This is probably the most searched question on Google.
When on Earth will everyone finally get some SLEEP?!
Here’s the deal, I like to make the advice I give realistic. No false promises here! There ARE steps we can take to help your baby get more consolidated sleep, and there are average ages when babies start sleeping longer stretches at night, but please don’t think there is something wrong with you or your baby if they do not follow these averages.
This is a topic that I have put off writing for a long time because it’s topics like these that make parents feel like it’s their fault that their baby isn’t sleeping through the night. That is never my goal: you are a GOOD parent!
Okay, with that being said, let’s get into it.
Define sleeping through the night
Everyone has different definitions of this! For the purpose of this blog, I consider sleeping through the night to be sleeping 10-12 hours at night without needing an intervention from a parent. While this may seem like a lot of sleep, all children under 5 years of age need approximately 10-12 hours of sleep at night – so this would actually be totally appropriate!
So when is the magic age?
The short answer is that it can vary! But I do have some averages for you!
As you can see, there is quite a wide range of when babies can begin sleeping through the night: anywhere from 6 months to 2 years. The ages above certainly don’t represent every baby either! While these are the most common trends that I have personally witnessed in my work, your baby may fall outside of these trends. You might be wondering why this varies so drastically! Well, each baby is different and there are several factors at play here!
Factor #1: Temperament
Several factors contribute to when your child sleeps through the night, but temperament plays a big role! Believe it or not, temperament starts to form that moment your child is born!
We all have that friend whose baby slept 12 hours a night starting at 2 weeks old. The last thing I want you to do is try to make YOUR baby like HER baby. You are setting yourself up for a whole bunch of frustration and disappointment, most likely because your baby has a completely different temperament than her baby!
According to researchers Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess, there are nine different temperament traits: Activity, regularity, initial reaction, adaptability, intensity, mood, distractibility, persistence, and sensory threshold. Each of these factors could certainly impact whether or not your child sleeps through the night early on or not, but here are three factors that I feel heavily impact this:
Activity Level: I know you all have seen children who literally can NOT sit still. These children have HIGH activity needs. Their parents often describe them as “off the walls!” Children with higher activity needs may have quite a bit of trouble staying still or settling into sleep. They may even skip naps altogether if they have not had enough opportunities to move their body during the previous wake window! On the other end of the spectrum, low activity level children may be able to spend most of their wake window in a baby carrier or in a stroller and will STILL sleep great that night.
Regularity: This trait determines if your child is naturally more on the spontaneous side or the predictable side with their habits. Some babies literally eat, sleep, and even poop around the same exact time every day! Other babies feel completely unpredictable in their patterns! I have found that babies who are more on the spontaneous side may take longer to sleep through the night. They simply don’t fall into a consistent circadian rhythm as quickly and it can be much harder to predict and read their sleepy cues!
Response to new things: Here’s a summary of the most common message I get on Instagram, “Sleep was going well, then XYZ happened and now sleep is all over the place!” The “XYZ” factor could be related to almost anything: Sleep regressions, teething, moving to their own room, moving to a toddler bed, starting daycare, etc. Some children are very go-with-the-flow. They will dive right in without hesitation when confronted with a new situation. Other children are more naturally hesitant, and ANY change may throw off their routines.
Remember, there is no right or wrong temperament here! Even as newborns, our little humans have their own personalities and preferences, so don’t make yourself miserable by comparing your baby to someone else’s!
Factor #2: Sleep Training
Learning to fall asleep independently has a big impact on when your baby will sleep through the night. Does this mean that some babies will sleep through the night without any sleep training? Absolutely! Remember – temperament plays the biggest role here!
That said, sleep training can have a big impact. And this doesn’t mean leaving your child to “cry it out” (although it can). Sleep training is simply the process of teaching your baby how to initiate sleep independently. Learning this skill can help your child connect their sleep cycles better throughout the night!
Keep in mind, your child does not need to fall asleep independently from day one. In fact, it may feel near impossible to keep your newborn from falling asleep in your arms when they are tiny! Enjoy those contact naps! Sleep training is much more appropriate and impactful when completed between 4-6 months of age.
That being said, there are lots of great baby steps we can take toward those independent sleep skills in the newborn phase! If you have not already, check out my newborn guide
The best part? Sleep training works! Research suggests that sleep-trained babies showed a statistically significant reduction in maternal reports of infant sleep problems at 10 months and 2 years! To top it off, there was also a 7% reduction in mothers with depression. If we sleep better, we feel better!
Don’t want to sleep train? You don’t need to feel guilty about that either. By five years there were no differences between children who were sleep trained and children who were not. Whether you choose to sleep train or not, there is no need to feel guilty! (Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22966034/)
Factor #3: Night Weaning
Most babies continue to need a feed (or 2) through six months of age. If you do not intentionally night wean, then many babies will continue to wake for a night feeding up through 9-12 months of age. While more rare, this can continue up until 18-24 months.
Without independent sleep skills, your child may naturally wake much more often for night feedings. This is common for babies who are used to connecting their sleep cycles through feeding. If your child needs help to connect their sleep cycles then you may notice them wake around 4-5 hours after bedtime, and then every 2 hours after that until morning.
Factor #4: Physical Health Factors and Neurodivergence
There are countless physical health factors that can contribute to night wakings. While I am not a medical professional, there are a few medical conditions that I routinely screen for before I work with a client. Here are some of the most common ones:
(None of this information is medical advice and any concerns should be brought immediately to the attention of your pediatrician!)
1. Low weight gain: Some babies have a much quicker metabolism than others and they may need to hold onto those nighttime feeding sessions for a bit longer! If your baby has dropped in their growth curve then it may be wise to hold off on night weaning. Keep in mind that dropping in their growth curve does NOT mean that they have a lower weight percentage. Your baby may be in the 4th percentile and perfectly healthy! If they have stayed in the 4th percentile, then there is typically no reason to worry, you just have a smaller baby! However, if your baby was in the 40th percentile and dropped down to the 20th percentile, then this would indicate significant weight loss for their size, and sleep training would not be appropriate at this time. Instead, let’s focus on getting those calories in!
2. Cows Milk Protein Allergy: A milk protein allergy can really disrupt sleep! It can cause all sorts of tummy troubles. Often parents of babies who have an allergy like this might just think their baby is really grumpy! The reality is, their baby may be dealing with an upset tummy for the majority of the day (and night!). Babies will this allergy will wake often and become VERY upset. Other symptoms may include vomiting, colic, diarrhea, constipation, a runny nose, or congestion. They may also have blood or mucus in their stool.
3. Obstructive Sleep Apnea: Sleep apnea can affect 3-6 percent of children. It can restrict the amount of oxygen that your child gets during sleep and can cause several wakings throughout the night. Symptoms of obstructive sleep apnea in children include: restless sleep, snoring, snorting, pauses in breathing, gasping for air, mouth breathing, reoccurring respiratory infections, and sweating during sleep.
Likewise, children who are neurodivergent may experience an array of sleep disruptions. For example, children on the autism spectrum may experience trouble falling asleep, more wakings throughout the night, early morning wakings, or they may have lower sleep needs in general.
Those with ADHD may have trouble transitioning to sleep and are at higher risk of obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.
Long Story Short:
I can’t give you one answer as to when your child will sleep through the night, and I know that might feel disappointing. I CAN tell you that by working on your child’s sleep hygiene we can improve the likelihood of them sleeping better at night. If you are ready to take those next steps then let’s book a call to chat and help everyone get better sleep!
Edited by: The miraculous Emily Schafer