Should your baby be sleeping through the night?

The day their baby sleeps through the night is a day all parents long for. So many parents are asking when their baby will sleep through the night that they forget to ask if their baby really should be sleeping through the night yet. Think about it for a moment. Should your baby be sleeping through the night?

For newborns, the answer to that question is obviously no. Until they are a bit older, babies’ stomachs are too small to hold enough milk to sustain them for more than a two or three hours. Not having an idea of what their newborn’s sleep schedule will be like can make parents wonder if their baby is sleeping normally. The same applies to those with slightly older babies. Every child is unique and will have different sleeping patterns. However, it can be useful to have an idea of what to expect. There are also a few ways to help your baby get into a schedule.

Appropriate amounts of sleep according to age

At different stages in their growth, babies need different amounts of sleep. Your baby should be able to perform the amazing feat of sleeping through the night by the time they are six months old. However, being able to do not automatically mean that they will. Thankfully, by nine months babies seem to settle into the habit of sleeping for extended periods.

Sleeping through the night generally refers to sleeping for eight to twelve hours without waking up and needing to be fed. Every baby follows a slightly different development schedule and differences in timing are not too worrying. There are, however, general sleep patterns that can be measured by age that can give an overview of what to expect.

Birth to Three Months

Until they are three months old, it is common for babies to sleep anywhere from fourteen to seventeen hours a day. Every baby is different, and their sleep needs may differ from that of their peers, so it is not uncommon for them to sleep more or less than the average. Fourteen to seventeen hours may sound like a lot. When it is split into two to three-hour naps this amount of time begins to look like a lot less. At this stage, the best way to get your sleep and maintain your sanity is to rest when your baby rests.

toddler sleeping on parent

Photo by Laura Lee Moreau

Three to Six Months  

At this stage, your baby is getting closer to falling into a more regular sleep schedule. Your baby might not be sleeping for the whole night just yet, but you can look forward to five-hour bouts of downtime. After they reach four months, infants usually sleep around twelve to fifteen hours a day. The hours is still broken down into naps, generally with a long stretch thrown in at the beginning of the night.

Six to Nine Months  

The six to nine month period is the time all parents pray for! From six months onwards many babies do not need to be fed at night anymore, and will finally start sleeping longer at night. A few naps during the day are still necessary, but now most of the time your baby spends asleep will be at night.  

Why do babies need different amounts of sleep at different ages?

The answer is simple really. It all comes down to development stages and how much your baby is growing at any given time.

0-3 months

Newborns will spend most of their time asleep in the REM (rapid eye movement) phase. REM sleep is essential as this is when a lot of brain development takes place. Babies learn how to recognise faces and bond with their mother at this stage. If their sleep is interrupted too much during this crucial time, it can significantly impact their development and how they interact with the world.

4-11 months

Social skill development increases notably at this age. Infants can often experience disruptions in their sleep due to their brains being overly aware of social situations around them. Rest is particularly important to their emotional development at this stage. It is vital for them to have a secure attachment to their parent as this leads to them developing healthier sleep patterns.

Sleep gives babies’ bodies the time to put all the milk they drink to good use, pouring it into their physical and psychological development.

Tips for developing a sleep schedule

Distinguish night from day

In the beginning, during the sleep “anywhere, anytime” phase, the distinction between night and day does not matter much to babies. There are ways to help reinforce the idea that daytime is the time to be active and nighttime is the time to sleep, and slowly get them “on schedule”.  Fill their time awake with light, music and talking during the day to keep them alert. On the flip side, make sure that there are a little light and noise as possible during night time feedings to create a calm and soothing environment.

Routine

Creating a pre-sleep routine can also help babies register when it is time to sleep. Bathing and putting on pyjamas before getting into bed will signal to them that it is time to, slow down. Eventually, the routine will become a habit. Putting babies into their crib when they are sleepy but not yet sleeping will also help them recognise that it as a place of sleep.

Don’t keep them awake

It is important to note that one should not prevent your baby to sleep during the day. Keeping little children awake will not encourage them to sleep during the night. Overly tired babies can find it even harder to fall asleep than those that have adequately rested during the day.  The result of this plan will be an overtired baby, and possibly a fair amount of crying.

There are advantages and disadvantages for parents at every stage’s sleeping habits.

The younger a baby is, the less fussy they seem to be about their sleeping environment, provided they have been fed and changed. There is no need to whisper or tiptoe for fear of waking your sleeping newborn. Although they wake up more often, they are usually able to sleep in even the noisiest, brightest places. Often this can be surprising to parents.

It is less astonishing when the fact that a baby has just been in utero for nine months. In the uterus, a variety of sounds make up a fetus’ daily experience. Bodily functions are quite loud. Anyone who has had their stomach grumble during the silence of a test can testify to that! The sound of the mother’s heartbeat and her digestive system are a constant presence in the fetus’ world. There are also many other outside noises that could be disturbing. Somehow, babies spend most of their time in utero asleep!

Make the most of this while you still can. As your baby develops a schedule and becomes more conscious of their surroundings, their ability to sleep anytime and anywhere will slowly fade away. When noises and other disturbances do start mattering, you might discover that you have begun tiptoeing everywhere. At the same time, they start sleeping for longer of periods.

To come back to the original question: Should your baby be sleeping through the night? If they are a newborn, the answer is no. As they get older, you will get closer to the time when you can finally catch up on sleep and regain some of your sanity. Until then it is essential to let them develop at their own pace. Their bodies know what’s best for them.

Trust their instincts as well as your own. If you genuinely feel that something is not right, see a paediatrician. Otherwise, enjoy the time you have with your little angel as much as possible!