Sleep is infamously scarce when you’re parenting a newborn baby, so you might think that you’ve won the lottery when they sleep for longer periods than you might expect. Unfortunately, it’s not always a good thing when your newborn baby, older infant or toddler sleeps too much.
Read on to discover how you can know how much sleep is too much, what causes your baby to sleep excessively, and how you can manage your baby’s sleeping routines without going crazy.
How To Tell If Your Baby Is Sleeping Too Much
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a healthy baby will spend 14-18 hours sleeping in the first four months after they are born.
1) The Night And Day Mess-Up
This does not mean you can expect your baby to sleep through the night; on the contrary, most newborn babies have no concept of night and day.
They also need to eat frequently, about once every 1.5 hours to 3 hours, so this total number of hours includes the numerous naps your baby will take during the day.
In fact, it’s not uncommon for your baby’s night and day to be switched, meaning they sleep more during the day and they are up most of the night until they learn to adjust their sleep cycle.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I find that it takes newborns two to four weeks before they sleep less during the day and more at night.
This doesn’t mean that they sleep through the whole night in most cases, but can go 5 to 6 hours before waking for a feeding.
To help with this, I often suggest that the parent try not to let their infant sleep past 4pm and to keep him/her awake until bedtime (usually around 7:30pm to 8pm). Ways to do this can be to do some tummy time or interactive play.
After about one week, the baby will begin to have more awake periods during the daytime.”
2) Breastfed VS Formula Fed Babies
Breastfed babies need to eat more often than formula-fed ones since formula keeps a baby’s stomach full for longer than the fast-metabolizing breastmilk.
So it follows that a formula-fed baby might sleep a bit longer, although it’s not always a certainty, and something else might still be causing your baby to sleep for longer than typical.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I agree that formula fed infants sleep longer intervals, usually every 3 to 4 hours. Breastfed infants tend to feed every 2 to 3 hours, and occasionally every 1.5 hours.
I try to discourage moms from feeding more frequently than every 2 hours if possible.
When infants feed every hour, they do more “snacking” rather than taking in a full feeding. Their bellies never get completely full, so they get hungry more quickly.
This frequently leads to mom developing irritated nipples which can make breastfeeding painful or less successful.”
3) Wet And Poopy Diapers
One way to know if your baby is sleeping too long is to keep track of wet and poopy diapers.
Your baby should have several wet diapers a day, and the urine should be very pale.
If it is a darker yellow color or crystallized in appearance, your baby likely isn’t getting enough milk.
4) Tracking Weight
Your pediatrician will also track your baby’s weight at each appointment.
Your baby will lose some weight right after birth and then gain it back within the first two weeks.
Keep in mind that if you have an epidural or cesarean surgery during childbirth, or if your baby received any medical treatment after birth, the IV fluids can make it seem like your baby loses more weight than a normal baby does.
The main thing to look for here is progress.
If your baby is consistently gaining weight, even if it’s only a small amount, then you might just have a little tyke on your hands that gains weight more slowly than their peers.
If your baby’s weight gain plateaus or if they’re losing weight after the first two weeks, something is amiss.
It’s easy to get nervous if you’re breastfeeding and jump to the conclusion that you don’t produce enough breast milk.
Consulting with a certified lactation consultant should help you put your mind at ease in that regard.
They can also help you with proper latch, increasing supply, and understanding your baby’s weight gain.
If your baby is sleeping for four hours or more at a time and missing feedings, this is most likely the cause of their possible dehydration and weight loss.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “The AAP has a link about infant weights and measurements here.
At the first newborn office visit, I look for the baby to have at least gained a few ounces over what their weight on the day of hospital discharge.
As stated here, it is normal for newborns to lose ‘water weight’ during the first 2 days of life.”
Why Is My Baby Sleeping Too Much?
Your baby might be sleeping too much because of any one, or several, of the following reasons.
1) Epidurals, Narcotics, and other Medication
An epidural block is often used for pain relief in labor when a woman gives birth in the hospital.
A catheter is inserted into a space near the spinal column, and anesthetic is fed through the tube during labor – and when successful, numbs the birthing woman from the abdomen down to her toes.
Epidurals may bring pain relief, but they aren’t without potentially serious side effects for both you and your baby.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) lists these among the side effects your baby could experience with your epidural:
“…use of opioids in an epidural block increases the risk that your baby will experience a change in heart rate, breathing problems, drowsiness, reduced muscle tone, and reduced breastfeeding. These effects are short term.” (ACOG, 2017)
Another form of pain relief during labor is narcotics.
If you receive a narcotic for pain relief during labor or after the birth, the medication can make both you and your baby drowsy, since many medications can be passed on to your baby through breast milk.
Narcotics can make it hard to wake baby up for a feeding, but once you stop taking the medication and it passes through your system, your little one should start to be more wakeful for feedings.
Additionally, if any other medication is given to your newborn after birth, these may impact wakefulness.
Consult with your obstetrician or pediatrician if your baby is on medication that is making them drowsy, to make sure it’s an expected side-effect.
They may have further advice on how to keep your baby awake for feedings.
Either at birth or within two to three days of birth, your baby may develop a condition called jaundice.
In short, jaundice is apparent when the skin and whites of the eyes begin to yellow, and is caused by excess bilirubin in your baby’s blood.
This condition can make babies very drowsy and difficult to wake.
Jaundice can be found in older babies and children, and may indicate a serious kidney condition – so be sure to book an appointment if your child is sleeping excessively and you notice their skin becoming visibly yellow.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “This is not but instead a sign of a liver or gall bladder problem.
Here is a great AAP article that gives more detail about jaundice (including ‘breastmilk’ jaundice), and when a doctor should be called.”
3) Medical Procedures
Any kind of surgery your baby experiences, including circumcision, can overwhelm and overstimulate them, forcing their bodies into a state of rest to recover from the physical and emotional stress of the experience.
If your baby develops a fever and becomes lethargic (limp, unresponsive, extremely sleepy) after surgery, contact their doctor right away to rule out anything more serious.
Also talk to their doctor about what to expect after surgery, especially if your baby is given any medications or was put under general anesthesia for the procedure.
If your baby has an infection, it can cause them to sleep for long periods of time as their body tries to recover.
You may also notice a fever or other symptoms.
If your baby younger than three months old and has a fever of 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, take them to see their pediatrician or to the emergency room right away.
Older babies can be watched until the fever is at 102 degrees, as long as they are breathing well and relatively active.
Babies enjoy the simple life; bright lights, big crowds, loud noises and strange places can overwhelm their delicate senses and cause them to become exhausted, making them crash and sleep excessive amounts of time once you get back home.
Keep trips out short and avoid passing your newborn between too many people in a short amount of time.
Wearing your baby in a wrap can help, since the familiarity of your body’s warmth, scent, and heartbeat can help keep them calm.
6) Growth Spurts
Growth spurts are a normal part of childhood.
They start when your baby is a week old and continue through the teenage years.
Signs your little one is going through a growth spurt include fussiness, a change in sleep regularity or length, and wanting to nurse more frequently or seeming upset at the breast (like they aren’t getting enough).
Babies often show some of these same signs when reaching a milestone like rolling over, crawling, walking, talking, etc.
Causes of Excessive Drowsiness in an Older Baby or Toddler
If your baby isn’t in the newborn to three months old stage, you might be more confused about excessive sleepiness, especially since babies from four months to 12 months of age only sleep about 12-14 hours, including naps.
Toddlers will often (but not always) sleep through the night without needing to eat, but they will nap for shorter periods during the day as a result.
Your older baby or toddler may suddenly take an extra nap or sleep for an extra hour or two during the day, but this is rarely a cause for concern.
Most reasons for this change in sleeping patterns are the same as for newborns; medical procedures, medication, over-stimulation, growth spurts, etc.
A young toddler may crash hard after a long day at a festival, family reunion, or playing outdoors.
If it’s hot outside, make sure your toddler wears a hat and sunscreen, drinks plenty of water, and doesn’t stay out too long.
Heatstroke can make a young child sleepy.
Additionally, as your little one toddles about on unsteady feet, they might fall and hit their head. Watch out for signs of concussion and don’t let your child fall asleep too soon after a hard fall.
If your older baby or toddler develops or continues in a newborn-like sleeping pattern (sleeping for more than 16 hours a day, or for long periods without waking to eat), especially when accompanied by other symptoms (like lack of appetite, low energy, crankiness, etc.), be sure to talk to their pediatrician to rule out kidney problems or other illnesses.
Otherwise, that extra long nap might just be a one-time occurrence as your child catches up on some much-needed rest.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “The National Sleep Foundation details what to expect as far as hours of sleep from newborns to school aged children.
As for head injuries and concussions, I tell parents that the initial reaction after hitting the head should be to scream/cry immediately. After the initial crying, the baby should be easily consoled.
If this is not the case and the baby seems drowsy, is not playful, won’t make eye contact, etc, the pediatrician or EMS should be called.”
Waking Your Sleepy Baby to Eat
Pediatricians recommend aiming for 8-12 feedings for your baby per 24 hours.
This number decreases to 5-8 feedings for formula-fed babies and as they get older, and even more so as they start eating solid food.
If your baby isn’t getting enough to eat, you may need to wake them up every 3 hours for a feeding, or more often as your pediatrician recommends.
Note from Dr. Leah Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.: “I counsel my parents to wake the baby if he/she is sleeping longer than 4 hours without feeding until I see a pattern of
weight gain after a few office visits.
After the 1 month old visit, if the infant is sleeping through the night, but waking to feed every 2-4 hours during the daytime AND appropriately gaining weight, I do not recommend waking the baby to feed at night.”
Here are some tips for waking up a sleepy baby so that they will eat more often.
1) Tickle Their Feet
A little extra touch can help wake your baby before a feeding.
Tickle their feet, rub their back, blow gently into their face, or touch an ice cube to one of their little feet.
You can also try dabbing a warm, wet washcloth on your baby’s face, or lifting them up to burp them in between breasts.
2) Separate Day and Night
Take them out into the sunlight during the day; this will help regulate their sleeping schedule.
Likewise, keeping the evening time quiet, dimly-lit, and calm will help your baby transition to sleep longer at night, helping them stay awake for eating more frequently during the day.
3) Have a Routine
Develop a routine to signal bedtime or nap-time. It can be as simple as a bath, a book, and bed.
Some experts suggest avoiding associations with eating right before going to sleep, but when your baby is very young this isn’t as much a priority – and eventually, your baby, toddler, or preschooler will go to sleep by themselves without the aid of a bottle or breast.
Remember, for optimal teeth health your baby should never be put in bed unattended with a bottle.
4) Keep It Cool
Avoid overdressing your baby. If they’re too warm they will tend to sleep for longer periods.
Keep your baby in the least clothing necessary for comfort (while not under-dressing them as well) so they will wake more easily for feeding.
Also, unswaddle your baby when you need them to wake. The sudden relative coolness will help them stir from slumber.
5) It’s All About REM
The REM (or Rapid Eye Movement) sleep stage is a period of sleep where a person (of any age) can be woken more easily.
Watch your baby sleep and try to predict when they reach a REM state before trying to wake them up.
Waking a baby from a deep sleep stage will be more difficult than when they are in REM sleep.
Wrapping It Up
Every baby is different, and every baby will have a different sleep schedule.
If yours is gaining weight that keeps your pediatrician happy, and given a complete bill of health with none of the other reasons for excessive sleep applying, you might just have a natural champion sleeper on your hands.
The good news is that you’ll get more sleep if you stop worrying about it. The bad news is that sleep patterns change constantly in the first several years of your child’s life, and you will probably experience a change as your baby goes through specific sleep regressions at several stages of development.
Enjoy the extra rest or time to get things done while you can!
Whether your baby takes long naps or catnaps, sleeps through the night or parties until dawn, do your best to celebrate the stage they’re in right now – you’re never getting this time back again, ever.
Barring a medical condition, your baby’s fluctuating sleep patterns are a normal part of their development, and though they might make you want to tear your hair out, they won’t last forever.
Make sure you have the support you need to make it through those sleepless nights and endless nursing sessions, whether you find it in friends, family, or a local postpartum doula!