Creating Realistic Sleep Expectations


Small infant in a blue swaddle laying in a bassinet on their back, asleep.

When I became a first time parent, I did not have realistic sleep expectations. A bunch of my friends had told me all about how their kids slept through the night and that dream feeds were the best. Buy this product, or that product, and it will change your life. Not one little bit of that was true. There was no sleeping through the night, dream feeds were not a dream, and many of those products were actually dangerous!

Sleep Needs Newborns 0-3 months        14-17 hours  Infants 4-12 months          12-16 hours  Children 1-2 years            11-14 hours Children 3-5 years            10-13 hours  Children 6-12 years            9-12 hours Teens 13-18 years               8-10 hours

How much sleep children need

The answer is A LOT! Especially newborns spend the majority of their day (14 – 17) asleep, despite all the sleep their adults are missing out on. As kids get older, they require less and less sleep, but still aren’t ready for the 8 hours adults get until they are in their later teens.



They have to eat how much?!0 - 3 Months Every 2-3 Hours 4-5 Months 2-3 per night 5-7 Months 1-2 per night 7-12 Months 0-1 per night

So lets talk newborns again for a minute. They need to be eating every 2-3 hours at first. That includes OVERNIGHT! Until their tummies can hold a little bit more food and they are able to get in higher calorie counts during the day, you need to expect that overnight feedings can be a thing until they turn one! The good news is, they usually drop those feedings around 7-9 months of age. 


What is considered sleeping through the night?

When you are talking about “sleeping through the night” with newborns and young infants, this does not mean they sleep 12 hours straight with zero wake ups. Fun fact: even adults have wake ups between sleep cycles, they just don’t remember them. As I noted above, overnight feedings are still a necessity for a while. There will also be occasional needs for diaper changes or even other perceived needs from your little one. Sleeping through the night generally means 6-8 hours of sleep. With a newborn, it means getting a good long stretch of sleep, a wake up for a feeding, and then back to sleep for another long stretch of sleep.

When sleep consolidates

Babies do not start to consolidate their sleep until they are several weeks old. You will start to see that first longer stretch of sleep overnight around 6 weeks of age. Naps don’t start to consolidate until about 3-4 months of age. So, if you have a two month old who isn’t having super long stretches at night and is still napping a bunch through the day, this is totally normal!

Should I wake a sleeping baby?

Most of the time, the answer is no. A baby is not going to starve itself on purpose, but you do want them to be eating more calories during the day versus making up for skipped meals overnight. There also could be many medical reasons where you would need to wake your child for a feeding. A pretty basic rule of thumb for newborns, is to feed every two hours. As they continue to have healthy weight gain and are taking in larger amounts of food, they can sleep for longer stretches without needing to be awakened.

Another time you might consider waking a baby (and now we are talking well out of the newborn phase) is when they are taking such long naps it effects their overnight sleep. They might be taking a couple of 2+ hour naps a day, but waking frequently overnight, are having a hard time falling asleep, or are waking up really early in the morning. This might be a good time to consider “capping” their nap and waking them after a set amount of time, to aid in better overnight sleep. 

Sleep regressions

The dreaded sleep regressions are definitely  a “thing”, however they are not a regression! They are signs that the child is progressing with development (mental or physical). They can be difficult, and they can show up at different times with different kids. They can also present differently depending on the child, they may never even effect sleep… but they probably will. Make sure you check out Developmental Milestones Effect on Sleep.

I could go on and on about product expectations and other “advice” I was given about babies and their sleep. But, I think the key point here is to remember that every child is different. You might have the child that sleeps 12 hours a night from day one, or you might have a child who doesn’t sleep until they are 6 months old. I am not going to tell you to have low expectations, but don’t let others’ expectations and experiences make you feel like you are doing it wrong or that your child isn’t normal. It’s all variations of normal, and you have got this. If you feel like you don’t, you aren’t alone and there are people here to support you. 


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