Imagining the night your baby will sleep through the night is a milestone many parents look forward to. Understandably so, sleep is so important in allowing all of us to be our best selves while sleep deprivation makes a lot of things in life much more challenging. Unfortunately the question ‘when will my baby sleep through the night?’ is a difficult one to answer.
All babies and families are different and there are lots of factors that play into a baby sleeping through the night. Including what the definition of sleeping through the night is for each family.
(So ignore those random strangers at the grocery story or park that always seem to ask if your baby is sleeping through the night. Because this is a personal question that is honestly none of their business.)
But the good news is that I’ve got the information, tips and strategies to help answer that question that is swirling around in your sleep deprived head. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!
When will my baby sleep through the night?
Unfortunately, this is a tough question to answer with a quick, concise response.
I know you want to hear that your baby will absolutely sleep through the night at six-months-old or that you are only 6 nights away from uninterrupted sleep. I wish I had a magic wand and could make these answers an absolute for you and every other sleep-deprived, stressed-out-about-sleep parent out there.
When your baby can (physically and developmentally) sleep through the night varies based on a few factors. Then when your baby will sleep through the night also varies based on many
Let’s break down some of these factors so you can start to see the light at the end of your sleepless tunnel.
First, the issue of when CAN baby sleep through the night
Health and Weight
If your baby isn’t growing and gaining weight at a healthy pace, sleeping through the night isn’t the priority. But I know as parents, you already know this.
There are many people who say there is a magical weight when babies can and do start sleeping through the night. This is also why many people think starting
The number on the scale does play a factor because it can tell us when baby is big enough to have the energy and fat stores to be able to go long stretches in between feedings. Pediatricians have told me this seems to be between 13 and 15 pounds (about 5.9-6.8 kgs).
Things like how often baby is eating during the day, how much baby is eating during the day, and how they are measuring on their growth curve (you’ll want to chat with your pediatrician about this) all factor in as well.
Babies have a total number of calories they need in a 24 hour period. If we are defining sleeping through the night as 10-12 hours straight, in order to sleep through the night your baby needs to get their total calorie intake during the daytime. This can be hard to measure, especially with breastfeeding parents. You can make sure your baby is staying on their growth curve and their pediatrician has no concerns with weight gain to understand this.
Making sure this item is under control is important so that you can feel confident your baby can handle longer stretches in between feeds.
If your baby is having other health concerns or is sick, even with a common cold, their ability to sleep through the night will likely be impacted.
Newborns are not developmentally ready to sleep through the night from day one. They need frequent feeds to maintain healthy growth, support to help regulate their body temperature and most newborns naturally have more disorganized sleep.
Yes, some babies start sleeping through the night on their own during the newborn period. (I know you’ve jealously heard about this from friends or those random strangers.) These babies tend to be more easy going temperamentally and have regulated their feeding to allow their bodies to get those longer stretches.
(If you don’t have an easy going baby who just starts all of a sudden sleeping through the night, there are developmentally appropriate things you can do to help your baby be on the path to sleeping through the night when they are ready. You can learn more about that here!)
Around 3 to 4 months babies’ circadian rhythms become developed. This helps regulate their sleep-wake cycle, which leads to more sleep at night and allows for more consolidated sleep as opposed to just sleeping, seemingly, randomly around the clock.
Now, the issue of when WILL baby sleep through the night
Sleep Cycles and Sleeping Through the Night
We all sleep in sleep cycles which take us between light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep and back again over and over throughout the night. However, moving between these sleep cycles, often results in brief
Even though you may feel like you could go to sleep and sleep straight for 8 hours (doesn’t that sound delicious!), you really don’t. You will have some brief awakenings that are often so brief that you don’t even realize they happened.
Your baby has those brief awakenings too. So, when we say ‘sleep through the night’, we don’t mean that we stop baby from having those brief awakenings. Because ultimately, we can’t, that’s how our bodies work. What we mean is helping them handle those awakenings just like we typically do as adults, so they are so brief that babies won’t even realize they were awake. We call this connecting sleep cycles so they can sleep for longer, consolidated stretches.
Sleep Routines and Cues
We all learn and get comfortable with falling asleep in a certain set of circumstances. These become sleep cues for our brains and bodies. Falling asleep is vulnerable process so we become dependent on that set of circumstances to easily and comfortably fall asleep.
Think about yourself. When you are getting ready to go to sleep for the night, you probably go through the same basic steps or routine pretty much every time. These steps are what your brain and body know to associate with the transition to sleep coming soon. You are priming your body and brain with this
Think about the last steps of your routine, when you are in bed, shortly before sleep comes. These steps likely don’t involve anyone else doing something for you or to you. They are things you do independently from others. Such as relaxing in a certain position and then rolling into your favorite sleep position as you become drowsy. Because you do this all on your own, when you wake up briefly between sleep cycles during the night, you can get back to sleep on your own because the same set of circumstances that existed when you fell asleep is still present.
Your Baby’s Sleep Routine
Now think about bedtime for your baby. If you are rocking, feeding, patting, bouncing, walking your baby to sleep and then setting them down, you are controlling what their brain and body associates with going to sleep. So the thing that their brain and body associates with going to sleep
Independent Sleep Skills to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night
Helping your baby learn to connect sleep cycles just like we do, often means we need to help babies learn to fall asleep independently. While the actual being asleep part of sleep is very natural and something that cannot be learned, the falling asleep part of sleep is very different.
Helping baby learn strategies they can do independently turns those brief-turned-full-blown-wake-ups back into those brief wake ups that no one remembers because when they happen baby employs the same independent strategies they used at bedtime and are able to drift peacefully back into sleep land.
Learning the Skills to Connect Sleep Cycles Independently
This piece of the puzzle is fairly complex. Every baby and child
(If the thought of defining a plan and then staying consistent with it on your own to allow baby to practice the skill you want to help them learn is overwhelming, there is
One more thing to keep in mind
A sleep environment conducive to good sleep is an important aspect of helping baby’s (and everyone else’s) body be able to easily fall asleep and stay asleep. Darkness is one of the most important aspects in our sleep environment.
Having the room DARK allows our bodies to know that it is time to release melatonin, which is the hormone that helps us fall asleep and stay asleep. You want to avoid electronics in the sleep environment as well because the light emitted from electronic devices has a severe negative impact on the melatonin production that helps so much with sleep.
For more aspects and recommendations to creating a sleep environment that will help baby sleep well, check this out.
So back to the main question: When will my baby sleep through the night?
Your Family’s Preferences
This is where some of your preferences come in. If you are here, I’m guessing you want your baby to start sleeping through the night or at least sleeping longer stretches. This can allow you both
Some parents really love and enjoy the rocking to sleep or nursing to sleep phase, even if it does happen multiple times a night. If this is working for everyone, awesome! There is no need to change anything. (Just know that your baby will likely take longer to sleep through the night since they aren’t practicing the skills that help them accomplish this milestone more quickly.)
Whether it is 6 months, 10 months, 12 weeks or any other time, when you are ready to help your child learn the skills to fall asleep using their own independent strategies is the most likely time that your child will begin to sleep through the night.
Learning to fall and stay asleep independently is a learning process. Everyone has different learning styles, so some babies may need more help or a bigger push in the learning process than others. Some seem to learn the skills without much help or push from their parents. If you’ve got one of these babies, woohoo! If not, your baby may just need some help practicing so that their brains and bodies begin to rely on their own independent actions and strategies as what they associate and rely on to fall asleep.
I’m ready to help baby sleep through the night, now what?
Sit down with your partner or other caregivers and make a plan. You want to make a plan that helps your baby increasingly do the falling asleep part of sleep on their own.
Having a sleep plan personalized to your baby’s temperament and personality as well as your parenting style can be a factor in the level of success you see and how quickly you see it.
It is best to make this plan in advance so you can make sure my 4 C’s of successful sleep training (connection, calm, confidence and consistency) are there. This sets you and your baby up for success. (Unfortunately, those game time ‘this-is-the-5th-wake-up-tonight-let’s-do-x-y-and-z’ decisions to make changes often cause confusion for your baby, leading to more tears and struggle.)
Make sure everyone feels comfortable with the plan and sticking with it. Consistency is a big piece of what your baby needs to really learn these new skills. They need the opportunity to practice. They also need to know what to expect, so changing the plan or deviating from it just confuses them more because they don’t know if they should be practicing or just waiting for someone to swoop in and save them from the challenging process of learning something new.
Real talk: This stuff is hard
Know that it might be pretty hard, difficult or really, really hard. It depends on your baby because change and learning new things are hard no matter what the change is or what the skill you are learning is. No one really loves change and babies are the same. The way babies communicate their feelings about this is through tears. These understandably can make staying calm, confident and consistent with changes very challenging.
If you are worried you won’t be able to stay consistent (because this can be even harder when you are sleep-deprived) or you just have no idea where to start but you know you are ready to start, there is
Sleep is possible, and you and your baby deserve it!
Cheers to healthy, happy sleep,
*Updated March 2023*