Sleeping Habits



Elaine KH Tham, Nora Schneider, and Birit FP Broekman 

Sleep develops rapidly during the first few years of life and is a highly dynamic process. At birth, infants lack an established circadian rhythm and hence sleep across multiple intervals throughout the day and night in short bouts, which may also be due to infants’ feeding needs. At about 10–12 weeks of age, the first signs of a circadian rhythm begin to develop, marked by an increased ease of sleeping through the night. The change in total sleep duration over 24 hours continues and decreases from 16 to 17 hours in newborns, to 14–15 hours at 16 weeks of age, and 13–14 hours by 6 months of age. While the need for day sleep decreases, night sleep duration increases through the first year of life, resulting in a shift towards more nocturnal patterns of sleep. 

Infant sleep studies show that about 20%–30% of all infant’s experience night awakenings throughout their first 2 years of life 


Newborn Sleep 

A premature baby is more likely to sleep more frequently although for shorter periods when compared to a full-term baby. It may also take longer for your baby to sleep through the night. 

For newborns, they usually need 14-17 hours of sleep in every 24 hours, but sleep patterns can vary a lot. 

Newborns usually sleep in short bursts of 2-3 hours each. Some newborns sleep for up to four hours at a time. Newborns especially Premature babies will wake frequently to feed because they have tiny tummies, or you will have been advised by your medical team that they need the extra calories to gain weight and to wake them up at certain times.  

Your newborn might go straight back to sleep after feeding or they might stay awake long enough for a short play. Some newborns get tired after being awake for 1-1½ hours. Some stay awake and alert longer. 

Newborns sleep during the day and night. They don’t know that people sleep at night. The parts of their brains that control day-night sleep cycles haven’t matured yet. 

Your baby’s mood and wellbeing are often a good guideto whether your baby is getting enough sleep. If your baby is: 

  • wakeful and grizzly, they might need more sleep. 
  • wakeful and contented, they’re probably getting enough sleep.

2-3 months  

At this age, babies sleep on and off during the day and night. Most babies sleep for 14-17 hours in every 24 hours. 

Young babies sleep in cycles that last 50-60 minutes. In young babies, each cycle is made up of active sleep and quiet sleep. Babies move around and grunt during active sleep, and sleep deeply during quiet sleep. 

At the end of each cycle, babies wake up for a little while. They might grizzle or cry. They might need help to settle for the next sleep cycle. 

At 2-3 months, babies start developing night and day sleep patterns. This means they tend to start sleeping more during the night. 

3-6 months  

At this age, most babies sleep for 12-15 hours every 24 hours. 

Babies might start moving towards a pattern of 2-3 daytime sleeps of up to two hours each. 

And night-time sleeps get longer at this age. For example, some babies might be having long sleeps of six hours at night by the time they’re six months old. 

But you can expect that your baby will still wake at least once each night. 

6-12 months 

From about six months, most babies have their longest sleeps at night. 

Most babies are ready for bed between 6 pm and 10 pm. They usually take less than 40 minutes to get to sleep, but some babies take longer. 

At this age, baby sleep cycles are closer to those of grown-up sleep – which means less waking at night. So, your baby might not wake you during the night, or waking might happen less often. 

But many babies do wake during the night and need an adult to settle them back to sleep. Some babies do this 3-4 times a night. 

At this age, most babies are still having 2-3 daytime naps that last for between 30 minutes and 2 hours. 

Babies sleep less as they get older. By the time your baby is one year old, baby will probably sleep for 11-14 hours every 24 hours. 

6-12 months: other developments that affect sleep 

From around six months, babies develop many new abilities that can affect their sleep or make them more difficult to settle: 

  • Babies learn to keep themselves awake, especially if something interesting is happening, or they’re in a place with a lot of light and noise. 
  • Settling difficulties can happen at the same time as crawling. You might notice your baby’s sleep habits changing when baby starts moving around more. 
  • Babies learn that things exist, even when they’re out of sight. Now that your baby knows you exist when you leave the bedroom, baby might call or cry out for you. 
  • Separation anxiety is when babies get upset because you’re not around. It might mean your baby doesn’t want to go to sleep and wakes up more often in the night. As babies mature, they gradually overcome this worry.

Concerns about baby sleep 

If you’re concerned about your baby’s sleep, it can be a good idea to track your baby’s sleep for a week or so. This can help you get a clear picture of what’s going on. 

If you’re concerned about your baby’s sleep, it’s a very good idea to see a child health professional for help. You could start by talking with your GP or child health nurse. 


Babies and grown-ups need sleep for wellbeing, but babies sleep differently from adults. Most parents of babies under six months of age get up in the night to feed and settle their babies. For many, this keeps going after six months. 

Some parents are OK with getting up a lot at night as long as they have enough support, and they can catch up on sleep at other times. For others, getting up in the night over the long term has a serious effect on them and their family lives. 

The quality of your sleep can affect your health and your mood. Being exhausted can make it hard to give your baby positive attention during the day. And your relationship with your baby and the time and attention you give baby during the day can affect the quality and quantity of baby’s sleep. 

It is important that you get some help if you’re not getting enough sleep. You could start by asking family or friends for help. And if you feel that lack of sleep is affecting you mentally or emotionally, it’s a very good idea to talk with your GP or another health professional. 

Useful Links 

Miracle Babies Foundation 

Raising Children 

Australian Government Health Department 

Need support? NurtureConnect allows you to connect with our NurtureProgram support team, or call our 24 hour NurtureLine 1300 622 243 or join our Facebook community.


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Disclaimer: This publication by Miracle Babies Foundation is intended solely for general education and assistance and it is it is not medical advice or a healthcare recommendation. It should not be used for the purpose of medical diagnosis or treatment for any individual condition. This publication has been developed by our Parent Advisory Team (all who are parents of premature and sick babies) and has been reviewed and approved by a Clinical Advisory Team. This publication is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Miracle Babies Foundation recommends that professional medical advice and services be sought out from a qualified healthcare provider familiar with your personal circumstances. To the extent permitted by law, Miracle Babies Foundation excludes and disclaims any liability of any kind (directly or indirectly arising) to any reader of this publication who acts or does not act in reliance wholly or partly on the content of this general publication. If you would like to provide any feedback on the information please email [email protected].