Most parents will have asked themselves ‘when will my baby start to sleep all night?’ at some point. It is a question we certainly get asked a lot, but there isn’t one simple answer to that question. Each baby is different and unfortunately there isn’t guarantee for when your baby will start to sleep through until morning.
Whilst we can’t give you a magic answer for when your little one will stop waking during the night, we can help you understand more about your baby’s sleep and answer these questions:
- What does sleeping through the night really mean?
- When do babies sleep through the night?
- Why does my baby wake up in the night?
- How can I help my baby sleep better at night?
What does sleeping through the night really mean?
Before we talk more about sleeping through the night it is helpful to talk a little about sleep cycles and what sleeping through the night means.
Technically speaking, none of us actually sleep solidly all night without stirring. Our nights are made up of sleep cycles which includes phases of light and deep sleep. We all stir and partially or even fully wake between cycles. Some of us won’t remember waking at all, and simply pass from one cycle to the next without disruption. Other times we might wake feeling thirsty, needing to go to the loo or just need to get comfortable and settle ourselves back to sleep.
When babies reach around 4 months of age (Guide To The 4 Month Sleep Regression) the simple awake/asleep cycles of newborn sleep are replaced with more complex phases of sleep. They may fully or partially wake between each sleep cycle and need support to fall back to sleep or settle back to sleep on their own.
How ‘sleeping through the night’ is defined varies depending on who you speak to. Some would class sleeping through as achieving 6-8 hour chunks of sleep, whereas others would say sleeping through the night is from bedtime through to an ‘acceptable’ morning wake up of around 10-12 hours sleep.
It can be helpful to remind yourself that everyone’s definition is different when you hear other parents talking about their baby sleeping through the night and comparing this to your own little one’s sleep. Comparisons can often leave us feeling frustrated or deflated. While it can be hard, we feel it is helpful to focus on your baby’s own sleep journey and how you can best support them rather than comparing with others.
When do babies sleep through the night?
As you might expect, there isn’t a simple answer to this. Some babies naturally sleep through the night from a very young age (even just a few weeks old) whilst others wake for feeds or comfort during the night until they are much older. Neither is wrong and both are ‘normal’.
Your baby won’t always follow guides or ‘expected norms’ but what can you expect sleep wise?
In the early weeks and first months your baby will likely sleep a lot, waking for short periods, feeding and napping throughout the day. They will probably wake regularly for feeds through the night and may only sleep for short periods. In these early weeks, sleep and feed patterns may not look too different across a 24 hour period until they start to differentiate between day and night and start to sleep for longer stretches during the night.
By around 4 months of age it is likely that your baby will start to sleep for longer stretches at night and may need fewer feeds at night. As they grow the amount of night sleep they manage will steadily increase.
Whilst many babies are able to sleep through the night without a feed from around 6 months of age, there is no need to stop night feeds at a set age. Some babies will need a feed during the night for longer and we’d never suggest withholding feeds when your baby is hungry. It is absolutely possible for babies to have restful nights, waking for a feed and then return to sleep again.
You may have seen guidance that says once babies reach a certain age or weight then they don’t need night feeds any more or should be able to sleep all night. There are however lots of other factors to consider other than just age or weight. If you are concerned about how much or how often your baby feeds then reach out for expert support from your healthcare provider or a feeding specialist.
Why does my baby wake up in the night?
There are many reasons that a baby may wake in the night, depending on their age and sleep patterns. It is absolutely normal for young babies to wake often for a feed or comfort.
Even for older babies and toddlers there are many factors that can impact how often they wake in the night:
- Hunger – Some babies feed at night for longer than others.
- Discomfort – Too warm, too cold, scratchy labels, dirty nappy etc. can all lead to wake-ups.
- Comfort – They may need some support and reassurance before returning to sleep.
- Medical conditions – Conditions including allergies, digestive discomfort or eczema can interrupt sleep. If you have any concerns then always discuss with your doctor.
- Illness – Like adults, if babies are feeling unwell then sleep can be disturbed.
- They may have had enough sleep – There is only so much sleep to be had in 24 hours. Sometimes night wakings can be an indication that the balance of day and night sleep needs some tweaking.
- Teething – Teething can temporarily disrupt sleep.
- Developments – Learning new skills such as rolling, crawling, talking or standing can interrupt sleep at times.
- Noise or light – Light coming into their room or noise (such as neighbours, siblings, pets, the heating clicking on) can disturb sleep.
- Needing support to fall back to sleep – It is very common for babies to wake between sleep cycles and need help to fall back to sleep if they aren’t able to fall asleep independently.
Some of these factors are temporary and only disturb sleep once in a while, whereas others might lead to your baby waking frequently every night. Some disturbances pass with time or you may want to make some changes to your baby’s sleep situation to help them sleep more soundly.
How can I help my baby sleep better at night?
We can’t force our babies to sleep for longer than they are developmentally able to or stop them needing feeds at night before they are ready. But there are many ways we can support our babies to sleep better. Some simple places to start are:
- Create a sleep environment that is conducive to sleep – A dark, calm space to sleep in can support great sleep. Make sure the room isn’t too warm as we naturally sleep better in a cooler environment. Safe sleep guidelines recommend a room temperature of between 16-20°C – make sure they are dressed comfortably for the temperature.
- Find a routine that works for them – There is only so much sleep that can happen in a 24 hour period. Well spaced naps, a relaxing bedtime routine and a predictable bedtime and wake-up time can help your little one feel well rested and settle to sleep more comfortably.
- Choose a settling method to support them to sleep – Each baby is different, some feed to sleep and then sleep soundly, whereas others benefit from help practicing how to fall asleep independently. There are different approaches you can take to help them settle to sleep, take time to find one that works for you and your little one.
Want more support with your child’s sleep?
If you would like to learn more about sleep and have guidance on how you can approach achieving a predictable routine and well-rested night’s sleep then check out our online courses.
These are designed to teach you all about how your child sleeps and to provide practical suggestions for settling techniques and routines to work towards.
If you would prefer to speak with one of our consultants for a personalised plan you can find out more about our 1:1 packages here.