The Newborn’s “Happily Awake Span”

Photography: Fran Jorgensen |

By Elizabeth Pantley

How do you help your newborn to be happier, sleep better, and be more peaceful? By paying attention to how long she stays awake and making sure she isn’t up too long.

The length of time that your baby is awake from one sleep period to the next will have a powerful impact on her temperament and behavior. It will also affect how easily your baby falls asleep and how well she sleeps, so it is a very important consideration.

Newborns shouldn’t stay awake very long

The natural span of awake time is very, very short for a newborn baby and gradually increases over time. Newborns can only stay happily awake for forty-five minutes to an hour or two at the most. At about three months of age some babies still need a nap every hour or two, but some can be awake as long as three hours, if they are routinely sleeping well at night and getting good, long naps. By six months most babies can stay awake for two to three hours. However, most newborns – good sleepers and frequent-wakers alike – do best with short awake spans interspersed with plenty of naps.

I call this the “happily awake span” because your baby can stay awake longer, but typically if she does she’ll be unhappy – fussing and crying and working herself up so much that it’s hard for her to fall asleep, yet hard for her to stay awake. It’s an unpleasant situation for babies and their caregivers, too!

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