When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night?
Do your baby's sleep habits leave you feeling like a zombie? Be patient—a full night of snoozing is on its way! Learn when babies start sleeping through the night and what it means for physical and cognitive development.
Most parents suffer from sleep deprivation during the first few months of their baby’s life. "Babies need good 'sleep nutrition'—both the right amount and the right quality of sleep—for optimal physical, cognitive, and emotional development," says Jennifer Waldburger, M.S.W., co-creator of The Sleepeasy Solution book and DVD. When and how your baby will achieve good sleep nutrition depends on factors like his age, weight, temperament, and environment, and your family's routine.
The good news is, with a little work and a lot of patience on your part, your baby will eventually snooze for hours at a time. Keep reading to learn when babies sleep through the night naturally, and how the milestone affects development.
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Developmental Milestones and Sleeping Through the Night
Before your baby can sleep through the night, she has to bypass a number of physical and cognitive milestones.
- Decreased startle (or Moro) reflex. The startle reflex causes your baby's limbs to jerk in response to certain triggers: a loud noise, a change in temperature, sudden movement, even a bad dream. If your baby still has a strong startle reflex, her arms may flail and wake her from her sleep. The reflex usually drops significantly and disappears by 4 months.
- Increased feeding and weight gain
- Little or no need for multiple feedings throughout the night
- Increased ability to self-soothe (by sucking on her fingers, hands, or a pacifier)—a skill she'll need to help her get back to sleep if she wakes during the night
What’s more, don't be surprised if your baby picks up other milestones soon after sleeping through the night. "So often, I see babies suddenly begin to roll, crawl, walk, or reach other developmental milestones as soon as their sleep improves," says Waldburger. Inadequate sleep might affect a baby's growth and development, which could cause some delays, so once the baby starts getting enough shut-eye, milestone achievement may soon follow.
When to Expect Babies to Sleep Through the Night
Some babies will start sleeping for longer stretches between 4 and 6 months, but sleeping through the night (more than 8 hours) typically occurs after 6 months, says Danny Lewin, Ph.D., associate director of pediatric sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Babies can better reach this milestone after you eliminate nighttime feedings, which usually occurs around 6 months. It may be delayed for breastfeeding babies because they metabolize breast milk relatively quickly and require more frequent feedings.
Also, just because your baby is capable of getting (and giving you) eight hours of uninterrupted sleep doesn't mean he will. Every baby is different and will do things on her own timeline.
Note that even if your baby has been sleeping through the night for weeks or months, she may still have trouble at times. Some developmental milestones can be associated with disrupted sleep—you may find your baby perfecting her crawling or sitting skills in the middle of the night! To reduce her need for nightly drills, make sure she gets lots of time to practice during the day. Other issues—such as illness, teething, traveling, and changes in the home—may also affect your baby's sleep. Talk to your pediatrician about any concerns you may have.
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How to Help Your Baby Sleep Longer
If you think your baby is ready to sleep through the night, you can do several things to help. Start by putting him down at the proper bedtime for his age—usually 7 or 7:30 p.m. for kids under one, Waldburger says. If your baby is up late, he may become overtired, which can cause him to take longer to fall asleep, to wake up more often during the night, and to wake up in the early morning.
Parents should also create a nighttime routine for children over 4 months old. Babies need consistency to help them feel safe and secure, so don't read a story one night and then skip it the next. And though it may seem easier to transfer your little guy to the crib after he's already asleep, it will make the process more difficult. "After 4 months, put him down fully awake, so he learns how to put himself to sleep at bedtime," Waldburger says. This way, he'll be more likely to do it again if he wakes up during the night.
And finally, remember that consistency is key. The sleep-learning process can take several weeks, depending on the method you choose, Waldburger says. Some common methods include the Ferber method, the "fading" method, the "cry it out" method, and the "no-cry" sleep training method.
It’s important to note that a quiet room doesn't necessarily mean a sleeping child. "There is evidence that infants are often awake for extended periods of time during the night," Dr. Lewin says. This is normal—but if your child is dependent on you to fall asleep, she'll also be dependent on you to put her back to sleep each time she wakes up, Dr. Lewin says.
When to Visit the Doctor
If your baby isn't sleeping through the night by 12 months or by the time he's a year old, talk to your pediatrician to determine if there’s a root cause. Other reasons to chat with the doctor: your baby snores, she has a hard time breathing, or she seems extremely fussy at bedtime and after feedings (which could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD).