How much sleep is too much for an infant?

Babies aren’t generally known for their sleeping skills, but that’s got more to do with the way they wear their parents out than it does with the amount they actually sleep. In fact, for the first 3 months of their lives, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that babies sleep between 14 and 17 hours out of every 24. If you’re concerned that your little one might be sleeping too much, keeping track of the number of hours they are sleeping in a 24-hour day can help to pinpoint whether they are actually getting more sleep than average.

A 2010 study in Pediatrics suggests that it’s in the first 4 months where the biggest and most dramatic consolidation of sleep happens – after that, it’s more slow and steady, but in these first 4 months, babies’ sleep may change fairly quickly, which means that figuring out whether something is out of the ordinary can be difficult. In the end, though, the best judge of whether a baby is sleeping too much or not enough is how healthy they are and how well they are growing. Parents of babies who are healthy, and who are growing and gaining weight steadily, steadily eating, and steadily producing wet and dirty diapers, generally don’t have anything to worry about.

Common reasons for extra sleep

Even when babies do start sleeping a little more than usual, it isn’t always a sign that something is wrong. Growth spurts, for example, commonly cause changes in sleep, including sleeping more, or sleeping more restlessly at night or during regular naps, creating more drowsiness during times that are usually spent alertly. Sleeping more because of or leading up to a growth spurt usually doesn’t last longer than a few days. Similarly, babies who have just started to be more active or more mobile may start to sleep more as a reaction – the more energy they’re using, the more tired they might be.

During this time, most babies start to consolidate the longest stretches of their sleep at night, leaving shorter naps for daytime. However, some babies can get a little mixed up about days and nights, and start to sleep for longer during the day, which can feel like “too much” sleep and, when night comes, not enough, all at once. One reason for this might be that nap time feels too much like bedtime – keeping the curtains or blinds on the window open during naptime to let in the natural light can help establish the difference between sleep at night and sleep during naps. Gradually reducing naps can also help to gradually lengthen nighttime sleep, though trying to reverse the two all at once can lead to over-tiredness and difficulty sleeping.

Medical concerns and sleep disorders

Extra sleep when it comes with other symptoms, like fever or lethargy or listlessness when awake, might be a sign of an illness or virus, and should prompt a call or visit to the pediatrician. The same is true if sleep is getting in the way of feeding.

Sleepiness during waking hours can also be a sign that your baby isn’t getting all the sleep they need when they do sleep. Sleepiness when they are getting a normal amount of sleep could also be a sign of a sleep disorder, or less restful sleep.

When to call a doctor

If your baby can’t be woken, or has a temperature of 100.4 degrees F, or 38 degrees C, or higher in the first two months, they should receive medical attention as soon as possible.

If you’re concerned that your baby might have a sleep disorder or underlying medical condition, and their sleep is affecting their day to day life, set up an appointment with their pediatrician. Concerns about sleep are also a great thing to bring up at the next well-child visit.

  • Jacqueline M.T. Henderson, Karyn G, France, Joseph L. Owens, Neville M. Blampied. “Sleeping Through The Night: The Consolidation of Self-regulated Sleep Across the First Year of Life.” Pediatrics. October 2010. Web
  • Laura Nathanson. “Too Much Sleep?” Parents. meredith women’s network. Web.
  • National Sleep Foundation. “National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times.” Sleep Foundation. National Sleep Foundation, February 2 2015. Web.
  • “Sleeps Too Much?” AskDrSears. AskDrSears, 2016. Web.
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