How to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night

Babies aged 4 to 12 months require 12 to 16 hours of sleep, but much of this sleep is obtained during short daytime and nighttime naps. Understandably, many new parents look forward to the day when their baby starts sleeping through the night. We discuss why babies wake up at night and how to help your baby sleep through the night when the time is right.

Why Do Babies Wake Up at Night?

While babies need more sleep than adults, they sleep in multiple shorter periods throughout the day and night. A baby’s sleep-wake rhythm does not start to stabilize in line with day and night until the age of 10 to 12 weeks, although some babies may take longer than others. For the first year of life, multiple factors may contribute to a baby’s nighttime awakenings.

Hunger

Newborn babies must wake up to eat frequently throughout the day and night.  They may start to sleep for longer intervals once they start transitioning to solid foods, which happens for many babies between the age of 6 and 12 months.

There is a common misconception that feeding a baby more during the day helps them sleep through the night. However, studies show almost 80% of babies who consume more calories during the day still wake up during the night, even if they do not feed on these occasions.

When your baby wakes for food during the night, keep the lights and your voice very low and put them back to bed once they are done feeding.

Noise

External noise from busy streets or household activities can keep babies from falling and staying asleep. Try to reduce noise within the home as much as possible when the baby goes to sleep. For those who live on a busy street, having the baby sleep in an internal room may help reduce noise from the street.

Discomfort

A baby may be experiencing discomfort while in their crib that is preventing them from sleeping. Discomfort may spring from a dirty diaper, indigestion, or being too cold. To make your baby more comfortable, set an appropriate temperature for the room and check your baby’s diaper for diaper rash or to see if it needs to be changed.

If your baby cries for attention, you can soothe them using various methods, such as patting their head or holding and rocking them. However, leaving them in the crib may have the additional advantage of teaching them to self-soothe.

Teething

As babies grow older, they start to develop teeth to help them transition from liquid to solid food. Teething usually starts between 6 to 8 months and can last up until the child is about 2 1/2 years old. Teething is usually an uncomfortable process, and this can impact a baby’s sleep.

When Do Babies Start to Sleep Through the Night?

Babies may start to sleep for 6 to 8 hours consecutively each night as early as 5 or 6 months old. However, every child is different, and some babies may not start to sleep for extended periods until much later.

Tips for Getting Your Baby Sleep Through the Night

There are many ways to help a baby sleep better through the night. Consistent bedtime routines, a set sleep schedule, and sleep training are just a few ways to support a baby’s sleep.

Regular Bedtime Routine

A regular bedtime routine can signal to your baby that it is time to slow down and get ready for sleep. Studies find that babies who have a consistent bedtime routine tend to fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, and wake less frequently throughout the night.

Bedtime routines should consist of calming activities performed in the same order every night. Some examples of bedtime routine activities include:

  • Cuddling
  • Massage
  • Taking a bath
  • Singing a lullaby
  • Nursing

Consistent Sleep Schedule

At first a baby’s sleep schedule is governed by feeding times, but starting around the 4-month mark, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule with regular bedtimes may help a baby obtain adequate sleep.

Start Sleep Training

If your baby struggles to fall asleep without you present or wakes up crying frequently, it might be time to start sleep training. Sleep training methods often center around allowing the baby to cry for a certain period of time before tending to them.

It is normal for young infants to wake multiple times during the night. By learning to self-soothe, babies become better-equipped to go back to sleep on their own during these times. Sleep training has also been shown to help improve parents’ mood and mental health.

The most common sleep training approach involves putting the baby down when they are sleepy and exiting the room. When the baby starts crying, wait 2 to 5 minutes before responding. The next time, wait 5 to 7 minutes. Continue to slowly increase the response time until the baby learns to self-soothe. Some parents may prefer the cry-it-out method, in which the infant is allowed to cry until they fall asleep on their own.

If you find it distressing to listen to your baby cry, there are other methods of sleep training that may fit better with your family. Make sure you and your partner are on the same page with sleep training before you start.

Daytime Activity

Higher levels of light and noise during the day can help babies learn to distinguish day and night. Parents may also find it helpful to reinforce patterns of more activity during the day and less activity at night.

One important daytime activity is tummy time, where the infant lies on their stomach for increasing amounts of time each day. This helps them strengthen the muscles in their neck and shoulders. Tummy time must occur while the baby is awake, and it must be supervised by an adult. Preliminary research links tummy time to longer sleep at night.

When to Talk to Your Doctor

It is normal for sleep patterns to evolve as your baby grows. However, it is important to maintain ongoing communication with your pediatrician and voice any concerns you may have about your baby’s sleep or other milestones.

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!