The importance of safe sleep and sleep routines

With lots of well-meaning advice and guidance about baby sleep and routines it can be hard to know what to follow. If you’re a new parent wondering what the best practice advice is, we’ve put together a simple guide to help you out and listed some reputable resources in case you would like to do some further reading.


Safe sleeping

There are clear links supported by research to demonstrate that if a baby is not in a safe sleeping environment or is overheated, there is a higher risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI).

Red Nose is an Australian non-profit organisation, which provides important guidelines about safe sleeping to reduce the risk of SUDI, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The website features the latest advice about how to keep your baby safe, and you will often hear qualified doctors, obstetricians and midwives referring expecting parents to it.

For all babies 0-12 months, there are six key steps Red Nose recommends for reducing the risk of sudden infant death.


These are:

1. Always place baby on their back to sleep

Placing baby on their back to sleep helps keep their airway clear and ensures their protective reflexes work. Back sleeping reduces the risk of suffocation, overheating and choking.

2. Keep baby’s face and head uncovered

Babies control their temperature through their face and head, so keeping baby’s face and head uncovered during sleep helps reduce the risk of overheating. It also helps keep their airways clear which reduces the risk of suffocation.

3. Keep baby smoke free, before and after birth

Smoking during pregnancy and around baby once they are born increases the risk of sudden infant death – this includes second-hand smoke. If you or your partner smoke, do not smoke around baby and never smoke where baby sleeps. For free help to quit smoking call Quitline on 13 78 48.

4. Safe sleeping environment, night, and day

The safest place for baby to sleep is in their own safe space, with a safe mattress, and safe bedding. Baby should always be placed on their back to sleep, with their feet at the bottom of the bassinet or cot.

Safe cot: Ensure baby’s cot meets Australian standard AS/NZS 2172:2003.

Safe mattress: Ensure baby’s mattress is firm, flat and the right size for your safe cot. It would need to meet voluntary Australian standard (AS/NZS 8811.1:2013).

5. Safe bedding

Safe bedding refers to:

• Lightweight bedding, firmly tucked in and only pulled up to the chest.
• Safe sleeping bag, well fitted across the neck and chest, with baby’s arms out, and no hood.
• Sleep baby in their own safe sleep space in the parents or caregiver’s room for the first six months. The safest place for babies to sleep is in their own safe space, in the same room as their parents or adult caregiver for the first six months.


Safe dressing for sleep

Babies control their temperature mostly through their head and face, which is why it is so important for their head and face to remain uncovered. Baby should be dressed comfortably warm, not too hot, not too cold, just as you would be.

  • See this article by Red Nose for the most up-to-date information about dressing baby for sleep. Tips for baby’s sleep environment can be found here.


Sleep routines

Babies follow the pattern of eat, play, sleep though with a newborn the idea of “play” might be a little different to what we know it. A newborn’s idea of play would include when they are alert and stimulated by shadows, patterns, light, your face, your smile, singing, movement and the like. For a baby aged six months or more baby’s play time will have expanded to age-appropriate toys they can grip or reach.

When your baby is tired it is best to put them into their safe sleep environment while they are “sleepy” but still awake. This is because if a baby becomes overtired/overstimulated, then it can be much harder to settle them into a state that they are calm enough to have a sleep.

  • Raising Children has some great tips with regards to settling babies for sleep, and creating positive bedtime routines, as well as how to gradually reduce help with settling here.


Sleep duration

Babies under the age of one are lighter sleepers than adults and spend more of their time in “active sleep”, which is where they breathe shallowly and their arms and legs twitch or their eyes flutter under their eyelids. Babies wake easily during active sleep, compared to “quiet sleep” which is where we lie more still and breathe deeply.

Babies are individuals and all different, however there are general guides about how long a baby generally sleeps for. New babies might have sleep cycles that last 40 minutes, compared to an adult’s sleep cycle which is for 90 minutes as an example. Babies also generally learn the difference between night and day by about six weeks old.


Birth to three months old

Babies need to be fed and changed regularly, and as newborns haven’t yet learnt to sleep when its dark their total sleep varies for up to 18 hours a day.

Three to six months old

Babies sleep about 14 or 15 hours a day in total. This might look like three naps of two hours each, with some babies also doing eight hours of consecutive sleep during the night.

Six to 12 months old

Sleep patterns start to become more like an adults, in that their longest length of sleep is during the night (averaging 11 hours). They will still probably have two naps of about 1-2 hours. Regular routines may help your baby fall and stay asleep, as this is an age where babies tend to feel unsettled away from their parent or carer.

After 1 year old

As they approach their first birthday, 8-12 hours with one or two wakes is how long they’ll tend to sleep for at night, and naps are usually only one or two in the daytime.


Sources and further reading:


Red Nose has a Safe Sleep Advice Line on 1300 998 698.