A sleepless baby is shown yawning.
A well-established routine can ensure your new family member gets an adequate amount of sleep. It’ll also give you a much-needed break. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Ever heard of sleep deprivation? If you’re a parent, you almost certainly have.

If you’re an expecting parent, there’s a good chance you’ll hear about it soon enough.

I recently met up with my daughter and her husband, who have a newborn baby, and I took a little time to help them so they could get some much-needed rest.

As nurses and health care providers, we try to prepare new parents in our childbirth classes for the realities of parenting.

Lack of sleep is one of those unavoidable realities.

I’ll often run into parents from our previous classes and they’ll mention to me how they were shocked at the amount of sleep deprivation they experienced as a new parent. They’d even been told ahead of time what to expect, but they were still surprised at the reality.

Adults, for the most part, like their sleep.

There are always exceptions, like those folks who somehow stay up all night long, only to pop up bright and early the next morning. You wonder if they ever sleep.

Typically, though, an adult needs about seven hours of sleep each night.

If you’re wondering how much you really need, there are plenty of resources out there to give you a lay of the land.

In the U.S., the widespread lack of sleep is costly. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep shortages are to blame for some 100,000 traffic accidents, 76,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths annually.

Having a new baby will definitely affect your sleep schedule, so it’s important to know ahead of time what to expect—and how to handle it.

I tend to think the end of pregnancy helps moms prepare just a bit in this respect, as they often struggle during this time with insomnia and getting up frequently to use the bathroom.

How much sleep?

Newborns—birth to 2 months—need the most sleep. They’ll snooze away anywhere from 10 to 18 hours in a 24-hour period, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

As babies grow, they need a bit less sleep—up to 15 hours in a 24-hour period. (By comparison, teenagers need about 8 to 10 hours a night.)

Babies begin a more regular sleep-wake cycle around 6 weeks.

By the 3- to 6-month mark, babies usually have more regular sleep patterns.

If you’re wondering just how much sleep a young child needs, consider this: By age 2, a child will have spent more of his life asleep than awake!

While the sleep patterns for newborns vary, it’s normal for them to sleep just a few minutes at a time, or up to several hours. They require a lot of care, with frequent eating, diaper changes and so forth.

If you watch them, their sleep looks a little more active—they’re restless, they make noises and they wiggle their arms and legs. This is normal.

Encourage sleep

Planned in advance and practiced over time, a few diligent steps can help you establish a reliable bedtime routine for your little one.

Some helpful tips:

  • Help your baby self-soothe. Babies typically learn to self-soothe when you set them down at the first signs of sleepiness. Learn to spot those signs: rubbing eyes, pulling ears, yawning, heavy eyelids, closed fists.
  • Establish a regular bedtime. This usually doesn’t start until after the six-week mark, because babies sleep so much before that point and they’ll wake up quite often.
  • Create a regular bedtime routine. This might include a pre-bedtime bath, some gentle rocking or a massage. It can also include a song. A few of our grandchildren have special bedtime songs.
  • My daughter has had great luck using the zen swaddle (or zen sleepsak). A regular swaddle works, too.
  • Design a bedtime environment. Make it dark at night where your baby sleeps, use white sleep noise and watch the temperature. Anywhere from 66 to 72 degrees is a good goal.
  • Don’t let your baby get overtired. For newborns, it doesn’t work to keep them up all day in hopes they’ll sleep all night. If you see signs of sleepiness, put them down to sleep.