When Will My Baby Sleep Through the Night?
Ah, the elusive full night’s sleep! It’s a milestone every parent awaits. From the moment our precious little ones are born, we find ourselves in a sleep-deprived haze. And we survive on a few hours of shut-eye here and there. But when can we finally bid farewell to those bleary-eyed, zombie-like mornings? When can we finally enjoy the blissful sensation of a solid, uninterrupted night of sleep? Well, my friends, the answer is not as straightforward as we’d like it to be. But, I am here to shed some light on this puzzling question nonetheless. I will guide you through the maze of when babies typically start sleeping through the night. So, grab your coffee, and let’s embark on this sleep-filled adventure together!
First, let’s look at infant sleep needs. This will tell us when babies are capable of sleeping long stretches.
What are an infant’s sleep needs?
Babies’ sleep needs vary depending on their age. Newborns do sleep a lot of the time. But their sleep is fragmented into short segments. As a baby grows, their amount of sleep in a 24-hour period decreases. But they are biologically capable of sleeping longer stretches at night.
Generally, newborns sleep about 8 to 9 hours during the day and about 8 hours at night. But they may not sleep more than 1 to 2 hours at a time at night — or even 30 minutes at a time during the day!
What do we call sleeping through the night?
The consensus seems to be that babies “sleep through the night” when they sleep long stretches. 6-8 hour stretches. Babies can sleep these long 6-8 hour stretches when they are around 3 months old. Some 2-month-old babies can sleep stretches this long too. About two-thirds of babies sleep 6-8 hour stretches by the time they are 6 months old.
When Do Babies Sleep 11 to 12 Hour Nights?
When babies are 6 months old and of a healthy weight (at least 14 lbs.), they can sleep longer nights. But they don’t always sleep 11-12 hour nights. 11-12 hour nights usually happen in the absence of parent-led sleep associations. Most babies need to practice putting themselves to sleep and back to sleep at night. If a parent does it for them, they often continue to have night waking.
Baby Sleep Cycles
Also, sleeping babies don’t always look like they’re sleeping! Babies can move, call out, or even cry out in their sleep. What looks like awake is often rapid eye movement (REM), which is dream time sleep. Or, it’s their way of practicing their developmental milestones in their sleep.
Babies have sleep cycles that are very different from those of adults. Babies spend less time in REM sleep. Their sleep cycles are shorter. This can be confusing for us as parents, especially if we tend to rush in at any sound or movement! We may inadvertently disrupt our baby’s sleep. Even with the best of intentions, it’s possible to ‘train’ our baby to wake more and more.
This chart shows daytime and nighttime sleep needs for newborns through twelve years.
What are the signs of infant sleep problems?
Around the 3.5 to 4-month mark, parents are often upset when their baby starts waking frequently again. This is a normal part of development. It happens because a baby’s sleep patterns are changing. Baby’s sleep patterns become like those of an adult, and they remain that way for the rest of their lives. Instead of cycling through REM and deep sleep like a newborn, babies begin to cycle through 4 stages. Then, they attempt to transition sleep-cycles.
They may struggle to connect sleep cycles if they haven’t practiced it consistently.
This is especially true in the later part of the night when sleep is lighter and sleep cycles are shorter. If they rely on parent-led sleep associations, they’ll stay awake or cry. They’ll need their parent to put them back to sleep. Parent-led sleep associations, or “sleep props” can be anything a parent does to help a child go back to sleep.
Separation anxiety can also cause babies to struggle with falling asleep.
They can also struggle with overtiredness or when overstimulated. Lack of adequate sleep pressure is another reason babies struggle with falling asleep. If they fall asleep (or become drowsy) in mom’s arms, they may wake up in their beds a little while later. This can make them feel as if they’ve had a little “rest.” This “rest time” in arms causes them to stay awake longer. This “micro-nap” is like when they are overstimulated, but instead of staying wide awake, they’ve had a bit of a rest.
Regressions and sleep problems can also happen with illness, travel, or the birth of a new sibling. Staying consistent with patterns, routines, and expectations can keep regressions from happening. But if a child becomes reliant on a parent to go to sleep or back to sleep, regressions are likely to happen.
Signs of sleep readiness
If sleep issues are happening in your family, you can help your child sleep better. The best place to start is by teaching them to fall asleep on their own. Recognizing signs of sleep readiness and comforting your child when awake can help. Comforting when awake will go a long way towards reducing separation anxiety. You’ll also be able to remove yourself from your involvement gradually. This is key to letting your child take over mastery of their sleep.
Your child may show signs of being ready for sleep by:
- Rubbing eyes
- Looking away
- Arching their back or pulling away
Helping your child fall asleep
Not all babies know how to put themselves to sleep at bedtime. And not all babies know how to go back to sleep on their own after night waking. The AAP estimates that 25 to 50% of babies and children and 40% of adolescents have sleep issues. This means that while some babies and children learn on their own how to sleep through the night, not all can. And it’s OK. They can learn. The AAP also recommends sleep training for teaching children to fall asleep on their own.
Parent-Led Sleep Associations or “Sleep Props”
Many parents start rocking, breastfeeding, patting, bouncing, or shushing their baby to sleep. These are the parent-led sleep associations that can cause babies to struggle later. While it is a good idea to have a bedtime routine, don’t let your baby fall asleep in your arms. This is because they will come to rely on your efforts as a sleep association to fall asleep. When you put your baby into the crib, they’ll either pop back wide awake and cry, or wake later in the night. They won’t know how they got there, and they’ll need you to help them again.
We all wake when we’re transitioning sleep cycles, but we’re usually not aware of it. We have the ability to transition sleep cycles with ease. If babies can’t put themselves to sleep after night waking and at bedtime, they’ll struggle. They may take short naps too, especially if you’re not there!
Separation anxiety can be a big factor in how fast older babies and toddlers fall asleep. Babies have an easier time separating when communication with their caregivers is good. One-on-one time and lots of communication with your child can help them at sleep time. Your calmness and certainty about the process also help your child feel more secure.
Other ways to help your child learn to sleep include:
- Maintaining age-appropriate naptime during the day.
- No random activity, extra stimulation, or even too much restfulness close to bedtime.
- Creating a bedtime routine, such as a bath and reading books.
- Comforting and reassuring your child as needed.
- For night waking, comfort and reassure your child.
- Be consistent with your routine and responses.