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How Often Should Preemies Sleep?

by Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell, studioD

Premature babies, or "preemies," are born prior to 37 weeks gestation or at least 3 weeks earlier than a full-term pregnancy. Premature newborns sleep more hours than full-term babies, who generally sleep at least 16 hours a day, because their brains aren't as fully developed as their more physiologically mature peers, explains the WebMD site. A preemie’s sleep-centered lifestyle will undoubtedly mean a few overnight wake-up calls for you and plenty of snooze time during the day for your baby.

Sleep Habits

Preemies spend very little time awake during the day until they're about 2 months old. Premature infants may seem oblivious to the hustle and bustle of an ordinary household. It may be at least 6 months before your preemie sleeps through the night, or at least most of it, notes HealthyChildren.org, the official website of the American Academy of Pediatrics. In comparison, full-term babies generally sleep all night a couple of months sooner.

Night Feedings

Some young preemies need frequent feedings because of their exceptionally small tummies, so they must be awakened to make sure they get the nutrition they need. Night feedings should be matter-of-fact and quiet, using only a nightlight or soft light. A quiet and dark setting should help your infant pick up on the difference between day and night as she ever so slowly gets into the habit of sleeping through the night. Be patient with your preemie. It may take a few weeks before she figures it out.

Making the Most of Wakefulness

It may seem like it's taking forever for your pint-size bundle of joy to even notice you're in the room. It will take time for you and your premature baby to become a team of sorts and settle into a daily routine that includes more than just sleeping and feeding. Make the most of your little one's brief, but precious, bursts of alertness. Talk and sing to your baby to help deepen the bonding process.


Always place your preemie on his back to sleep unless your pediatrician recommends otherwise. Sleeping on the back is the safest position for your baby and may help prevent sudden infant death syndrome in all infants, notes HealthyChildren.org. You may have seen your preemie sleeping on his stomach in the hospital's NICU. Medical staff had specific reasons for positioning your baby on his stomach, such as diminishing gastrointestinal reflux or to increase developmental tone. Keep in mind that your newborn was being watched like a hawk by doctors and nurses during his tummy time.

About the Author

Karen Hellesvig-Gaskell is a broadcast journalist who began writing professionally in 1980. Her writing focuses on parenting and health, and has appeared in “Spirituality & Health Magazine" and “Essential Wellness.” Hellesvig-Gaskell has worked with autistic children at the Fraser School in Minneapolis and as a child care assistant for toddlers and preschoolers at the International School of Minnesota, Eden Prairie.

Photo Credits

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