Sleepless nights are common in new parenthood, but they do not last forever. Most babies will begin to sleep for longer periods at night from the age of 6 months old.
Newborn babies need to feed every few hours until the age of 3 months. After this, it is normal for infants to feed once or twice during the night.
Most infants can sleep for 6–8 hours without a feed by the age of 6 months. Once they are 9 months old, most infants can sleep for 11–12 hours without a feed.
It can be helpful to start to create a routine for bedtime and feeds early. Remember that every infant is different, so be as flexible as possible.
This article will discuss when babies start to sleep through the night and the sleep duration that is normal at each age.
Newborn babies tend to sleep for 1–4 hours at a time. They will sleep and wake during the day and at night. Most newborns need around 17 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
After establishing feedings, a newborn will wake up when hungry and need regular feeds. This spaces out the calories they need and helps them gain weight and grow.
Most infants will begin to develop more regular sleep patterns by the age of 6–8 weeks. They will connect short sleeps into a longer period of sleep.
It takes time for an infant to learn the difference between night and day. By the time they are 4 months old, however, most infants will sleep for twice as long at night as they do during the day.
Sleeping through the night usually means sleeping for 6 hours or more overnight. An infant may wake briefly for a feed and go back to sleep afterward, but this still counts as sleeping through.
It is common for an infant to begin sleeping through the night and then stop. This may be because they are adjusting to new growth or development.
Until they are around 4–6 months old, most infants will need at least one nighttime feed, but they are usually able to go back to sleep afterward. By 9 months, an infant may be able to sleep for up to 11–12 hours without a feed.
Every infant is different, and many things can prevent them from sleeping through the night.
Every infant will need a slightly different amount of sleep, which will change as they grow and develop. Guidelines can help predict how much a newborn or infant may sleep.
For example, the National Sleep Foundation give the following recommendations:
|Recommended hours of sleep
These figures are for a 24-hour period. Most infants and young children will need naps during the day as well as sleep at night.
Every infant is different, and they may not fit neatly into one of these categories. Differences in weight, development, and personality are common, and all of these factors can affect an infant’s sleep.
Most newborn babies cannot go a whole night without feeding. Until they are 3 months old, they may wake often during the night. This may not be at regular intervals, and the pattern is likely to change as an infant grows and develops.
Formula-fed infants often sleep for longer stretches of time and may wake less often at night. This may be because formula takes longer to digest. Overall, however, breastfed and formula-fed infants will sleep for the same amount of time during a 24-hour period.
An infant aged 3 months or older will usually need at least one feed during the night until around 6 months of age. At this point, they may still be settling into the routine of day and night.
Infants aged 3–6 months may associate a feed with sleep. Feeding an infant to sleep can make it harder for them to fall asleep on their own. In time, they may only be able to go to sleep if they have a feed. This can prevent them from sleeping through the night.
Immediate problems that can prevent an infant from sleeping include:
- being too hot or too cold
- adjustments during growth, such as hunger or sleep requirements
Most of these issues should not last longer than a few days, however.
It is common for infants to start sleeping through the night and then begin to wake again. This is sometimes known as sleep regression.
Sleep regression can occur when development speeds up. It can also occur when the infant’s sleep needs change.
Sleep regression can last for days or weeks, but parents and caregivers can usually address the causes of this.
When an infant reaches 3–4 months of age, they may sleep less during the day and longer at night.
An infant should sleep in the same room as a parent or caregiver until they are at least 6 months old. They should sleep on their back and be able to move freely.
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.
When an infant reaches 3 months of age, aim to create a feeding schedule. Try to stick to this schedule, so that the infant adapts and learns to fall asleep without a feed.
It is also a good idea to feed the infant, then put them to bed — sleepy but awake — soon after. Feeding the infant close to bedtime can help prevent them from getting hungry and waking soon after going to sleep.
Slowly reduce nighttime feeds to help the infant sleep for longer periods at night. A parent or caregiver can do this 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
Try to have them not fall asleep while feeding. If they wake in the night, it is less disruptive if they can go back to sleep without a feed.
If an infant is not regularly sleeping through the night by the time they are 6 months old, it may be best to seek a doctor’s advice. Although it is unlikely that anything is wrong, the doctor will check the infant’s health and be able to offer support.
Lack of sleep can be very challenging for parents and caregivers. Try to set good habits early, but be flexible and make changes to routines if needed. Try to rest or nap during the day if possible.
Most infants will be able to sleep through the night with one or two feeds by the time they are 6 months old.
However, every infant is different and will have their own pattern of sleeping. These sleeping habits will change as they grow and develop.
Creating a bedtime routine and feeding schedule can help. Expect some changes to this routine as they learn new skills and start teething.