Timeline of Baby and Toddler Sleep


Are some babies inherently good sleepers, while others aren’t? Yes to a certain extent this is true. However natural variations are a lot less than most parents think. There are specific patterns of sleep which are universal to most babies and toddlers. This timeline, collated through years of research, will outline these typical sleep patterns. It will explain what sleep behaviour you can reasonably expect of your little one at each stage of their development.


1 Day Old:

  • You’ve waited 9 long months to meet your baby, and now she’s here, all she seems to do is sleep. Newborns live up to the old adage of “sleeping like a baby”. Wakefulness in the first few hours after birth, followed by a long stretch, often up to 24 hours, of intermittent sleep, is the normal newborn pattern. You will still need to wake your baby for feeds every 3-4 hours whether breast or formula feeding.
  • At this point, the gestational age of your child would determine the sleep patterns or lack thereof. If your child was born early, use the EDD (expected date of delivery) as the true age to find out where your child might be within this timeline. So for example, if your baby was born 3 weeks early then at 1 month your baby would be 1 week old.
  • If your baby was born early he will probably sleep his way through the days until he comes to his due date, when he may suddenly wake up and you wonder what happened.
  • Your newborn is likely to fall asleep soon immediately after – and sometimes during – a feed.
  • Sleep is very erratic at this age and doesn’t follow a pattern because basically the newborn’s brain is still maturing. There is NOTHING a parent can do at this time to manipulate sleep. Don’t force what is not possible.
  • If you watch your newborn while she is sleeping you will notice that there are times when, under her eyelids, her eyes flick frantically from side to side and she may frown, flutter suck, or wriggle her fingers and toes. This is REM or “dream” sleep. Unlike adults and older babies, newborns fall directly into REM sleep, a pattern that continues until they are around three months old.
  • Your baby will spend half of their sleeping time in REM sleep, whereas you (as an adult) spend only a quarter of your sleeping time in REM (Friedman and Saunders 2007).
  • Your newborn sleeps in cycles of around 50 or 60 minutes of REM (dream) and non-REM (deep) sleep. After each cycle your baby has a partial awakening – this brief moment of semi-awakeness may startle your baby and make him wake up even more (Holland 2004).
  • Towards the morning the proportions of non-REM and REM reverse, so that much of your baby’s early-morning sleep is REM (Sears 2009). This explains why babies often wake up more during that time.
  • It is recommended that your baby sleep in the same room as you for the first six months.
  • Your newborn may sleep for as little as 11 hours to 20 hours out of 24.
  • She may make sudden, jerky, twitchy movements in her sleep. This is due to a normal reflex called the “startle” or Moro reflex. It sometimes occurs for no apparent reason, although often it is a response to a loud noise or a sudden jolt. It may seem worrying to you, but the reflex is actually a reassuring sign that your baby’s neurological system is functioning well.
  • Almost undetectable breathing is also normal. In deep sleep your baby can breathe very quietly and look completely still.
  • A baby sleeping bag is a safer alternative to traditional sheets as your baby cannot wriggle under them; however, during these early newborn weeks it can be effective to use a sheet and blanket, as this helps your baby feel more secure when he is tucked in snugly. Then from 6-8 weeks you can change to using a sleeping bag as your baby develops more mobility.