In this article:
Newborns slumber most of the day, but rarely on a stretch. Their sleep pattern is rather erratic, characterized by short siestas spread over the course of the day.
Infants spend a total of 8-9 hours of their daytime sleeping, while nighttime sleep makes up for approximately 8 hours. However, their sleep duration is intermittent as they tend to wake up every 1 or 2 hours.
The sleep requirements of babies gradually change as they get older, and so do their sleeping habits, duration, and pattern.
As your little one grows, he/she is likely to sleep for a lesser number of hours on the whole, but the length of nighttime sleep will eventually increase.
It is only when the baby crosses the 3-month mark or grows big enough to weigh 12-13 pounds, that you can expect him/her to sleep longer i.e. 6-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep through the night possibly.
As many as two-thirds of babies begin to sleep through the night by the time they turn 6 months old.
Types or States of Sleep
Non-rapid Eye Movement (NREM): This stage refers to a deep state of quiet, restorative sleep wherein blood supply to the muscles is increased. The increased blood supply helps with tissue growth and repair and refuels the body with energy.
This stage is also characterized by the release of growth hormones essential for the child’s development.
Rapid Eye Movement (REM): This stage refers to a more superficial state of “active” sleep, wherein the brain remains active even as the body becomes immobile. During REM sleep, the baby is likely to dream and experience irregular breathing and heart rates.
Newborns alternate equally between these two different states of sleep within each sleep cycle, which stretches for about 50 minutes.
By the time the baby turns 6 months old, they spend more time in the NREM stage of a deep sleep, which covers nearly 70% of their entire sleep cycle.
|Age||Total sleep hours||Total hours of nighttime sleep||Total hours of daytime sleep|
|Newborn||16||8 to 9||8|
|1 month||15.5||8 to 9||7|
|3 months||15||9 to 10||4 to 5|
Signs of Sleep Readiness
Take note of what your baby does when he/she starts to get tired. You can tell if your baby wants to nap by looking for the following signs:
- The baby may turn unusually fussy and irritable when sleep comes knocking.
- The baby may rub his/her eyes a lot.
- The baby yawns constantly.
- The baby’s eyes appear droopy.
- The baby may seem distracted and look away.
Importance of Sufficient Sleep in Kids
The body works tirelessly round the clock and gets to re-energize its batteries only when on sleep mode. Thus, the importance of getting quality sleep cannot be emphasized enough if you wish to keep your body functioning well.
This is particularly true for babies above the age of 3 months, toddlers, young kids, and teens, who are in the midst of their developmental phase.
Inadequate or poor-quality slumber can seriously compromise their mental and physical growth, so much so that sleep problems in children have been associated with behavior issues, obesity, high-risk activities, and other serious concerns.
The responsibility lies with the parent or caretaker to make sure that the child clocks enough hours in the sack. This, however, does not imply that any child who has trouble sleeping is bound to suffer lifelong problems.
Most newborns go through a phase of erratic sleep in the early days of their life before eventually settling into a routine. Thus, do not worry if your baby is keeping you up at night. Instead, be patient and persistent.
The ideal time to start sleep training is when your baby is at least 3 months old and somewhat accustomed to the ambient conditions outside the womb.
A 5-hour sleep is considered sleeping “through the night” for infants. This generally happens after 3 months of age, but it can happen earlier. Some babies are not able to sleep through the night until after 6 months of age.
Getting Baby to Sleep Longer and Through the Night
Here are a few time-tested ways to get your baby to sleep longer at night.
1. Play White Noise Sounds
White noise can help lull your baby to sleep through the night by drowning out all other background sounds that occur naturally in your environment.
White noise, such as the gentle, soothing hum of an exhaust fan, is similar to the sound that the baby hears in the womb and therefore helps your little one feel more secure and comfortable.
You can also install mobile apps or buy specialized machines that produce white noise to help your baby fall and stay asleep.
Playing white noise is a cheap, easy-to-use sleeping aid to settle difficult babies. Moreover, white noise keeps your baby from waking up in the middle of the night. (1)
A 2018 randomized controlled trial found that white noise was a better nonpharmacological measure than swinging for comforting crying, colicky babies and improving their sleeping durations. (2)
Note: When using white noise machines, make sure to follow the doctor’s guidelines and the instruction manual to prevent any damage to your baby’s hearing.
2. Feed Your Baby on Time
Newborns need to be fed every 2-3 hours, given the limited capacity of their small stomachs.
Babies under 3 months of age need to eat often, and expectations that they will soon sleep all night are not healthy.
Nevertheless, feeding the little one right before bedtime can help him/her remain blissfully asleep on a full stomach for at least a few hours.
If your baby is having trouble getting enough sleep regularly, he/she is more likely to develop problematic feeding behaviors in early childhood.
Your baby’s feeding schedule should not involve a prolonged fast during the night. Bedtime nursing can help lull your baby to sleep and prevent sleep disturbances due to untimely hunger pangs.
Sixty percent of babies sleep through the night at 6 months of age, but 40% still wake to eat. Eighty percent of babies sleep through the night by 9 months, but that leaves 20% of healthy babies still waking at night to eat at this age.
Babies that sleep for long, uninterrupted periods during the night need to be fed more frequently during the day to keep up with their nutritional demands.
Also, you must burp the baby after every feed, or else the air will remain trapped in the stomach and give rise to digestive distress. Babies that are younger than 6 months old need special assistance since their digestive systems are fairly underdeveloped.
A bedtime feeding ritual can also serve as a cue for the baby to prepare for sleep. Infants have no understanding of night and day, so the duty lies with the parents to help them learn the difference between the two.
While feeding your child at night, maintain a quiet and calm environment that is conducive to sleep.
Keep daytime feeding more social and livelier to keep your baby energized and awake. This kind of behavioral conditioning will help the baby make sense of his/her sleep schedule, as he/she will start associating the day with activity and night with sleep.
According to a 2012 study, maintaining a regular feeding routine may be beneficial for both the baby and the mother. Timely feeds can ease the baby into better sleep, which will also allow the mother to catch some hours of restful sleep. A well-rested baby and mother contribute to a more enjoyable and easier parenting experience. (3)
3. Put Your Baby Down Drowsy but Awake
New parents often make the mistake of lulling their baby to sleep in their arms and then placing him/her in the crib. This makes the child completely dependent on the parent’s touch to fall asleep, which may not be beneficial in the long run.
Moreover, if the baby wakes up in the middle of the night, he/she will be unable to go back to sleep unless held by the parent.
Babies are fast learners, but they will only learn what you teach them. Thus, parents are advised to put their baby in the crib while he/she is drowsy but still awake.
Once babies develop a habit of being rocked or nursed to sleep, it can become difficult for them to grow out of it. So, you must start early, and encourage your little one to go to sleep on his/her own.
It can be heartbreaking for parents to distance themselves from their infant, but this is a necessary step to make the child capable of falling asleep independently. If you want, you may install a baby monitor to check up on your child.
Do not rush to your baby’s aid the minute he/she starts crying or fussing. Give it a few minutes, and then go to reassure and comfort the baby.
Once the baby has settled down and is ready to fall back asleep, leave him/her in the crib as before. The task gets easier over time, provided you stick with a consistent bedtime routine and your responses.
Some parents worry about leaving their babies in their own separate room for better sleep, but these fears are often unfounded.
Different babies exhibit different sleep patterns, and there isn’t enough evidence to prove that sleeping alone will help them get better sleep.
However, a recent study published in Pediatrics highlighted the perks of sleeping solo. Results showed that 9-month-old babies who were made to sleep alone in their separate rooms got an hour and 40 minutes of extra slumber on average than those who still shared a room with their parents. (12)
But you should decide by observing your infant’s sleep pattern.
4. Stick to a Consistent Bedtime Routine and Schedule
You can help condition your baby to sleep longer at night by following the same bedtime routine every day.
All babies are different and might prefer different things to help them sleep. Some derive comfort from cuddling or caressing, whereas others may like a gentle massage or soft music to lull them to sleep.
But for any bedtime routine to deliver the desired results, you need to be consistent with it.
It can take anywhere between 3-14 days for your baby to become familiar with the bedtime routine. Over time, your baby will become so accustomed to the routine that he/she will take it as a cue to prepare for sleep.
This predictability will automatically make the little one ready for bed and will help him/her settle down quickly.
Sticking with simple activities will make it easier for you to follow through with the bedtime routine in the long run. You can start off by lightly massaging the baby’s body, followed by a warm bath and a change of clothes.
You can try different soothing interventions, such as playing or singing lullabies, cuddling, hugs, and light patting, to see what works best for your baby.
Just as important it is to maintain an unfailing bedtime routine, parents should also follow the same bedtime. Make your baby go to sleep at the same time every day – even on weekends – to stabilize his/her sleep-wake cycle.
Many studies have indicated that the implementation of a consistent and optimal bedtime routine is a feasible and cost-effective method to improve several health metrics in young children and to foster better parent-child relationships as well as overall family functioning. (4)(5)
Moreover, it can have a direct positive impact on the quality of sleep in early childhood, by improving sleep onset latency, sleep duration, and sleep consolidation. (5)
5. Keep the Lights Off
Bright lights can make it difficult for anyone to fall asleep and stay asleep, and the same applies to babies as well. Exposure to bright lights is said to reduce the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleep.
Babies cannot distinguish between night and day, which is why parents have to adopt certain interventions to regularize their internal body clock. The act of dimming or turning off the light to prepare your baby for bed will help him/her associate darkness with sleep.
You can also install a night light to help you find your way through the room for middle-of-the-night diaper changes and feedings.
Baby night light dos and don’ts:
- Ensure that the light is placed at a distance from where the baby actually sleeps, and closer to the areas of the room that you will need access to at night.
- Use a low-wattage light, which enables you to walk across the room without banging into things but is dim enough to allow uninterrupted sleep for your little one.
- Instead of using a cool, blue-hued light, which acts as a stimulant and may also pose a threat for retinal damage, install a night lamp that casts a warm, red- or yellow-toned light.
- Babies often experience nighttime fears or separation anxiety during the early years, which can be allayed to a certain extent by the use of a night light in the bedroom.
- You can easily do away with night lights if you or your baby can function without it. It is supposed to be a sleeping aid rather than a necessity.
6. Regulate the Room Temperature
Keep your baby’s room comfortably warm during winters and comfortably cool during summers, preferably between 16 °C and 20 °C, to promote sound sleep.
Babies do not respond well to sudden changes in temperature, so it is all the more necessary to maintain a consistent temperature setting in their room, which is neither too hot nor too cold.
Moreover, the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) increases if your baby is exposed to temperatures above 20 °C for a prolonged period.
Additionally, exposure to high temperatures overnight can overpower your baby’s internal thermoregulatory system, which is still in its nascent stages. This effect increases your baby’s wakefulness and decreases slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep.
Cold exposure, however, rarely affects the baby’s sleep stages since the use of beddings and clothing during sleep helps with thermoregulation, allowing for comfortable body temperature. (8)
However, some babies may find it difficult to fall asleep under the weight of a blanket or experience disturbed sleep even if they manage to doze off.
If your baby keeps waking up all sweaty and uncomfortable during the night, consider using lighter blankets and pajamas to cover up your little bundle of joy.
Also, blankets should not be used in infants under the age of 4-5 months due to the increased risk of SIDS.
If you notice that your baby is feeling cold, make him/her comfortable by adding an extra layer.
7. Keep a Proper Balance of Activity and Daytime Naps
Babies that remain active during the day will gradually run out of energy and sleep better at night. Thus, it is important to keep the little ones engaged during their waking hours through different stimulatory activities.
You can sing or read to them, talk to them, or play with them. Intersperse this daytime routine with two to three short naps of 20-30 minutes ideally so that the baby does not become overtired.
The balance between activity and rest during the day is extremely crucial in regularizing your baby’s nighttime sleeping routine.
Long naps during the day can be counterproductive, your baby will wake up fresh and re-energized as his/her scheduled bedtime draws closer.
Toddlers, in particular, should not nap for more than a total of 3 hours a day to ensure sound sleep at night, while newborns may be allowed slightly longer siestas.
Babies that are 2-4 months old can sleep 2-6 hours at night. You can start to put them on daytime nap routines, with 3 naps per day in addition to nighttime sleep.
Here are a few easy tips to help your baby sleep more at night rather than during the day:
- During the day, offer your baby visual and audio stimulation by exposing him/her to light and noise.
- Make your baby’s surroundings more sleep-conducive as evening or bedtime approaches by dimming the lights in the room, canceling out any noise disturbances, and generally keeping things calm and quiet in the vicinity of the little one.
- Do not turn on the light even when your baby wakes up at night hungry. Instead, nurse him/her back to sleep while keeping the room dark and quiet.
8. Consider a Pacifier
Pacifiers are called pacifiers for a reason, they help trigger an innate calming response in babies. Infants derive pleasure and comfort from sucking on things, be it their thumb, a toy, or a pacifier.
Babies often start sucking on their fingers while they are still in the warm, cozy confines of the womb, where the soft uterine walls help steer their hands toward the mouth.
Thus, the act of sucking reminds them of their safe space within the uterus after they are born. However, since babies have little to no muscle coordination, they find it harder to put their fingers in the mouth and find solace in a pacifier instead.
What can be simpler than sticking a pacifier in your baby’s mouth when he/she gets excessively fussy.
A 2012 study published in Pediatrics in Review found that the periodic sucking movement of the mouth usually helps the baby doze off and can even reduce the risk of SIDS during sleep. (11)
However, for this intervention to be safe and successful, you must take the following into account:
- For breastfed infants, wait until the baby is well accustomed to a proper nursing routine before offering a pacifier, which should take no more than 3 to 4 weeks. For babies who are not breastfed, there is no harm in starting the pacifier whenever you deem fit.
- While most babies are fond of pacifiers, some may not prefer it so much. Do not force the pacifier on your baby if he/she is not naturally inclined to it.
- Once the pacifier falls out of your baby’s mouth after he/she falls asleep, there is no need to reinsert it as you may disturb or wake the baby.
- Pacifiers that are fastened to infant clothing or other items such as stuffed toys pose a suffocation or choking risk and therefore, should not be used.
Causes of Shifting Sleep Patterns in Babies
A baby’s sleeping pattern can be quite erratic and can go through periodic phases of regression at various ages, but especially during the first year. These “regressions” can be due to normal development, illness, or other causes.
“Sleep regression” refers to a temporary lapse in the baby’s sleep pattern, wherein, a baby who has been getting proper sleep goes through a phase of frequent awakenings and sleep disturbances.
In most cases, the babies outgrow this untoward shift and return to a more stable sleeping pattern within a few days to a few weeks.
Some experts believe these fluctuations in babies’ sleeping patterns are part of their normal developmental process.
The sleep cycle of a newborn alternates between light sleep and deep sleep and goes through these shifts as it evolves to a more consistent sleep pattern like that of an adult.
SIDS and Other Sleep-Related Infant Deaths
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is defined as the sudden, unexpected death of an infant in the first year of his/her life, wherein the cause of mortality remains unknown even after a formal investigation into the circumstances of the death. (13)
As many as 3,500 infants die annually in the United States due to this idiopathic phenomenon, which usually cannot be explained by a complete autopsy, examination of the death scene, and review of the clinical history. (13)
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has outlined the following recommendations to reduce the risk of SIDS and sleep-related deaths: (14)
- Stay up-to-date with your baby’s immunization schedule.
- Mother’s milk is by far the ideal source of nourishment. It is recommended to breastfeed your baby for the first 6 months.
- Do not make your baby sleep on his/her belly or side as it can increase the risk for aspiration, choking, or SIDS. The ideal sleeping position for babies is on their back.
- You can help your baby sleep more soundly by using a pacifier. However, you should hold off on introducing a pacifier until your baby has become completely familiarized and accustomed to breastfeeding.
- Do not bury the baby under multiple layers of clothing or blankets. Do not cover the baby’s head while sleeping, as it can lead to overheating and even suffocation.
- Do not leave your infant unattended on waterbeds, air mattresses, pillows, soft materials, makeshift beds, or loose bedding, even for a short while.
- Always install a firm mattress in your baby’s crib or bassinet and cover it with a tightly fitted sheet to leave no room between the mattress and the sides of the crib, play yard, or bassinet. A secure sleeping space such as this can help prevent entrapment, suffocation, and SIDS.
- You should allot a separate sleeping space to your little one. Co-sleeping is ill-advised, due to an increased risk of SIDS.
- Keep your baby’s bedding tightly tucked, and do not crowd your baby’s crib or bassinet with loose pads, pillows, comforters, or blankets.
- Many commercial devices are sold with the intent to decrease the risk of SIDS and sleep-related infant deaths. However, these devices can actually be counterintuitive and should be avoided.As a parent, you should not buy into the myth that installing home cardiorespiratory monitors, positioners, and special mattresses will help protect your baby from the threat of SIDS.
In fact, these ploys are even known to cause infant deaths in rare cases. It is, therefore, best to avoid using such risky methods.
- Keep your baby safe by placing his/her crib, bassinet, and play yard in a hazard-free area, away from any dangling cords or wires, to reduce the risk for strangulation.
- Ensure that your baby’s sleeping space is completely smoke-free.
- Do not expose your baby to screen devices, especially when bedtime is approaching.
When to See a Doctor
Always consult your baby’s pediatrician before making any major changes to your baby’s sleeping habits, routine, or environment.
Similarly, call the doctor if you notice a sudden shift in the baby’s sleeping pattern as it can be due to an illness, such as an ear infection.
If your baby experiences sleep troubles regularly despite adherence to an optimal bedtime routine, it is always a good idea to consult a pediatrician.
All parents want their infants to sleep well and longer. Babies do not have a sense of day and night. They often wake to eat no matter what time it is. Yet their sleep schedule can be planned, which can help them have a deep and sound sleep.
Sleep training may seem arduous and time-consuming at first, but the task will only get easier once you get into the habit of it. Patience and consistency are the key elements for perfecting your baby’s bedtime routine and regularizing his/her sleep-wake cycle.
Since the child has no understanding of day and night, you have to plan out his/her schedule meticulously to ensure that he/she sleeps and wakes at the right time.
Do not lose your temper when your baby keeps you awake at night as it will only deter him/her from going back to sleep and make the problem worse. Inculcating proper sleep habits can be challenging, but every parent has to rise up to the occasion.
With a little effort, you will find the child settling into a more comfortable pattern, which will ensure restful sleep for not just the baby but the parents as well.
With a few minor adjustments and a little help from your end, your bundle of joy can easily learn to sleep through the night. Expect your baby to protest in the beginning, but soon he/she will get used to the change. Sleep will then improve for everyone.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Candice W. Jones, MD, FAAP (Pediatrician)
It is normal for babies to have irregular or short sleep cycles during the first 6 months of life. So expecting them to sleep overnight before 6 months is not very realistic.
Newborns typically sleep for 16-17 hours per day but usually awaken every 1-2 hours. As babies get older, they need less sleep and tend to sleep longer. In a nutshell, sleep gets better with time and maturity.
The sleep duration varies and depends on the age of the child. Newborns can awaken every 1-2 hours. Some babies around 6 months start to sleep through the night, 8-10 hours.
It depends on the age of the child. For the first couple of months, infants need to be awakened to feed at least every 4 hours. As the baby gets older, you can allow them to wake up on their own for feedings.
The Ferber method is also called “cry it out” sleep training. The goal is to help babies self-soothe by allowing them to cry for a certain amount of time before responding or comforting.
There are many types of sleep training. You may have to try a few methods and see which one works best for your child and also suits your family.
This is a controversial topic that has been difficult to prove either way. However, I do not recommend letting your baby cry for long periods.
Check on them and try to soothe them, but you do not have to pick them up, or do so only briefly to calm them down.
Parents use gripe water to reduce gas in colicky babies. However, there is not enough evidence to support its effectiveness.
In addition, gripe water contains various ingredients and may cause vomiting and constipation. (15)
Babies can cry at night anytime and for any reason, so checking them is important but picking them up may not be necessary. As babies get older, they are more likely to sleep through the night.
When your baby is awake during the day, play with him/her and give plenty of attention, signaling the difference between day and night or awake and sleep behaviors.
At night, try not to overstimulate your baby when he/she wakes up for feeding or changing. If your baby is crying and you are struggling to get them to sleep, try safe soothing strategies.
Swaddle, rock gently, bounce, or pat the back while walking around, take a ride in the car, offer a pacifier, and check to make sure nothing is physically wrong, such as hunger or a dirty diaper.
Do not use inclined sleepers/rockers or other sleep-promoting products that may be unsafe.
There are ways to support your baby sleeping well, such as:
• Swaddle your baby.
• Use a white noise machine.
• Keep the room dark and quiet.
• Establish a consistent bedtime routine where you give a bath, feed, and set the environment for sleep.
• Put your baby in the crib sleepy but not yet asleep. This helps them learn to get to sleep on their own.
Do not do anything unsafe. Your baby should sleep alone, on their back, and in a crib free of bumpers, stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, etc.
About Dr. Candice W. Jones, MD, FAAP: Dr. Jones is a board-certified physician practicing as a general pediatrician in Orlando, FL. She completed her residency in pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, and earned her medical doctorate at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA.
Dr. Jones is a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a member of its Council on Communications and Media (COCM), and a member of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FCAAP).
Dr. Jones is committed to the health and well-being of underserved children and adolescents in areas affected the greatest by health inequalities. In 2016, she launched DrCandiceMD.com, a website focused on kid health education.