You may know that newborn babies sleep a lot but what should you expect over the first twelve months? Our resident sleep expert, Christabel Majendie explains your baby’s sleep patterns.

A newborn needs 16 to 18 hours of sleep in a 24 period, however this is spread over day and night with no regular pattern. The circadian rhythm which dictates sleep only starts to develop at around six weeks. The average sleep cycle for a baby is 50 minutes compared to an adult’s 90 minutes making babies more likely to wake. Also they wake frequently for feeding, nappy changing and comforting. In the first 3 months, newborns have sleep periods ranging from a few minutes to several hours. This means that a baby may wake having just entered the light sleep in a cycle. At other times, a newborn may complete a few whole sleep cycles from light sleep to deep sleep through to REM sleep.

Not only are sleep cycles shorter but newborns spend more time in REM sleep making them more likely to wake as this is a lighter state. Adult REM sleep consists of roughly 25% of the sleep cycle while in newborns it makes up around 50% with the remainder divided between other light sleep and deep sleep. By six months REM sleep makes up about 30 % of sleep. During REM sleep our brains process information acquired during wake time so it is an important part of learning and memory consolidation.

Between three and six months, a rough sleep pattern begins to form and total sleep time is between 13 to 15 hours in a 24-hour period. There is more sleep at night and naps during the day become longer and less frequent. Normally there are two to four daytime naps at the age of three months dropping to two by the age of six to twelve months. Some babies start to sleep through the night as early as 6 weeks but others may take over a year to learn this.

By six months, 9-12 hours sleep is taken at night with the remainder taken as naps during the day. By this age, most babies are physically mature enough to sleep through the night without feeding and are emotionally capable enough to put themselves back to sleep. However, few do this naturally and the process of sleeping though the night independently often has to be learnt. This involves having a consistent bedtime routine, establishing good ‘sleep hygiene,’ and often some form of sleep training. By nine months 70-80 percent of babies sleep through the night although there may be brief periods of wakefulness. By the age of one, children need 12-14 hours of sleep a day including daytime naps of around one to three hours.

Sleep patterns can be disrupted by illness, teething problems, separation anxiety, changing to a cot and developmental milestones such as rolling over, crawling and standing. These are temporary disruptions so sticking to a routine (once any illnesses are over) will help to get sleep patterns back to normal.

How do your baby’s sleeping habits compare to the average? Check out our definitive guide to babies sleep which includes trivia, interesting facts and safe sleeping tips for your baby.