes. I might be getting over stimulation confused with sleepiness? I don’t feel like I put her down too late because she almost never lasts even 45 minutes from awake time before I think she’s getting tired. But she wakes cranky after her short naps and won’t go back down. Can she be over stimulated without being tired? I’m worried I’m trying to put her down too soon. It’s really exhausting swinging her in my arms and walking around trying to get her to go to sleep! It takes me longer to get her to sleep than her naps take.

    Xx Chelsea

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