Why Newborns Won’t Sleep Through the Night

Every so often I’ll see a Pinterest pin promising ways to get your newborn sleeping through the night. I totally get why people want a newborn sleeping for longer stretches – eight weeks doesn’t seem like a long time to the outside world, but those first baby weeks feel like a million years while you’re living them. Still, I see those pins and articles promising longer sleep and I wince because there are really important reasons why newborns wake every couple of hours.Sure, you may hit the jackpot and get a good sleeper from the get go, but you shouldn’t sweat it if you don’t.

So I thought I’d ask Alysa from SleepWell Baby to explain why because she knows all about newborn sleep and why you actually want those little weebles waking! 

Why Newborns Won't Sleep Through the Night: It’s normal for infants under 6-8 weeks to have unorganized sleep and day/night confusion. Rest assured this won’t last forever.


So you’re out and about with your first baby and you run into that smiling, elderly woman at the grocery store who asks you the two standard new baby questions: 1) Is he a good baby?  And 2) Is he sleeping through the night yet?  And like most new mothers, your answer to question one will likely depend on your answer to question two.

All new parents dream of the day when we will once again catch a full 8 hours of sleep.

As the first few weeks pass in a blur, most of us can’t wait until sleeping through the night becomes the norm for our babies.  Each baby is different, but most are capable of sleeping through the night, for 12 hours, somewhere between 3-6 months.  If you have a newborn and are feeling pressure from that well-meaning old lady or anyone else who asks you the two standard new baby questions, here are the reasons why newborns should not be sleeping through the night.


3 Reasons Why Newborns Won’t Sleep Through the Night


1. Newborn babies do not have an established circadian rhythm or body clock

This means that they have day/night confusion and they don’t sleep according to natural biological rhythms.  Instead, because newborns are neurologically immature, their sleep does not follow a schedule.  Newborns don’t reach a very deep sleep and they don’t often sleep for long stretches.


2. Lighter sleep is safer sleep

New parents may feel pressure from others to lay their baby on his tummy, in the prone position, to encourage a deeper sleep.  Research suggests that babies who sleep on their backs are far less likely to become victims of SIDS because they are more wakeful.  Therefore, wakeful newborn sleeping is a protective factor for SIDS. Similarly, a baby who is not accustomed to prone sleeping, who is placed on his tummy to sleep, is at an 18 times greater risk of SIDS on the first or second occurrence of tummy sleeping.


3. Newborn tummies don’t take the night off

Breastfed babies need to eat as often as every one-and-a-half to three hours. While newborns who are bottle fed require 15-20 oz of formula over a 24 hour period.  Because their tummies are little, they need these feeds in small amounts throughout the day and night.  Generally, for healthy babies, if the need to sleep is greater than the need to feed, we allow babies to sleep through a feeding and catch up afterward.  However, newborns that are premature or underweight will need to be monitored closely. Often parents will be instructed by their pediatrician to wake an infant for scheduled feedings to ensure that baby is getting enough to eat and growing well.


If you find yourself in the trenches of newborn, round-the-clock parenting, rest assured this won’t last forever.

It’s normal for infants under 6-8 weeks to have unorganized sleep and day/night confusion.  As babies reach the 6-8 week mark, nighttime sleep begins to organize and babies tend to sleep for longer stretches.  When infants near 4 months, their day time sleep also begins to fall into a schedule and this is when you can generally expect to see your baby nap 3 times a day and sleep for 12 hours at night.  If you teach your child the skill of independent sleep when he’s developmentally ready to learn it, you will be reporting proudly to anyone who will listen that yes, you have a good baby and indeed he is sleeping through the night.


Related: Rethinking the 4 Month Sleep Regression 

Why Newborns Won't Sleep Through the Night: There are some really important reasons why newborns wake every couple hours. Learn all about why baby boy or baby girl wakes up so much and why it's actually a good thing even though you feel like death.
Topics:Baby, Sleep
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  • My baby is 2 months old and at 1 month he began sleeping 8 hours a night all on his own. Every baby is unique and is going to sleep on their own schedule. Promising new moms that their baby will sleep 12 hours a night by 4 months is unrealistic and just down right wrong. Talk to your pediatrician if your concerned. According to mine, I’m a lucky mom and should count my blessings, which I do.

  • I’m sorry, but your article is making it sound like any baby that sleeps through the night has something wrong with it. My baby has slept through the night since 2 weeks and it has been a blessing. He is healthy! No abnormalities with him. He takes cat naps during the day and sleeps all night. Has normal bowel movements, eats like a horse, and is reaching his milestones just like any other baby. It seems like this is a matter of opinion, and not only that but it seems to degrade mothers who choose to let their little one sleep through the night. Very poor judgement.

    • I didn’t read this that way at all. I think the point was just that it can be normal for newborns to not sleep through the night, and to not feel like your baby "should" be sleeping through the night right away. If they are, and are still gaining the appropriate amount of weight, then good for you. You got lucky.

  • I’m always so happy to see people explaining normal baby sleep, but I was so caught off guard by your saying that you can expect to see a 4 month old move toward sleeping 12 hours at night. There is so much research showing that is not the norm. It’s like you gave an exception to newborns, 3 months and under, to sleep however they will sleep (which is great), then as soon as they reach 4 months the old expectations kick right back in. I think the main point is that all babies are different, and some do start sleeping well early, some at 4 months, some later. 4 months might even be a good time to try some gentle sleep strategies, but just because some babies respond well at that age, not all do, and it’s OKAY to follow your baby’s lead, no matter what age. There is nothing wrong with your baby if they are waking up a lot at 4 months. Or 6 months or 1 year for that matter. I think the problem is with expectations — moms start to freak out or stress when they think their baby isn’t normal and should be doing something differently. My life as a mom became so much easier when I let go of what my baby was supposed to be doing (sleep-wise and otherwise) at certain ages.

  • yay! i’m so glad to see this on the internet! if only the rest of the world would educate themselves and stop asking that question.

  • Why let someone else decide how you raise your child? Do what’s best for your family. My daughter slept through the night at 6 weeks and on. Six weeks. So, I’m probably a horrible parent for allowing my child to sleep…gasp! I mean, it’s probably frowned upon that she’s now a living, breathing, smart three year old, who to this day, still sleeps through the night.

    Should’ve listened to every wack job out there who has something different to say about how you should raise your child…

    Form your own parenting guide, be an individual, make your own decisions…

    Stop shoving your "research" down other’s throats. For every one "research" topic there’s a thousand others that go against it.

    • Good Lord, the point was that it CAN BE NORMAL for a newborn to not sleep through the night. It sounds like you have a good sleeper, good for you. But I didn’t read this as anyone shoving anything down anyone’s throat.

  • So why is my 4 month old still waking up every 3 hours to eat? I know she can go up to 14 hours at night and 5 hours during the day. I’m pretty sure we’re through her sleep regression. I’m wondering if I just established bad habits during her regression.

  • What about the newborns that DO sleep through the night? While this post is true for many newborns, it is not true for all and it is making a very general statement that makes it seems like there is something wrong with a child or the parent when they do sleep through the night as a newborn. My daughter is 3 months old and, since week 2, would sleep for 5-8 hour stretches (if I had let her). She has been sleeping 8-10 the last 6 weeks or so. She was just born this way. In the hospital I had to actually wake her and feed her every 1.5-2.5 hours thought the night…this continued when we got home and until she gained her birth weight back at one week old. After that, she was sleeping 6 or 7 hours through the night and we let her with our pedis OK because she was gaining weight, having normal bowel movements and normal wet diapers. I realize that she is not the norm, but it IS normal for her and it is OK. She’s now a healthy, 13.5 lb, 25 inch baby girl and is a very happy baby. So, while I understand that this post was intended for parents of newborns who don’t sleep through the night to assure them that it is normal, I also would like to say that if your newborn DOES sleep long stretches at night and is healthy, it is OK and there is nothing wrong with that. It might be uncommon, but there is nothing wrong with it.

    • You’re absolutely right and I should have said that right off the top. If you’re lucky enough to get a good sleeper from day one that’s gaining weight then count your blessings (and don’t brag about it in the park ; )

      Thanks for pointing that out!

  • I disagree with this. My son slept 8 hours at 4 weeks and 12 hours by 3 months. My pediatrician was totally okay with it, and it was a wonderful blessing. And I tend to listen to a pediatrician over anyone else when it comes to my child’s health. Just saying 🙂

    • I think what the article is trying to say is that you shouldn’t sweat it if you newborn isn’t sleeping through the night at 8 weeks because they are set up to wake up more often. If you’ve got a sleeper then good on ya.

  • they should sleep through the night between 3-6 months old? Really? Maybe if they are "sleep trained"…but I think 1-3 YEARS is more realistic.

    • My daughter started sleeping through the night at 6 weeks. We didn’t do any kind of sleep training. All babies are different.

  • A newborn that sleeps through the night can be a huge warning sign for certain issues too. My second baby slept all the time. I had to wake him, undress him, and tickle, poke, and prod just to get him to eat. At 8 days old, they finally got the newborn screening results that showed a thyroid problem. He was born without one. Once he was on medication, he stopped sleeping so much and started eating and gaining weight like he should. But if u hasn’t been waking him and forcing him to eat, he would have ended up in the hospital like so many other babies his endocrinologist sees come through. I felt like his sleep wasn’t right, but even the nurses and doctors in the hospital weren’t worried. If they’d been more observant or I’d been more outspoken (I already refused to leave the hospital before he nursed good once), they might have caught his thyroid issue sooner. But now, my family asks the question "he wakes up a lot, right?" When there are new babies around. When you’ve had a "good" sleeper with a health problem, you know better than to wish for a good sleeper. On the plus side, my attitude when being up with my third child was much more positive and that seemed to make a huge difference in how exhausted I was.

  • Personally I think all babies are different. Our baby slept through the night the very first night home and every night after. She is now 24, made straight A’s through school and graduated Magna Cum Laude from college. So I say go with the flow and let your child decide how much they need unless they just get too much.

  • Also to add onto the SIDS part of not sleeping on tummy. New studies are saying that the weight of the body on the lungs don’t allow them to reinflate properly and after so many times breathing in and out the lungs are no longer able to support breathing. Thought I’d share.

  • A 4month old sleeping 12hr per night is NOT the norm, not should it be expected. 4months is actually the first major sleep regression that most babies experience.

  • You’re right…that’s what EVERYONE asks. And when you have to answer that no, your sweet baby isn’t sleeping through the night, you feel like you’re doing something wrong AND like there’s something wrong with your precious little bundle. Which is silly.

    Thank you thank you thank you for this important reminder! I will definitely be pinning this! And tweeting it. And putting it on my blog Facebook page. And…

  • The getting up to feed three times a night doesn’t bother me, it’s that at least once he’ll take 2 hours to get back to sleep after feeding. So I end up feeding two or three times, and two or three diaper changes before getting back to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning. If he’d just go back to sleep right away I’d be fine! He’s 20 days old, so feeding every few hours is perfect (and he’s gaining almost two ounces a day, EBF, so he’s putting it away somewhere!).

  • My little guy is two weeks old as of Thursday, so I DEFINITELY needed to hear this. He sleeps well but I am still up 3 times a night and need to be reminded that there is a purpose to this madness

  • "…you can expect to see your baby nap 3 times a day and sleep for 12 hours at night."

    Is this not just another example of the aforementioned problem? "You can expect" breeds competitiveness and unrealistic expectations. How about, just try to help your baby sleep. Period. Babies are just little people, with different temperaments and sleeping patterns and styles (like adults). My 2 year old has NEVER slept 12 hours at night and I resent the implication that he should have been for months and months.

    Expect schmexpect.

    • I can see, especially considering the fact that you probably haven’t slept through the night in years, why that would rub you the wrong way. But I think the point of this particular article is to let NEWBORN parents know that, "This is normal at this age. There are biological reasons for it. There is nothing you could or should do to fight it". Past a certain age, those things stop being true. I resented it when my pediatrician and my OT sister both told me that my 8 month old was waking out of bad habits and not necessity, but they were both right, and I needed to hear it. One week of gentle sleep training (basically just rubbing her back without picking her up and no bottle), and she went from sleeping 2-3 hours at a time to 12-13 hours at a time. Quality sleep isn’t a luxury, it’s incredibly important for mother and child.

    • There is plenty of research that supports the fact that 12hrs straight at 4months is NOT the norm. There is nothing wrong or bad about responding to your baby at any time during the day or night.

  • Not to mention that for breastfeeding mothers, night-nursing helps boost milk production.

    I’m pretty sure my kiddo didn’t sleep through the night until he was close to three. In fact, even though he sleeps in his own room, he still comes into bed with us in the middle of most nights and then snuggles back to sleep.

  • I have been trying to explain this to everyone! My baby sleeps very well, but I don’t want her to sleep through the night until she’s ready. Just let her develop naturally. Her body will do what it needs to do. My job as her mother is to assist and encourage her, not force her to be what I want her to be.

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