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How To Know If Baby Should Be Sleeping Through The Night


When Should a Baby Start Sleeping Through the Night

Your baby’s sleep cycles can vary. While we love our new baby, the lack of sleep due to midnight feedings, late night fits, and more can make for a very exhausting bedtime routine.

From one exhausted mom to another, I could not wait until my baby boy started sleeping through the night! Running around like a Mombie was taking its toll! If your baby has not quite gotten the memo on sleeping through the night – they are not the only ones. Below, I explain why sleep matters for all of us, as well as some expert advice on helping your baby sleep longer at night.

Why Sleep Duration Matters

Before we get into when baby should start sleeping all night, let’s talk about why sleep duration matters. Not only do mom and baby need sleep, but they both need quality sleep. (After all, aren’t we all a bit fussier when tired?)

When you sleep, your brain is active. For newborns and children, however, it is even more so. This activity helps with both mental and physical growth and development. Why?

When you fall asleep, your body and brain goes through multiple Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycles. These cycles help your body to relax, repair, and reenergize itself. (Consider sleep your nightly reboot!) For kids, growth hormones are released as well.

Baby Sleep Duration

Sleep is important for anyone, but it is essential for babies and children. In an ideal world, your youngsters would be follow the below sleep cycles:

  • Newborns to 4 months: Total Sleep = 16 – 18 hours; Nighttime Sleep = 8 – 9 hours; Naps = 7-9 hours (split between 3 – 5 naps)
  • 4 – 12 months: Total Sleep = 12 – 16 hours; Nighttime Sleep = 9 – 10 hours; Naps = 4 – 5 hours (split between 2 – 3 naps)
  • 1 – 2 years: Total Sleep = 11 – 14 hours; Nighttime Sleep = 11 hours; Naps = 2 – 3 hours (split between 1 – 2 naps)

However, we do not live in an ideal world and every baby and child will be different from the others. (My son, Oliver, certainly helped prove that fact to me!)

Circadian rhythms, which is the fancy label doctor’s use to describe your sleep-wake cycle, are naturally regulated by light and dark. Newborns and infants, however, are not born with this innate light-cycle sense. It takes time to develop, typically beginning around 6 weeks.

Between 3 and 6 months, your baby should fully develop their circadian rhythm. This means that, while some babies as young as 3 months may sleep through the night, nearly all 6 month-old babies should be able to sleep for 6 to 8 hours straight. (For some, this may take longer. It may even last until 12 months. However, the National Sleep Foundation states that approximately 70% of all babies 9 months and older should be able to sleep through the night.)

Sleepy Signs

Recognizing the signs of a sleepy baby are important. (After all, your baby probably cannot recognize it themselves, which can make it hard to establish their natural circadian rhythm.) Rubbing their eyes, yawning, looking away, and fussing are typically queues of a tired baby. However, you know your baby best. During the first few months, it is important to take note of how your baby indicates that they are tired. This can help you to carefully craft their nighttime and naptime routines. For example, my son would start rubbing his eyes more and more as he got tired. Once the yawning started, though, I knew it was only a matter of time! If I missed the signals, it made for one very fussy little boy!

During the daytime, these signs can also help you to recognize when your baby needs more activities to help prevent accidental non-nap sleeping! (After all, we have all experienced the consequences of an unplanned nap. Not only can they throw off your day, but they can also cause problems with nighttime sleeping. This then leads to issues the next day too and so forth.)

Myths

There are plenty of myths to be found when it comes to getting a baby to sleep through the night. Often related to size or diet, these myths lack the evidence and consistency needed to be actual methods.

For starters, some believe that bigger babies, who are eating solids, are better sleepers. This is simply untrue. Age is the primary factor when it comes to sleeping. (Solids do not induce the natural circadian rhythm. Only time can develop this.)

Another common myth involves adding rice cereal to your baby’s nighttime bottle. First, it is important to point out that the American Academy of Pediatrics highly recommends that babies are fed only breastmilk until they are 6 months old. While this is not always possible, it is considered by medical experts to be the best source of nutrients for your baby. That being said, introducing rice cereal to your baby’s formula or milk does not provide nutritional value at this stage. Additionally, these elements can be choking hazards as your baby has not yet developed the skill to swallow non-liquids at this point.

Expert Advice on Encouraging Your Baby to Sleep through the Night

Everyone is born capable of being able to sleep for long periods of time. We all typically experience short waking periods throughout the night after completing a sleep cycle as well. Whether to take a deep breath, startled by the end of a dream, or just to stretch – these slight stirrings are often followed by falling immediately back to sleep. However, babies are not quite able to do this as they have not yet developed the ability to settle themselves back down. This, amongst other reasons, is one of the primary factors that prevents your baby from sleeping through the night.

According to pediatrician Judith Owens, the director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Clinic located at the Hasbro Children’s Hospital, you can help to encourage your baby to be more self-reliant. (I know – it sounds crazy, but there is a method to the madness!) By the time your baby is 4 months, Owens recommends you begin to put him or her to bed once they are drowsy but still awake. This will allow your baby to avoid developing the tendency to rely on you in order to fall asleep. Why does this matter? Because, as they filter through their sleep cycles, your baby will be better able to fall back to sleep on their own. Babies who are used to having mom or dad help them fall asleep are more prone to separation anxiety, as well as crying to help going back to sleep at night. (Understanding this helped me get through the Oliver’s first sleep training cycle. It is also helping me through his 18-month re-training cycle as well!)

Another way to help encourage natural sleep cycles is to establish a daytime and nighttime routine. To help newborns to be more alert throughout the day, exposing them to light, noise, and activities can prevent unintentional periods of sleep. As the evening starts, a reduction in these things can help to encourage a calmness that soothes your baby and fosters a natural circadian rhythm.

Sleeping with a pacifier is another issue. Many experts agree that a pacifier at night actually helps to reduce the risk of sudden instant death syndrome, or SIDS, during the first 12 months. The issue is that most babies do not develop the motor skills necessary to pop their pacifier back into their mouth when it falls out until they are 8 months old. Being unable to reclaim their pacifier often leads to midnight cries for help. Janet K. Kennedy, Ph.D. and founder of NYC Sleep Doctor, advises you stop responding to cries. While it may take a few nights of sleeplessness, your baby will eventually be able to adjust and sleep throughout the night even when the pacifier falls out of their mouth.

Slight noises and sounds are another reason your baby may wake at night. Investing in a white noise machine can help. By playing a quiet white noise while preparing your baby for bed, he or she will begin to associate the noise with sleep. This can help sooth them, while preventing other sounds from waking your baby.

Take Care of Everyone

Ongoing cries at night can be frustrating for everyone. After all, if you cannot get the quality sleep you need, it can make it hard for you to focus on caring for the baby. (It can also impede milk production as the body becomes more and more fatigued!) However, mom may not be the only other person in the house. If you have other children, their sleep is equally as important to their growth and development. Talk to them about what to expect as the baby grows. If you are working to establish something, like the pacifier strategy above, explain that the baby may be fussy. Perhaps start your pacifier plan for a weekend or upcoming holiday week, to allow your other children to sleep longer the next day.

Speaking with your pediatrician can help too. Not only can they ensure your baby is developing at a healthy rate, they can also provide tips and tricks to help encourage baby to sleep.

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you are so right about this word mombie! I don’t think anything describes it better. I have a little girl who just clocked a year old, and even though I have most things mentioned above, except the white noise machine, nothing seems to get her to sleep throug the night. Although at her earlier stages the comforter seemed to help a great deal but as she got older, she didnt want it anymore. We do habe a routine that works so well but that hasnt stopped her waking up through the night. Do you think the white noise machine can still be effective at a year old?

Hi

Thank you for the helpful, useful informative information that you have here.

I love the sleep cycle guide that you have thoughtfully included and the fact that you have mentioned that it is only a guide and not set in stone because baby are unique and wonderfully different and there are many things in play here also.

But all the same a very useful guide.

The myths unfortunately come along side many people thing they have a solution which may have worked for them many moons ago.

It is good to see that you are building awareness around the help that can be provided for many families that are finding getting baby to sleep a challenge.

I have shared with social media and hopefully this article will expand its reach.

Thank you

Jennifer

Hey Sophia, great article on when should a baby sleep through the night. While I personally sidestepped the whole children subject, my girlfriend Debbie was nodding her head when reading your article.

Of particular interest to me was your explanation of the learned behavior of Circadian rhythms and how they’redeveloped and during what time.

I liked the suggested sleep times for infants which I highly doubt any baby in history has ever followed exactly lol.And the part about sleepy signs seems like that would be helpful to a sleep-deprived young mother.

I’m also glad you added a few of the myths out there to help clear up some confusion since it’s so hard to tellif the information out there is derived from research or self-interest of large corporations.

I think that I would speak for all new parents when I say, “a baby should sleep through the whole night as soonas possible!”  Well done.

Eric

Awesome information in this post for those that still have small babies at home. I remember well the days of getting up sitting rocking. Holding and wishing they would go to sleep. So I could. So glad there are people who have figured it out. Such good ideas to with pacifiers and white noise. Makes total sense as I known you a fan for white noise. To help me sleep. Why not a baby?
Blessings,
Scarlett

Exactly. White Noise mimics the same sounds which baby experienced while in mothers womb for 9 months. You wouldn’t believe it but its actually really loud inside the womb so the white noise is actually really calming and “just like home” to baby.

We were pretty lucky parents and are lucky grandparents.  Our grandson is seven and still sleeps 10 hours a night and has always been a good sleeper.  I was shocked about reading that a pacifier is a good thing.  We have always taken them away early as they are so habit forming. My daughter is expecting soon and I was searching google to find information on baby sleep because I know, from experience, that babies never sleep. I need to help my daughter ( this is her first baby ) navigate parenthood and I just want her to be prepared. I like your website because it has information about all kind of sleep issues. Thanks again!

I never heard of the circadian cycle before, but after reading what it is, was frankly shocked that it is a learned rather than genetically driven behavior. It makes sense that their brains need time to figure out what right looks like though, I mean from an evolutionary standpoint it stands to reason that babies in an environment that involved being alert at night, that it might be beneficial to develop a sleep cycle that allows them to sleep during daylight. I do know that melatonin and serotonin play night and day time roles respectively, but if I read correctly, the roles and functions of how the body are influenced by repetitive behavior.

With regard to breast milk and baby formula… If your husband is going to give you a night-time break, the experts can recommend all they want, but you’re kind of boxed into at least a hybrid strategy.

All my children are grown now but I have to say… Where was this article when my wife and I just tried to adjust to be exhausted for 2 years? LOL 

Great article, Keep up the great and informative work! 

I know your post recommends certain options for getting your baby to sleep, white noise, pacifiers, swaddling, etc. but is there a concern that once the baby gets used to any of these comforts, they will be less able to sleep in an environment that lacks those things or maybe as an adult when there isn’t white noise in the background? Maybe it is an unfounded concern but I would hate to start a habit that isn’t easily broken in the future once the amenities aren’t available or convenient.

I know the pain waking up at night for crying baby. everyday I wish my baby can sleep through the night. While some books say baby should be sleeping through the night like adults, some say their tiny tummy need more milk! I tried the white noise but my husband and I don’t really like it. I heard that baby massage and essential oils help? Do you have any recommendation? 

Yes, its best to get a lotion that is suitable for baby but scented with lavender or vanilla. Baby massage is also a great way to relax your baby as well as bond with them. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that show step by step how to massage your infant. 

Very detailed post on sleep needs and requirements for babies! I raised three boys with my wife all these details are way too familiar. But it is amazing how Moms are way different from us Dads in really fine-tuning the minute details of baby needs like sleep!

Great article. Very useful for parents with new babies!

Joe Joson

Hello SOPHIA for this wonderful post,you make me want a new baby lol…Anyway babies need to sleep for their physical,cognitive and affective development. When a baby fails to sleep ,the whole family gets in trouble especially fathers because they hate listening to their babies cries.When my son was a baby he used to cry when i made him sleep without laying near him,he was so clever that when i went off he directly started  crying. My trick to make him sleep was to touch his ear and give put breast in his mouth and when i removed it he was moving but my hand was in his ear then the story ends. Surely babies are clever than we can imagine.

Thank you for the post.

Sophie I just love your description of a sleep deprived mother as a Mombie, I can so relate to that. What you share is absolutely true and is very helpful. With my son he was very anxious about going to sleep on his own but when we persisted with an evening routine and he even role played it with one of his favourite toys consistency and persistency eventually won over. Sleep is so important and I never really valued it until becoming a parent. Thank you for sharing such a positive but practical post.

The reason I am reading this is because my brother just had a new born and both parents are struggling to keep up with their sleep. They become anxious every time the baby cries and tend to cuddle him a lot. I am unaware of separation anxiety in babies, we actually thought that cuddling could help them more. So I guess it’s the other way round. I’ve heard that some baby wraps could help them to sleep better. Is that true?

Yes, its called swaddling. Most newborns love being swaddled as it mimics the feeling of being inside mothers womb. You can purchase specialty swaddles that are light weight and the perfect size for a newborn. 

Hi Sophia,

Absolutely loved this article on When Should a Baby Start Sleeping Through the Night. I can relate to this article because I have been in that kind of situation and I know how it feel of being exhausted when morning comes due to sleep deprivation. Well, its just temporary before you knew it, our baby sleep pattern will start to follow our own sleeping pattern. But this article will be of great help for new mom out there who are expecting their baby soon. It 

Sophia,

Interesting facts you have provided some that I was unaware of and others that I knew about. When my son was two months old he was hospitalized and had an operation nothing serious but none the less because of this the nurses at hospital having shift work confused him with daytime nighttime mix-up.  Upon coming home he would sleep almost all day then stay awake almost all night, after a few days of this I did what you have written and made everything in the house very bright until it was dark outside which did keep him awake but grumpy and that night when he went to bed he slept shall I say like the perfect little angel.

Just wanted to share as proof that what you have researched and put forth is very doable when needing to adjust your child’s sleeping pattern.

Thank you for sharing and looking forward to more ways of helping our children.

Susan

Hi Susan,

Sounds like the hospital experience started your son off on the wrong foot. Its okay! Me too! My son was in the NICU until he was two months old and also had night time and day time mixed up. Its all about making a decision to implement a strategy and just doing it, and not switching up the routine. Thank you for your comment. 

Your “baby sleep guide” appears very complete.  I’d almost forgotten what it was like, until I read your post.  It is so nice when Baby finally sleeps all night, as Mom is pretty exhausted by then.  You give some really good pointers on ways to help your baby develop a good sleep routine.  I am sure you are offering value to many young mothers.  Keep up the good work!

Thank you Fran! I want to help all new parents know if their baby should be sleeping through the night or not! I am glad you found my article helpful! 

Hey Sophia,

I’ve always thought that babies need to sleep 14 hours a day for healthy growth but didn’t know that they sleep even longer than that, so envious of them! I have a question, Is it advisable to feed a baby before putting it to sleep? I read a post mentioning that humans aren’t supposed to eat at least 2 hours before sleeping.

Hi Riaz, its is definitely advisable to feed your baby before putting them to sleep! This will ensure your baby won’t wake up so soon to eat! But keep in mind that if you are not sleep training your baby, and they wake up in the middle of the night expecting you to feed them, then please do so! Only when you have made a decision to sleep train your baby ( after they are at least 6 months old ) then you would for-go a nightly feeding. Your baby will let you know very vocally if they are hungry in the middle of the night. 

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