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Baby Sleeping Too Long? Blessing or Curse?

Dianna Graveman |13, September 2012


We've all heard people refer to young babies who sleep through the night as "good babies." Although a baby's sleep pattern does not define her as "good," the truth is it can seem like a real blessing if you are one of the lucky few parents whose newborn sleeps for long periods of time. Other exhausted new parents may even be jealous of your down time.

But is a newborn who sleeps for a long time really a blessing -- or a curse?

Newborns typically sleep about 16 or 17 hours per day, two to four hours at a time. They sleep cycles are shorter than those of adults, and they spend more time in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep than adults do, because their brains are developing quickly. But by six to eight weeks, most babies begin to sleep for longer periods at night and for shorter periods during the day. By four to six months, many babies sleep for eight to twelve hours at night.

A small percentage of babies sleep for longer stretches by the time they are six weeks, but most babies don't reach that milestone until about six months.

If you have one of those early sleepers, you've probably been told to sit back and enjoy it -- and to get some rest. But it's not always that easy.

Mothers who breast feed may find that their breasts become painful and engorged while waiting for their babies to wake. Pumps are an option to make sure milk flow doesn't diminish and to store breast milk for later feedings. But for mothers who savor each opportunity to nurse their little ones, bottle feeding their babies -- even bottles filled with breast milk -- can be a disappointing alternative.

With SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) prevention at the forefront of most parents' minds, allowing young babies to sleep for long periods can be downright nerve-wracking. The temptation to hover over a long-sleeping baby can be overwhelming, defeating any chance to get some rest or finish household tasks.

According to the Mao Clinic ( there are times you may want to consider waking your baby for feedings, depending on the baby's weight, age, and health. Until your baby gains the weight she probably lost in the first days after birth, you should feed her frequently, according to Elizabeth LaFleur, R.N. "This might mean occasionally waking your baby for a feeding, especially if he or she sleeps for a stretch of more than four hours."
Crying is not the first sign of hunger, LaFleur says, and your child may be showing you she's hungry before she's fully awake by becoming restless, making sucking motions, and moving her lips. If you wait until she wakes frantic with hunger, it will be more difficult to calm her and get her to nurse.

Minor annoyances can turn into big problems, and letting your baby sleep for very long periods during the day may make it harder to establish a pattern of sleeping for longer periods at night. Not only will this lessen your chances of a full-night's sleep, but day/night confusion can extend into toddlerhood and cause safety concerns. If you sleep soundly while your toddler wakes frequently during the night, you may be faced with finding creative ways to keep him from exploring the house while you're not awake to supervise.

Best advice? If you have a newborn who sleeps for longer than three to four hours, don't just simply sit back and enjoy it. If you lie down to rest, keep a baby monitor close by, and set your alarm. Consult your pediatrician and ask for suggestions about whether to wake your child and how often.

Related Articles

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When Baby Won't Go to Sleep

Q&A: Baby Won't Sleep Through the Night


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