When do children sleep through the night? Tips and guidance

In new parenthood, sleepless nights are normal, but they don’t last forever. Most babies from the age of 6 months should start sleeping for longer periods at night.

Newborn babies are required to feed every few hours until they are 3 months old. It is common for infants to feed once or twice in the afternoon after this.

At the age of 6 months, most babies will sleep for 6–8 hours without a feed. Once they ‘re 9 months old, most infants can sleep without a feed for 11–12 hours.

Starting to build a bedtime routine and feed early can be beneficial. Bear in mind that each infant is different so be as flexible as possible.

This article will discuss when babies begin sleeping through the night and the normal sleeping duration at each age.

When do babies sleep through the night?

New born baby sleeping at night
Each infant will have their own pattern of sleeping.

Newborn babies appear to sleep 1–4 hours at a time. During daytime and at night they’ll sleep and wake. Most newborns need about 17 hours of 24 hour sleep.

A newborn will wake up when he is hungry after establishing feedings and require daily feeds. This spaces out the calories they need, and helps them grow and gain weight.

By the age of 6–8 weeks most babies will begin to develop more regular sleep patterns. They will be turning short sleeps into a longer sleep time.

It takes an infant time to understand the difference between day and night. However, by the time they ‘re four months old, most babies can sleep twice as long at night as they do during daytime.

Sleeping through the night usually means sleeping  through the night for 6 hours or more. An infant can wake up for a feed briefly and then go back to sleep, but this still counts as sleeping through.

It’s normal for a child to start sleeping through the night, and then stop. This may be because they adapt to new growth or development.

When they are around 4–6 months of age, most babies may require at least one night’s feed, but will usually go back to sleep afterwards. At 9 months, an infant can sleep without a feed for up to 11–12 hours.

Every infant is different and there are many things that can stop them from sleeping through the night.

What is a normal amount of sleep based on age?

Every baby requires a slightly different amount of sleep that changes as they grow and develop. Guidelines can assist in determining how much sleep a newborn or child will get.

The National Sleep Foundation for example gives the following recommendations:

AgeRecommended hours of sleep
0–3 months14–17 hours
4–12 months12–15 hours
1–2 years11–14 hours

Those figures are for a duration of 24 hours. Throughout the day, most babies and young children require naps, as well as night sleep.

Every child is different, and does not fit smoothly into one of these categories. Weight, development, and personality differences are common and all of these factors can influence the sleep of an infant.

Factors preventing sleep

The majority of newborn babies can not go without feeding for a whole night. They may wake up frequently during the night, until they are 3 months old. This may not be at regular intervals, and as an infant grows and develops, the pattern will likely change.

Formula-fed babies frequently sleep longer periods of time and can wake up less often in the night. This may be because it takes longer for the formula to digest. Overall however, over a 24-hour cycle, breastfed and formula-fed babies will sleep for the same amount of time.

An infant aged 3 months or older will typically require at least one nighttime feed until around 6 months old. At this point, they could still relax into day and night routine.

Kids aged 3–6 months can relate a feed to sleep. Feeding an infant to sleep will make it more difficult for them to fall asleep by themselves. They can only be able to go to sleep in time if they have a snack. This may deter them from sleeping through the night.

Immediate problems which could prevent a child from sleeping include:

  • being too hot or too cold
  • illness
  • adjustments during growth, such as hunger or sleep requirements

However, most of these problems will last no more than a few days.

It’s normal for infants to begin sleeping through the night and then start waking again. Sometimes this is called sleep regression.

As development speeds up, sleep regression can occur. It may also happen when the needs of the infant’s sleep change.

Sleep regression can last for days or weeks but the causes of this can typically be discussed by parents and carers.

When an child reaches the age of 3–4 months, they may sleep less in the daytime and longer at night.

Once they are at least 6 months old, an child will sleep in the same room as a parent or caregiver. They should be able to sleep on their back, and move freely.

How to improve an infant’s sleep

The following tips can help an infant learn to sleep through the night:

  • Prevent the infant from becoming overtired: Look for signs that the infant is getting sleepy. Signs can include drooping eyelids, slow movements, yawning, and rubbing the eyes. Taking naps during the day can help stop an infant from becoming overtired by bedtime.
  • Keep a distinction between night and day: This helps the infant learn that nighttime is for sleeping. In the evening, dim the lights, use blackout curtains, keep noise to a minimum, and speak softly.
  • Keep a consistent bedtime: This can help create a routine.
  • Create a simple, relaxing bedtime routine: This could include a bath, a short massage, a story, or gentle music. Most infants will learn to link a bedtime routine to sleep.
  • Connect a bed with sleeping: If the infant always falls asleep being held or fed, they may link this to sleep and not be able to fall asleep in bed.

Feeding

Try to build a feeding routine when an child hits age 3 months. Seek to adhere to this routine, because the baby can adapt and learn to sleep without feeding.

Also, feeding the baby is a smart idea, and then placing them in bed — sleepy but awake — soon after. Feeding the baby before bedtime will help keep them from becoming hungry soon after going to sleep and waking up.

Reduce active at night feeds gradually to help the child sleep for longer nighttime periods. That can be performed by a parent or caregiver by:

  • gradually leaving longer between feeds
  • feeding for a shorter period
  • calming the infant in their bed when they wake, instead of automatically feeding them

Seek not to let them fall asleep when they are eating. If they wake up at night, if they can go back to sleep without a feed, it’s less disruptive.

When to see a doctor

If an infant does not sleep through the night regularly by the time they are 6 months old, it may be best to seek advice from a doctor. Though something is unlikely to be wrong, the doctor will be able to test the safety of the child and provide help.

Lack of sleep for parents and carers can be very difficult. Seek to set good habits early, but be flexible, and make routine changes when necessary. Seek to rest or nap, if possible throughout the day.

Summary

By the time they ‘re 6 months old, most infants will be able to sleep with one or two feeds through the night.

But each infant is different and will have its own sleeping pattern. As they grow and develop, those sleeping habits will change.

It can help to establish a bedtime routine and a feeding schedule. Expect some improvements to this routine when they start teething and develop new skills.

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