sleeping infant

How much sleep is too much for a newborn?

“I think my baby sleeps too much” is one of those phrases that most new parents don’t say. But when a baby does seem to sleep more than expected, it can be a bit concerning, especially because there’s no hard and fast rule for exactly how much a baby should sleep.

The lack of standard mostly comes from the fact that there are any number of sleep patterns that can be normal and healthy for newborns, just like there are adults who absolutely need their 8 full hours, and other adults who seem to thrive off of just 5. A good rule to follow is that newborns aren’t sleeping “too much” unless their sleep is getting in the way of feeding, and they aren’t getting the nutrients they need. Not feeding enough in newborns can lead to dehydration and even failure to thrive.

What is a “normal” amount of sleep for a newborn? 

The average newborn needs, and takes, anywhere between 14 and 20 hours of sleep a day, although in the first month or two, that sleep rarely lasts longer than 3 or 4 hours at a stretch. In the second and third month, that might grow until a newborn is sleeping 5 or even 6 hours at a time (with some luck, maybe even at night!).

This kind of sleep pattern means it can be perfectly normal and healthy for a newborn only to be awake for a few short stretches of time in fits and starts that add up to around 4 hours a day – most of which will probably be spent feeding.

When is too much sleep for a newborn a problem?

Newborns generally need to feed every 2 to 3 hours or so, which is part of why newborn sleep is so fragmented. This is because their stomachs are so small, and can only fit a few ounces of milk at a time, and they’re growing so fast that it’s not long before they need more. Many overly sleepy babies still wake up to feed when they’re hungry, but a few seem perfectly happy to sleep right through mealtimes. The main question is whether a child is growing at a steady rate with her natural sleep pattern. If your pediatrician is concerned about your child’s growth rate, he or she may recommend waking her to feed every few hours. On the other hand, if your pediatrician isn’t concerned, he or she will probably advise letting Baby‘s natural sleep patterns shape her feeding patterns. 

It’s common for newborns to lose some weight in the first few weeks of life, but healthy babies get to work gaining that weight back right away. Newborns who are having a little trouble staying awake long enough to feed often enough to gain a steady amount of weight can be identified by a pediatrician at a regularly scheduled well-child visit, but parents can also identify certain signs that might mean that there’s a problem between visits. These signs include:

  • Number of wet diapers: Most babies have a wet diaper after or before every feed, meaning a wet diaper every few hours, so if a child is only making a few wet diapers a day, she may not be feeding often enough.
  • Contents of wet diapers: The color of a newborn’s urine is generally a pale yellow (often pale enough not to be visible inside a diaper), and darker yellow urine could be a sign of dehydration.
  • Other symptoms: Babies who are extra sleepy, are difficult to wake, or seem too tired to cry, may also show other symptoms of illness. These symptoms could include a fever of over 100.4F (38C), jaundice (a yellow discoloration of their skin), vomiting, or difficulty or disinterest in feeding once a child is awake. If any of these signs emerge or if you are worried, call your doctor or go to the nearest emergency room.

What can excessive sleeping mean? 

In most cases, babies who sleep a lot are just sleepy, and it’s only a problem if that sleep starts getting in the way of feeding and, as a result, growth. In some cases, though, especially cases where babies show other signs that they might not be quite well, excessive sleepiness can be a sign of a more serious health problem.

One of the more common health concerns that sleepiness can be a sign of in newborns particularly is jaundice. Newborns with jaundice have high bilirubin levels that yellows their eyes and skin, and tend to be sleepy and difficult to arouse. In addition, these babies can be dehydrated, thus making few wet diapers, and their stools are dark meconium. Infections, including infant UTIs, can also cause symptoms that include extra sleepiness, though the sleepiness would generally be accompanied by other symptoms. In all cases, though, if you’re concerned, contact your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible.


Sources
  • Neville M. Blampied, Jacqueline M.T. Henderson, Karyn G. France, Joseph L. Owens. “Sleeping Through the Night.” Pediatrics. October 2010, Web.
  • Elizabeth LaFleur. “Should I wake my newborn for feedings?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, April 28 2015. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Infant jaundice.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, April 3 2014. Web.
  • “Can your baby sleep too much?” Ask Dr. Sears. Ask Dr. Sears, 2016. Web.
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