Does Your Baby Follow a Sleep Schedule?

Does your baby follow a sleep schedule

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Every sleep-deprived parent longs for the point when their baby begins to sleep through the night. If the lack of nighttime sleep resonates with you, or if you have questions about your baby's sleep schedule, you are not alone. In fact, 85% of questions sent to baby experts through a phone app assessed by researchers were about sleep, bedtime, and nighttime waking.

This data suggests that not only are parents concerned about sleep but also that they may not know what to expect when it comes to baby sleep schedules. These unknowns create added pressure and confusion for exhausted parents. But when it comes to sleeping through the night, each baby is as unique as their DNA.

For better or worse, sleeping through the night is achieved only after key developmental processes take place.

For instance, babies will start sleeping more when they have a reduced need for frequent feedings, experience melatonin production, develop sleep-wake circadian rhythms, and receive clear social and environmental cues from caregivers. This usually happens by baby's first birthday, when solid foods have been introduced and a nighttime sleep schedule is usually established.

So, rest assured, this lack of sleep that you are experiencing right now is only temporary. As babies grow and develop, they start to sleep for longer chunks of time at night and are awake more during the day. Once this occurs, you will be able to get longer periods of sleep at night too.

The Truth About Babies and Nighttime Sleep

While in the womb, your baby was asleep most of the time and received a steady stream of nourishment around the clock. But all of that drastically changed the moment your baby was born. Suddenly, your little one had to learn how to be awake and eat on their own.

That's a lot for a newborn to accomplish, and it takes time. Eating and sleeping dominate your baby's (unpredictable) schedule as all the developmental changes that they need to survive and thrive in the outside world take place.

As babies burn through calories and nutrients, their hunger wakes them up. In the beginning, this happens frequently, around the clock.

A newborn consumes only about 40 to 80 calories per feeding. This means a newborn will need six to eight feedings per day, on average, resulting in a sleep schedule that cycles every two to four hours—even at night. Sleeping through the night is not only an unrealistic expectation for a newborn. It's an unhealthy one, too.

By the second month, babies can consume 100 to 120 calories per feeding. By the third and fourth month, that rises to 120 to 140 calories. These increases in calories per feed reduce the number of daily feedings babies need and increase their capacity for longer periods of sleep at night.

Keep in mind that these are just approximations, not milestones that your baby needs to reach. If your baby is a month old and is still not sleeping four hours at night, try not to worry. It's important to respond to your baby's hunger cues. Between daytime naps and nighttime sleep, your baby should be consistently getting a healthy amount of sleep for their age and developmental stage.

As a new parent, do your best to resist the urge to compare your baby's sleep habits to others. Every baby develops and grows at their own rate. Don't put the added pressure on yourself to achieve that sleep-through-the-night milestone. As long as your baby is eating well and growing, you probably have nothing to worry about. Your pediatrician can advise you if something is wrong.

What Sleeping Through the Night Means

In addition to new parent concerns, many parents aren't even sure what it means for a baby to sleep through the night. According to sleep experts, sleeping through the night means different things depending on your baby's age. "Sleeping through the night" for a 3-month-old is different from that of a 10-month-old.

Generally speaking, your baby will start sleeping through the night when the natural wake-sleep cycle begins to stabilize. Instead of waking every two to four hours at night to eat, your baby may sleep for five hours at night, wake to eat, and then sleep another two or three hours. Additionally, time spent awake during the day may grow longer.

Sleep experts find that by 6 months of age, consolidated nighttime sleep patterns, which include at least six consecutive hours, are seen in over half of the infant population in studies. And by 9 to 12 months of age, 72% of infants sleep at least six consolidated hours at night.

Keep in mind that to be physiologically able to sleep for longer durations, your baby needs an ability to store calories to fuel nighttime growth processes.

This increased calorie consumption occurs when your baby can not only handle larger feedings but also store fat and carbohydrates. But resist the urge to rush this process and overfeed your baby. If your baby is uncomfortable or experiences reflux, this will interfere with sleep, too.

Another physiological process that needs to take place is the production and nighttime release of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Once this occurs, your baby will start sleeping more at night.

In the meantime, promote nighttime sleep by reducing artificial light, noise, and physical stimulation closer to bedtime. Establishing a bedtime routine and providing consistent cues that it's time for bed also support your baby's ability to sleep through the night. But even though these cues are helpful and important, babies usually don't sleep through the night until they are biologically ready.

Baby Sleep Schedules

If you're like most parents, you long for the day when your baby is on a sleep schedule. After all, your life will become more predictable and manageable when things are consistent. But until that time, it's important to recognize that there are certain milestones your baby will need to reach before that can happen.

And while there are some general timeframes when you can expect your baby to sleep longer stretches at a time, it's important to recognize that every baby is different. For instance, some babies will start sleeping a four- to five-hour stretch at night within the first couple of months, while others may take six months to reach this milestone.

Birth to 3 Months

In the early months of your baby's life, it's important to allow them to set the schedule. Sleep training shouldn't really take place until your baby is at least 3 to 6 months old.

A newborn baby can sleep up to 19 hours a day, although the National Sleep Foundation recommends 14 to 17 hours. This sleep is often broken up into two- or three-hour stretches, waking briefly to eat and then going back to sleep.

By 1 month old, babies may start to sleep for 14 hours a day and will likely have one long stretch in the first part of the night of at least four or five hours, followed by waking up and eating every two or three hours.

3 to 6 Months

By the time some infants reach this age, they are beginning to have more consolidated blocks of sleep at night with three or four naps during the day. In fact, by 3 months or 4 months of age, your baby should be sleeping a total of 13 hours with as many as six to eight of those hours at night.

6 to 9 Months

Infants of this age typically should be able to sleep through the night and take two or three naps during the day. At 6 months, babies generally sleep about 12.5 hours total, with up to nine of those hours at night.

9 to 12 Months

By 9 months, many babies are sleeping a total of 12 hours a day, including about nine hours at night, and taking two naps during the day. Then, by 12 months, their nighttime sleep may have increased to 10 hours at night with one or two naps during the day.

Baby Sleep Averages
Age Range Total Sleep per Day Sleep During
the Day
Sleep at Night
Newborn 14–17 hours Wake every 2–3 hours to eat Wake every 2–3 hours to eat
1 month 14 hours 10 hours or more, with frequent feedings Up to 4 hours
3 to 4 months 13 hours 7–8 hours, naps emerge 5–6 hours
6 months 12.5 hours 2–3 naps Up to 8 hours
9 months 12 hours 2 naps a day Up to 9 hours
12 months 12 hours 1–2 naps a day Up to 10 hours

Baby Sleep Problems

Like the timing of sitting up and rolling over, sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone that babies don't all meet at the same time. A 4-month-old that still wakes up once at night to eat is normal. But if your baby is still waking up two or three times a night at 6 months old, there may be a sleep problem that you can work to improve.

For instance, some babies have a higher metabolic rate, which causes them to wake more frequently. Meanwhile, babies also frequently wake if they are experiencing a growth spurt, teething, or learning to do something new like roll over, crawl, or stand.

In fact, there are many factors that could impact sleep, both medical and non-medical. So be sure to address your concerns with your healthcare provider. While some babies do experience something significant at night that interferes with their sleep—like reflux—you may find that a simple adjustment to the lighting and reducing stimulation is all you need to get your baby to sleep.

Support Healthy Sleep

Getting your baby on a consistent sleep schedule can, at times, feel like nothing more than a pipe dream. But if you help your baby develop healthy sleep habits while they're young, you're much less likely to experience challenges down the road.

  • Learn to recognize when your baby is getting sleepy. Knowing when your baby is tired and ready for sleep is the key to encouraging a healthy sleep schedule. In a newborn, your baby might begin to yawn, close their fists, or bat at their ears. They also might get fussy, frown, have fluttering eyelids, or stare off into space without focusing.
  • Put your baby down when drowsy but awake. Once your baby is about to nod off, try putting them down in their crib or bassinet. This allows your baby to learn that the crib or bassinet is where they sleep. Many babies fall asleep in swings or car seats and learn to rely on motion to sleep. When this happens consistently, it becomes harder to get your baby on a sleep schedule.
  • Allow your baby to sleep during the day. It's not uncommon to believe that the quickest route to get your baby to sleep through the night is to keep them up during the day. But this practice will likely backfire. Cutting back on daytime naps in an effort to encourage nighttime sleep will often result in an overtired and cranky baby, which will set you both up for another sleepless night.
  • Sleep when your baby sleeps. Remember, you need sleep just as much as your baby does. As much as you want to get other things done, it's best for you and your baby if you make sure you're getting your rest, too. Don't feel guilty about napping. Resting is an important part of caring for your baby, especially while they are still waking consistently at night.
  • Develop a bedtime routine. To encourage nighttime sleep, it's a good idea to develop a consistent bedtime routine. Doing so signals to your baby that it's time for bed. It also can be relaxing and help them nod off. Some babies respond well to a warm bath, a bedtime story, and a feeding. For others, a bath might be too stimulating. Experiment to discover what works best for you and your baby.

A Word From Verywell

Babies need sleep to grow and develop. But sleep doesn't usually become consolidated into longer blocks at night until babies are 3 to 6 months old. If you're concerned that your baby is not sleeping enough or that another issue might be at play, check with your pediatrician. The doctor can address sleep problems, offer advice on sleep habits, and make sure your baby doesn't have a medical problem, such as reflux or an ear infection.

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Article Sources
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