Feeding and changing a tiny human is (sort of, not always) straightforward, but sleep is one big mystery. Actually, the only thing you know about newborns and sleep is that your baby is getting a whole lot of it and, somehow, you’re getting next to none. Fortunately, we spoke to Anna McMillan, certified pediatric sleep coach and owner of Little Winks Sleep, to answer all our questions on the best nap length for newborns and more.
The Best Nap Length for Newborns, According to a Certified Sleep Coach
How many naps do newborns need a day?
Quite a few, friends. “Newborns spend the majority of their time eating and sleeping,” says McMillan, noting that they spend very little of the day alert and playing. But don’t worry—you’ll get more playtime as your newborn (ages 0 to 2 months) graduates to the baby stage. So why do newborns need to sleep so much? Well, it all comes down to adenosine—a chemical that naturally builds up in the brain during active periods, creating what is referred to as “sleep pressure.” When a newborn becomes overtired, adenosine levels get so high that cortisol is released, causing a fight/flight/freeze response that interferes with optimal functioning (think: fussiness and a whole lot of crying). Per the expert, this build-up happens much more quickly in newborns than adults, which is why the former typically need to release that pressure with a nap—sleep it off, if you will—every 45 minutes, or roughly four to six times per day depending on nap length. (More on that later.)
Is there an ideal nap schedule for newborns?
Glad you asked. The answer is no, not really—when it comes to newborns and sleep you need not structure things too much. In fact, the only thing that you need to concern yourself with is finding a schedule that teaches your little bundle the difference between day and night (especially if you value getting some shut-eye yourself). Because they have such a large need for sleep, it is better to plan their naps according to the aforementioned 45-minute awake times, rather than the clock. However, McMillan does recommend aiming for an approximate bedtime and morning time as bookends—you know, so your newborn doesn’t get it twisted and start burning the midnight oil.
What’s the best nap length for newborns?
Recap: Newborns spend the majority of the day asleep, prefer not to be awake for more than 45 minutes at a time, and can easily take up to six naps per day in addition to their overnight sleep. With all this in mind, you might be wondering just how long those daytime snoozes should be. Good news, mama: It doesn’t matter if your newborn naps for 20 minutes one time and two hours the next. If anything, this scenario is ideal. “Newborns are growing and changing so much, their nap lengths are going to vary in length from 20 minutes to three hours,” McMillan tells us. The key thing to watch for is that there is a range of lengths in their naps, so that they are getting some longer naps mixed in with any short naps. That said, the sleep coach does caution that if your newborn is exclusively taking 20 minute catnaps, it could be a sign your baby is overtired—most likely as a result of awake times that are too long.