When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night?
July 12, 2017
Life with a newborn can make you feel like a bona-fide member of the living, walking dead. It’s normal to wonder if you’ll ever re-enter the land of the sleeping and transform from zombie to human again. The answer, of course, is yes you will. Eventually, baby will start sleeping through the night, and you’ll get to luxuriate in some serious shut-eye.
But when do babies sleep all night? Don’t expect baby to go from short sleeping sessions to 12-hour snooze-fests right away. Instead, she’ll gradually hit developmental milestones that make her ready to sleep for longer stretches at a time. Read on to learn when babies sleep all night—plus tips for getting baby to sleep through the night on her own.
The truth is, there’s no magic age when babies sleep through the night—every baby is different. But around the four-month mark, important developmental milestones can totally change the baby sleep game and help babies sleep the whole night. Now, to be clear, when we’re talking about babies sleeping all night, we don’t mean to suggest baby is suddenly down for double-digit hours. What we’re referring to is baby not waking up crying in the middle of night or needing a nighttime feeding for a stretch of five to six hours or more. This doesn’t necessarily mean that baby won’t want to be fed (or be snuggled or have an audience for new tricks he’s learning, like rolling), only that he may not need additional sustenance in order to make it ’til his morning meal.
Here’s what that baby sleep progression looks like. As early as the first month of life, babies start to understand the difference between what happens during the day versus what happens at night, especially with help from parents who initiate more active play during the day and less energetic play in the evening. A newborn will sleep about 10 to 18 hours a day in total—but might sleep anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours at a time. Even by month three, there’s still a wide range of how long baby typically sleeps at night. Unfortunately, it’s a baby sleep myth that infants should start sleeping through the night at 12 weeks. If it happens, consider yourself lucky. But for most babies, they may not sleep through the night for another month or two or—ouch—three. And that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.
“There’s a huge range for when babies sleep through the night,” says Kira Ryan, cofounder of Dream Team Baby, a baby sleep consultancy, and coauthor of the book The Dream Sleeper: A Three-Part Plan for Getting Your Baby to Love Sleep. “It could be anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months, but usually around 4 months, sleep starts to consolidate.” This is typically when babies begin to self-soothe and put themselves back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. Their physical coordination and cognitive abilities have developed enough that they can recall something they find comforting, like sucking their thumb or rubbing their feet together, and use it to help them fall back to sleep, Ryan says.
Ultimately, by 9 months, most babies (70 to 80 percent, according to the National Sleep Foundation) can sleep through the night without eating. That means about 9 to 12 hours of blissful, uninterrupted rest for you.
In the quest for helping babies sleep all night, sleep training is key. It’s the process used to teach baby to fall asleep on her own—and stay asleep. There are many different approaches to nighttime parenting, but here are some baby sleep training basics every parent should know, plus some baby sleep advice to help get baby sleeping through the night naturally. (Want more tips on how to help baby sleep better? Head here.)
Where should baby sleep?
Baby’s sleep area should be in the same room as his parents for at least the first 6 months of life, up to 1 year, if possible, according to a 2016 recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Whether it’s in a bassinet, crib, portable crib or play yard, room-sharing (but not bed-sharing) with baby can decrease the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by up to 50 percent.
How should baby sleep?
Whether you’ve got baby sleeping through the night or not, the AAP recommends babies sleep on their backs, on firm sleep surfaces, for naps, at night and any other time they’re sleeping. There shouldn’t be any blankets, bumper pads, soft toys, sheets or any similar products in the crib that could cover baby’s face or cause him or her to overheat. If baby falls asleep in a car seat, sling or swing, move her to a firm surface, positioned on her back, as soon as possible.
Sleep training methods
Sleep training can play a big role in determining when babies will sleep all night. The two main methods are known as the “no tears” approach and the “cry it out” approach, but plenty of parents opt for a strategy that’s somewhere in between. Experts generally recommend starting sleep training when baby is 4 to 6 months old. Some infants pick it up within days, based on a number of factors like their genes, personality and household environment. For others, learning to fall and stay asleep on their own can take longer and require more extensive training. Of course, every baby is different, so talk to your pediatrician to figure out which sleep training method is best for your family.
Don’t be surprised if during sleep training baby has crying fits at bedtime: When baby can’t yet speak, he’ll express his short-term frustration through cries. While listening to baby cry for even a few minutes can leave any new parent feeling guilty, give baby a couple days to figure it out himself. “Right now baby is thinking, ‘What is happening and how can I help myself?’ It’s a learning process for them,” Ryan says. Really, helping babies sleep all night is a learning process for parents too: It’ll be tempting to pick up and comfort your child, but no matter how hard it is, in the long run, it’ll be worth it to get a good night’s rest—for you and for baby. However, if baby has crying sessions that last more than an hour at a time and persist longer than a week without improvement, give your pediatrician a call.
Will formula speed up the sleep training process?
While you may have heard that babies sleep differently depending on whether they’re breastfed or formula-fed, giving baby formula doesn’t make sleeping through the night happen any faster than breastfeeding would. By the same token, feeding baby rice cereal at bedtime won’t make him sleep longer either. “Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet when it comes to sleep-inducing foods,” Ryan says. And while you want to ensure baby’s satisfied before going to sleep, you don’t want to put baby to bed with an overly full stomach. “Giving baby a half hour to an hour to digest milk or food—and even longer if baby is prone to post-feeding gas and reflux—can actually get the night off to a smoother start,” she adds.
The power of bedtime routines
Even though what you feed baby won’t help her start sleeping through the night any faster, there’s something you can do that may actually help baby slip into slumber more easily and for longer periods of time: Set up a bedtime routine. When baby is as young as 2 months old, try establishing a series of activities to do with baby each night, about 20 to 30 minutes before bed. Your bedtime routine could be a bath and a feeding, singing a lullaby or reading a bedtime story. Infants start to learn that when they go through these steps, sleep time is nearing. “Babies really enjoy having a bedtime,” Ryan says. “So much is happening to them every day: They’re being taken to different places, experiencing and learning new things. They’ll like having a set time each night where they know exactly what to expect.”
Admittedly, sometimes it gets ugly before it gets better. But for one dad, a steadfast bedtime routine of bathtime, pajamas and a story before bed helped pave the way to putting baby down without a fuss. “We even included a song and a walk around the room so we could say good night to all the animals. But once it was time for bed, we knew we had to be firm about the routine,” Robert Nickell says. “As a dad, I personally love the routine and it works best for me.” The key is consistency. Don’t stress about doing the routine at exactly the same time each night, but try to stick within a half hour of bedtime.
When to start the bedtime routine
Another key to getting baby sleeping through the night is to be on the lookout for signs of sleepiness—and be ready to start the sleep routine as soon as they appear. “Pulling on their ears, rubbing their eyes and not making eye contact are all signs baby is tired,” Ryan says. “If they become very hyperactive and animated, it probably means they’re overtired.” You don’t want to miss that important window—when babies get overtired, they become wired, making it harder for them to actually get a good rest. As the saying goes, sleep begets sleep.
Should you wake a sleeping baby?
Newly minted moms know it’s hard not to rejoice when baby goes down for a nice long nap. But once baby is around 8 to 10 months of age, getting too much sleep during the day may interfere with his nighttime cycle and stop baby sleeping through the night. So should you wake a sleeping baby? The answer is yes—there are times when you’ll have to resign yourself to gently waking baby up from a prolonged nap. “Naps give babies little breaks to help their bodies process what they’ve learned and help them make it to bedtime. But if baby is sleeping too much, you should wake them up,” Ryan says. “A baby who takes a four-hour nap in the middle of the day isn’t going to be ready for bedtime.” So how long is a too-long nap? Ryan says at around 4 months of age, baby should be awake for about three hours before bedtime.
Sleep is far from being an indulgence—it’s essential, for both you and baby. So when you’re running on fumes and just need some rest, it’s understandable to wonder (with perhaps a hint of exasperation), “when do babies sleep all night?” Trust us, it’ll happen. By 9 months old, most babies sleep through the night without feeding, giving you the chance to log some much-needed shut-eye. Enjoy it—you’ll certainly have earned it.