As a new parent, that’s probably one of your biggest questions. Of course, every child is different — some need up to two hours more or less sleep than others. Newborns may sleep 16-17 hours per day. Preschoolers and young elementary school students still need up to 10 or 11 hours of sleep a night, but that amount will gradually diminish. By the time he’s a teenager, your child will need only about eight or nine hours of sleep each night. Eventually your child will stop napping and start doing all of his sleeping at night, but this is not always a smooth process. And exhausted parents make for stressful homes. Learning to fall asleep is a skill that parents can teach their children. From the beginning, make sure you pay attention to the sleeping environment. Make sure it is dark, the room temperature is comfortable, and insure it is quiet and there are no distractions.
Birth to 3 months
Newborns sleep a lot – typically up to 17 hours a day- but most babies don’t sleep for more than two to four hours at a time, day or night, during the first few weeks of life. Babies spend more time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep than adults, which is thought to be necessary for the extraordinary development happening in their brain. REM sleep is lighter than non-REM sleep, and more easily disrupted. This could result in a very irregular – and tiring – schedule for you. You will need to respond to your newborn’s cues, so you’ll probably be up several times during the night to change, feed, and comfort her.
At 6 to 8 weeks of age, most babies begin to sleep for shorter periods during the day and longer periods at night, though most continue to wake up to feed during the night. Somewhere between 4 and 6 months, experts say, most babies are capable of sleeping up to 12 hours through the night. Some infants sleep for a long stretch at night as early as 6 weeks, but some continue to wake up at night into toddlerhood. You can help your baby get there sooner, if that’s your goal, by teaching him good sleep habits from the start.
Here are some tips for helping your baby settle down to sleep:
- Learn the signs that mean he’s tired.
For the first six to eight weeks, most babies aren’t able to stay up much longer than two hours at a time. If you wait longer than that to put your baby down, he may become irritable and have trouble falling asleep. Watch your baby for signs that he’s tired. Is he yawning, rubbing his eyes, frowning frequently, pulling on his ear, hiccupping, or being more fussy than normal? If you spot these or any other signs of sleepiness, try putting him down to sleep. You’ll soon understand your baby’s daily rhythms and patterns, and you’ll know instinctively when he’s ready for a nap.
- Begin to teach him the difference between day and night.
Some infants are night owls. For the first few days you won’t be able to do much about this. But once your baby is about 2 weeks old, you can start teaching him to distinguish night from day. When he’s alert and awake during the day, interact with him as much as you can, keep the house and his room light and bright, and don’t worry about minimizing regular daytime noises like the phone, music, or dishwasher. If he tends to sleep through feedings, wake him up. At night, don’t play with him when he wakes up. Keep the lights and noise level low, and don’t spend too much time talking to him. Before long he will figure out that nighttime is for sleeping.
- Start a bedtime routine.
It’s never too early to start trying to follow a bedtime routine. It can be something as simple as getting your baby changed for bed, singing a lullaby, and giving him a kiss goodnight.
- Give him a chance to fall asleep on his own.
By the time he’s 6 to 8 weeks old, you can start giving your baby a chance to fall asleep on his own. Put him down when he’s sleepy but still awake. Rocking your baby to sleep can create habits and expectations that rocking is required in order to sleep. Some parents choose to rock or nurse their babies to sleep anyway because they believe it’s normal and natural, they enjoy it and their baby is sleeping well, or simply because nothing else seems to work.
3 to 6 months
At 3 months, most babies sleep a total of 15 hours a day, including nighttime sleep and naps. Typically, by age 4 months or so, babies have started to develop more of a regular sleep/wake pattern and have dropped most of their night feedings. If you’d like to help your baby sleep longer at a stretch and keep more regular hours, this might be a good time to try some type of sleep training. Keep in mind that every baby is on a unique developmental schedule. Observe how your child reacts to sleep training, and if she doesn’t seem ready, slow down and try again in a few weeks.
Sleeping through the night
At some point between 4 and 6 months, most babies are capable of sleeping through the night. If your baby isn’t yet sleeping 8 hours straight, you’re not alone. Many babies still wake up more than once at night for feedings in the 4- to 6-month stage. But by 6 months, if not before, your baby’s likely to be ready for night weaning.
Waking up again
Babies who’ve slept through the night for weeks or months may start to wake up – so don’t be surprised if you’re suddenly getting up every couple of hours again. She may be increasingly socially aware and wake up crying for your company. Or she may be working so hard to master new skills, like rolling over or sitting up, that she practices in her sleep and wakes herself up.
Here are some tips for helping your baby sleep well at this age:
Establish a set bedtime and regular nap times – and stick to them. Of course your household routine will influence her sleep schedule, too. Choose a reasonable bedtime that suits your family’s schedule and stick to it as much as possible. If your baby seems to want to stay up past bedtime, consider that energetic behavior late at night can be a sign that a child is tired. You can start to plan naps for a specific time every day, too, such as at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. Or you can just put your baby down about two hours after she last woke up. As long as she’s getting enough opportunities to sleep, either approach is fine. If your baby’s having a hard time getting to sleep or staying asleep, whether during naps or at night, try putting her down sooner. Being too tired can make it hard to settle down and get restful sleep.
Begin to develop a bedtime routine
If you haven’t already done so, now would be a good time to start a bedtime routine. This can include any or all of the following: giving your baby a bath, getting her changed for bed, reading a bedtime story or two, singing a lullaby, and giving her a kiss goodnight. Whatever routine works for your family is fine, as long as you do it in the same order and at the same time every night. Babies thrive on consistency.
Wake your child in the morning to set her daily clock
It’s fine to wake your baby up in the morning if she’s sleeping past her usual waking time, to help set her daily clock. Your baby needs to follow a regular sleep/wake pattern and recharge with naps during the day. Waking her up at the same time every morning will help keep her on a predictable sleep schedule.
Encourage your child to fall asleep independently
All of us, babies and adults alike, wake up several times every night for brief periods (anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes). As adults, we put ourselves back to sleep each time – and we don’t even remember doing it.
The ability to get back to sleep is the key when it comes to snoozing through the night. Some babies seem to do this naturally. But if your baby doesn’t, it’s a skill she’ll have to master. One way to get her started is to put her down when she’s drowsy but awake.
If your baby needs more help and you think she’s ready, you can try a more involved method of sleep training. Your options include various no-cry and cry-it-out techniques. What will work best for you depends on your parenting style, your personal beliefs, and your child’s particular needs.
6 to 9 months
By age 6 months, most babies sleep a total of 14 hours a day (between nighttime sleep and naps) and are capable of sleeping for long stretches at a time.
Ready for sleep training
If your baby hasn’t yet settled into a sleep pattern that fits your family life, now might be a good time to try some type of sleep training. Sleep training methods can help your baby go to sleep more easily, sleep for longer periods at night, and keep more regular hours.
Sleeping through the night
If your baby now sleeps for nine or ten hours at night, it means he’s figured out how to settle back to sleep. But if your baby isn’t yet sleeping at least five or six hours straight, you’re not alone. Many babies still wake up at night for feedings in the 6- to 9-month stage – though most are ready for night weaning. Babies this age don’t necessarily wake up because they’re hungry. We all wake up several times every night for brief periods of time. And as adults, we put ourselves back to sleep each time so quickly we don’t remember it in the morning. If your baby hasn’t mastered this skill, he’ll wake up and cry during the night even if he’s not hungry.
Waking up again
Sleep disturbances often go hand-in-hand with reaching major milestones in cognitive and motor development and with separation anxiety. At 6 to 9 months, your baby may be learning to sit up, crawl, or possibly even walk! It is not surprising, he may not want to stop practicing his new skills at bedtime and may get so excited that he’ll wake up to try sitting up just one more time. Separation anxiety could also be the cause of your baby’s wake-up calls. Waking up and finding you not there may cause some distress. But he’ll probably calm down as soon as you enter the room.
Here are some tips for helping your baby sleep well at this age:
Develop and follow a bedtime routine
Whether your routine includes giving your baby a bath, playing a quiet game, getting your child ready for bed, reading a bedtime story or two, or singing a lullaby, make sure you do it in the same order and at the same time every night. Babies like having routines and schedules they can count on.
Keep your child on a consistent schedule
You’ll both benefit from having a daily schedule that includes set times for bed and naps. If your baby naps, eats, plays, and gets ready for bed at about the same time every day, he’ll be much more likely to fall asleep easily.
Encourage your child to fall asleep on his own
To nap well and sleep through the night at this age, your baby has to learn to fall asleep on his own. Try putting him down before he nods off so he can practice falling asleep on his own. If he cries, wait at least a few minutes to see if he’s really upset or just fussing before settling down.
Try putting him to bed earlier
If your baby’s used to going to sleep after 8:30pm but sometimes can’t wind down, try putting him to bed a half-hour earlier. It could be that he’s overtired and you may find having him go to sleep sooner and will help him sleep more soundly.
9 to 12 months
At 9 months, babies typically sleep about 14 hours a day, including a nap several times a day for one to two hours at a time. If your baby’s still waking up at night for feedings, she’s probably ready for night weaning. This is a time to continue working on the techniques you and your baby learned in the first nine months, including:
Stick to a consistent bedtime routine. Make sure your baby finds the routine soothing. Children thrive on consistency and feel more secure when they know what to expect. Also, start your bedtime routine at a reasonable hour so she’s not overtired, which may make it harder for her to get to sleep.
Make sure your baby has a regular schedule.
Give your child plenty of chances to fall asleep on her own. If you want your baby to sleep independently, she needs opportunities to practice this important skill. Instead of nursing or rocking her to sleep, let her practice falling asleep on her own by putting her in bed when she’s relaxed and drowsy. Otherwise she’ll probably cry when she wakes up during the night and need your help to drop off again