Is your newborn awake for 3 hours straight and not sleeping between feeds? Learn how to help your fussy baby and shorten the wake times.
Whether during the day or at night, knowing that your newborn has been awake for 3 hours is never easy.
Maybe she was asleep all day, only to be awake for a long stretch at night. As much as you appreciate the long breaks during the day, you dread the evenings when you know you’re going to be awake for most of it.
Maybe she’s awake during the “witching hours” before bed, unable to be soothed for hours at a time, despite your best efforts to reset her sleep patterns.
Or she does do well for nighttime sleep—at least for a newborn baby—only to be awake and fussy all day. As grateful as you are for the hours of sleep at night, you also know her wake windows shouldn’t be this long during the day.
Sometimes she’s not even sleeping between her feeds. She goes from one feed, skips a nap entirely, and is ready for her next feed without sleeping once, throwing her sleep cycles completely off.
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How to handle a newborn awake for 3 hours straight
As a new parent, I didn’t realize that newborns shouldn’t be awake for long stretches until several weeks after bringing my baby home. Here he was—a newborn awake for over 3 hours at a time, getting passed around visiting family and friends.
The next thing I knew, he was cranky, setting off a vicious cycle of an overtired baby who just wouldn’t sleep.
Other times, he was awake but not crying, making me wonder how long a newborn should stay awake at a time. I simply assumed he’d fall asleep when he was tired, especially after plenty of time awake. Only later did I find out that 3 hours was a long stretch for a little one to be up.
So, if you find yourself in the same predicament, rest assured you’re not alone. Maybe your newborn is awake all day long, even if she sleeps well at night. Or vice versa: she’s sleeping the whole day during nap times but not getting enough rest at night.
I get the frustration, friend. Whether she’s awake too long during the day or at night, you can shrink her wake time and help her sleep longer and more frequently. Take a look at these tips that can help:
1. Engage during the day
Does your newborn take long naps during the day, only to be awake all night? Use the daytime hours to engage and play with her and keep her from taking another lengthy nap.
For instance, you can do tummy time, sing songs, and make faces, or place her on a play mat or infant seat. Then, when you see her showing tired signs, you can begin to get ready for her next daytime sleep. The longer you can stretch her wake time, the more she can sleep longer at night.
That said, don’t keep her awake times longer than 90 minutes—this ensures that she also doesn’t get overtired.
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2. Wake close to bedtime
Does it seem like your newborn gets good sleep through the whole day, including close to your bedtime routine? This could be preventing her from settling for bedtime and sleeping long stretches at night.
I’m not normally a fan of waking a sleeping baby, no matter how long the nap has been. That said, the exception I’d make is the one close to bedtime. If she’s supposed to sleep soon but her latest nap is running long, cut it short to give her time to be awake.
With my baby, I aimed for about 45-90 minutes of wake time between his last nap and bedtime so that he had enough time to feel tired by then.
3. Keep nighttime quiet and dark
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One obstacle that could be keeping your newborn awake for 3 hours at night is that it’s simply too “exciting.” Maybe you turn on the lights to change a dirty diaper, or your evenings are filled with loud sounds.
To get her in the mood to sleep, start your evenings off calm and quiet. Turn off the television and other distracting noises. Draw darkening curtains to block out daylight, and turn on a white noise machine to muffle startling sounds.
Then, when you get up with her at night, keep your engagement minimal to encourage continued sleepiness. Use a small nightlight or your phone to see during diaper changes. Don’t engage or talk to her in lengthy stretches, and make the focus all about going back to sleep.
4. Help your newborn fall asleep
Don’t make the mistake I did and assume that your baby is just going to fall asleep at the first signs of tiredness. Young babies need our help to fall asleep and might end up overtired without it.
To start, set up the right environment, from keeping the room dark to turning on white noise. Use the swing, baby wrap, swaddle, and pacifier to help her doze off. Rock her to a sleepy state before putting her down in the crib or bassinet. If she wakes up crying, comfort her and put her back down drowsy.
At this age, it’s a balance between giving her an opportunity to fall asleep on her own, with helping her when she’s struggling to do so. Down the line, you can consider sleep training, but for now, she likely still needs your help falling asleep.
5. Feed your newborn
If your newborn fusses and cries the whole time she’s awake, she might simply be hungry. And if you nurse, this isn’t always the easiest news to take.
I felt tethered to my baby, knowing that I was the only one who could feed him. But our pediatrician told us that, while babies do cry for other reasons, the main one is hunger. Sure, your newborn might be bored or cold, but more than likely, she’s hungry.
Rather than trying to get her to sleep, see if you can feed her first.
Then, because sucking can lull her to sleep, make sure she’s awake the whole time she’s supposed to be eating. She might still be moving her mouth, but you should also hear a swallowing sound or see her throat moving. Tickle or burp her, or switch positions to keep her awake during feedings.
You’re right to wonder whether it’s normal for a newborn to be awake for 3 hours, whether during the day or at night. But you might not know what to do with a wide-eyed, fussy baby who won’t fall asleep.
Thankfully, you now have a few tips to try to teach her good sleep habits.
If she’s asleep for long stretches during the day, engage and play with her to lengthen her wake times. Make sure she has time to be awake between her last nap and bedtime.
Keep your nights dark and calm, sending the message that this is when she should sleep for a long time. At this stage, help her fall asleep, from turning on white noise to rocking her to a drowsy state. And lastly, rule hunger out by feeding her instead, making sure she stays awake during the feedings.
Now you can keep her asleep at night and be awake during the day—just not for 3 hours at a time.
Get more tips:
- 5 Reasons Your Newborn Wakes Up Screaming
- Newborn Feeding Every 2 Hours? Top Solutions That Can Help
- How to Create a Newborn Schedule
- 11 Ways to Cope with Newborn Sleep Deprivation
- 12 Things to Do When Your Newborn Fights Sleep
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