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Many newborns spend most of their time sleeping because life outside the womb is new, and they may take some time to get accustomed to it. Managing a newborn’s sleep cycle is difficult but becomes easier once they know the difference between night and day (1). However, sometimes, excessive sleeping and inadequate feeding can lead to underlying illnesses.
This article discusses how much sleep babies need, whether your concern about them sleeping too much needs medical attention, and how to develop a sleep schedule.
How Much Should Babies Sleep?
Typically, a baby should get 14 to 17 hours of sleep a day till six months and ten to 12 hours till one year of age. However, a baby younger than seven months may sleep for up to 19 hours, depending on their need for rest. Nevertheless, since they have small stomachs, they usually wake up every two to three hours to be fed in the first couple of weeks (2).
Why Do Babies Sleep So Much?
Sleeping promotes brain development, neural network building, and behavioral formation, and since infanthood is a period of considerable growth, babies spend most of their time sleeping (3). However, some of the following factors could also cause newborns to sleep a lot:
- Growth spurts: An infant’s brain produces the human growth hormone (HGH) while asleep. Hence, if the baby takes frequent naps in the day and sleeps for longer at night, they may be having a growth spurt (4).
- Illness: Babies who sleep continuously, show signs of drowsiness or sluggishness even after sleeping for long, and show less interest in feeding could have an underlying illness (5).
- Low blood sugar: Listless or lethargic babies who sleep longer and lack energy could have low blood sugar. They may also be inattentive to sounds or sights when awake and difficult to wake up for feedings.
- Jaundice: Due to high bilirubin levels during jaundice, babies may become more sleepy, tired, and less interested in eating (6).
- Infection/illness: Babies have lower immunity and are more prone to infections. If the baby has a fever, cough, or skin color changes or sleeps too much and feeds less, they may have contracted an infection (7).
- Insufficient milk: If your baby takes too little or too much time to latch on, they may be getting insufficient milk. It may make them sleep for more than four hours at a time and be lethargic (8).
- Vaccination: Vaccinations may cause mild side effects in babies, such as drowsiness and lethargy, which may last for a day or two (9).
When Should You Wake Your Baby Up For Feeding?
Newborns who regularly sleep for longer than three to four hours should be awakened to be fed. Breastfed babies need to be woken up every two to three hours, whereas bottle-fed babies can sleep comfortably for three to four hours. Ensure the baby is fed at regular intervals until they have gained enough weight, usually a few weeks post-birth. After this, they can sleep for longer intervals at night (2).
What Should You Do If Your Baby Sleeps Too Much?
If you think your newborn is sleeping for unusually long hours, rule out any medical conditions by noting whether they feed eight to 12 times and have at least six wet and three dirty diapers a day. Additionally, observe breathing difficulties, low weight, fussiness when awake, pale skin, and vomiting after feeding. In such cases, consult your pediatrician.
However, if your baby only appears lethargic, they may be underfed or not sleeping well. The following tips may help resolve this (10):
- When they are awake, feed them every 1 to 2 hours, and show signs of hunger. Crying indicates delayed feeding.
- When the baby is being fed, make sure they are fully awake.
- A comfortable temperature aids sleep, so keep the room cool and shady—neither too cold nor warm.
- Record the number of hours the baby has slept for a clearer picture of their sleeping pattern.
How Do You Develop A Proper Sleep Schedule?
Here are some ways to inculcate good sleeping habits (11):
- Ensure the baby is well fed before going to sleep. Underfed babies may sleep excessively due to a lack of energy.
- Place the child in bed when they are sleepy but not yet asleep. It helps them learn to fall asleep on their own.
- Ensure the baby sleeps on their back for sufficient oxygen supply and to aid digestion.
- Follow a nighttime routine to help the baby understand it is time to sleep.
- Create a sleep schedule and follow it regularly to help the baby fall into a sleep pattern.
- Give them a pacifier during bedtime to reduce restlessness, but avoid letting them sleep with a bottle, which increases the risk of cavities and choking.
When Should You See A Doctor?
- Inability to adjust to a sleep pattern even after following good sleeping habits
- Loud snoring or long pauses while breathing when asleep
- Fever or other signs of illness
- Extreme fussiness or irritability that is difficult to soothe
While adequate sleep is extremely important for infants, newborns who sleep too much and present other symptoms or do not feed well could have underlying illnesses. Keep track of your infant’s sleep for a clearer picture of their sleeping pattern. Further, consult your pediatrician if you notice any troubling symptoms or have concerns about your baby’s sleep schedule.