When do babies start sleeping through the night?

Sleep is important for your little one’s healthy development, so it’s natural to be wondering how long your baby should be sleeping for each day. And of course, if you’re getting a little frazzled from lack of sleep you’re probably also looking forward to your baby sleeping through the night and wondering when that will be.

There’s plenty you can do to encourage better sleep, but it's important to remember that sleep patterns can take time to become established and vary from baby to baby. They also tend to change as your little one gets older.

Read on for some useful sleep advice, and tips on how to establish a bedtime routine for your baby and deal with some common causes of sleep problems like separation anxiety.

When Will Your Baby Stop Waking Up in the Night?

Every baby is different, so it’s impossible to say precisely when your little one will settle into a day-night routine that’s more or less in tune with yours. In fact, even what you yourself regard as sleeping through the night can vary.

As a parent, you might define ‘sleeping through the night’ as when your baby can sleep long stretches at night and even when your baby can wake in the middle of the night but fall back to sleep without needing to be soothed or fed.

It takes time to get to this point, so you might need plenty of patience in the early months. Your baby has to learn how to self-soothe after waking so that he or she can fall back asleep without crying out for you.

Keep in mind that your baby’s sleep patterns may vary a lot throughout the first year. Getting to the stage where your little one can sleep through the night is not necessarily a linear process, so don’t be dismayed if there’s a setback or two along the way.

For example, a baby might be able to sleep for longish blocks with no issues for several weeks or even months, and then revert to waking up in the night and crying out for attention.

These times can be challenging; but remember that they’re usually a passing phase. In the meantime, snatch as many naps as you can to keep your energy up and don’t be shy about asking your partner, a close friend or relative to help out if you need a little downtime for yourself.

Typical Sleep Patterns by Age Group

Your baby's age is a key factor in when and how long your little one sleeps. The typical scenarios below can help give you a rough idea of how your baby’s sleep patterns could develop, and at what age he or she might start to sleep all night.

Keep in mind, though, that every baby’s sleep routine will develop at a different pace. For more personalised advice it’s best to speak to your health visitor or your baby’s doctor.

Your Baby’s First Weeks: Multiple Sleep Blocks at Night

In their first month or so, newborn babies generally sleep most of the time and wake every few hours, day and night to feed. Your baby may also wake up if he or she is too hot or too cold.

All babies are different, and this is especially true when it comes to the amount of sleep they need. As a rough guide though, your newborn baby could sleep for up to 16 to 17 hours in total during a 24-hour period.

This may sound like more than enough for the both of you, but there’s a catch: This total will usually be spread across about seven separate sleep periods that happen both during the day and night.

This is why this first month or two might seem like the hardest on you, as having to get up several times during the night to tend to your baby will leave you feeling exhausted.

If you can, take naps during the day to help keep your own energy levels up, and try to be patient. It takes time for a routine to develop; but sleeping through the night may not be too far off for your baby and you.

3 to 6 Months: Longer Stretches of Night-Time Sleep

By the time your little one is 3 months old, he or she won’t need as many night feeds and may be sleeping for longer stretches during the night.

By now the total sleep requirement may have dropped a little to around 14 to 15 hours per day, and the number of times your little one nods off may also have decreased to about 4 or 5 sleep periods every 24 hours.

Some babies may already sleep for eight or more hours during the night by this stage; but be patient if this isn’t the case yet for you – every baby’s sleep pattern develops at a different pace.

From around the age of 4 months, your baby may be spending around twice as much time sleeping at night as during the day.

6 to 12 Months: When Sleeping Through the Night Could Start

At 6 months old your baby may no longer wake up to be fed at night, so there’s a chance he or she could be sleeping for stretches of up to 12 hours at night.

Keep in mind, though, that even if regular night-time feeds are a thing of the past, the periods of cluster feeding associated with growth spurts, occasional hunger pangs or other kinds of discomfort – such as teething pain – may still disrupt your little one’s sleep from time to time.

Between 6 and 10 months is the period when your baby starts getting much more active and mobile, as he or she begins rolling over and later learning to crawl.

All these activities could tire your baby out, leading to longer periods of sleep at night.

By around the time of your baby’s first birthday and beyond, he or she could be sleeping for a total of around 12 to 15 hours. In practice, this could translate into around 11 hours during the night, and a couple of hour-long naps during the day.

Just remember that these typical scenarios are only a rough guide, and they don’t mean that your little one won’t wake up during the night occasionally.

Also keep in mind that, depending on when you put your baby to bed, your little one may wake up very early in the morning even after a relatively long block of sleep. This means you, as the parent, won’t necessarily be getting a ‘full night’s sleep’ ‘sleeping through the night’ just yet.

For example, if you put your baby to bed at 7 pm, even after 9-11 hours of uninterrupted sleep he or she could wake up around 4-6 am, which might still be an early wake-up call for you.

Tips for Getting Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night

First, it's important to remember that very young babies can’t sleep through the night, as they need feeds, nappy changes and sometimes just a little comforting.

Still, from about the time your little one is 3 months old there are some things you can do to encourage your little one to sleep for longer stretches at night:

  • Help your baby learn the difference between day and night by keeping things bright and active during the day, but dark and quiet in the night. At night keep feeds and nappy changes calm and quiet.

  • Establish a bedtime routine. This could include calming activities like a warm bath, massage, cuddling, bedtime stories or lullabies. Soon your baby will start to recognise and expect the routine you’ve established and associate it with bedtime.

  • If your baby wakes up in the night, give your little one some time to settle before checking on him or her. If you baby isn’t settled, a few reassuring words softly spoken from the bedroom doorway or a loving pat may be enough. If a feeding or nappy change is needed, keep the atmosphere calm and place your little one back to sleep in his or her cot afterwards.

Baby Sleep Problems: Why Your Baby May Not Be Sleeping All Night

There are many reasons your little one may wake up and cry at night. It’s normal for newborns to wake repeatedly in the night, but even older babies who sleep soundly can change their sleep patterns unexpectedly – for example, during growth spurts or when teething starts.

As your baby gets older, another reason he or she may cry out instead of sleeping through the night is separation anxiety.

Separation Anxiety at Night

After about 6 months of age, your little one might show signs of separation anxiety.

This may lead your baby to cry out for you if he or she wakes up in the night and finds that you’re not there. Your baby is starting to understand how dependent he or she is on you, and that you have gone away (even if you’re just in the next room).

It’s OK to reassure and comfort your child if he or she seems to be feeling anxious at night. Often just picking your baby up and letting him or her know that you’re still there may be enough.

Periods of sleeplessness can be exhausting, but rest assured they’ll pass eventually. If you’re unsure why your baby is crying at night, talk to your health visitor for personalised advice and to make sure that everything is OK with your little one.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • At 3 months old, some babies may sleep up to 8 hours at night, but all babies’ sleep patterns develop differently so don’t worry if your little one hasn’t reached this milestone yet. It’s only a matter of time!
  • Your 2-month-old baby probably won’t sleep through the night just yet, because he or she still needs frequent feeding and nappy changes.

    After about 3 months of age your little one may start to need fewer night feeds and sleep longer during the night.
  • It might take time, but here are some things you can start trying – once your little one is at least 3 months old – to help your baby sleep through the night:
    •Keep things bright and active during the day but dark and quiet in the night
    •Establish a bedtime routine for you baby
    •If your baby wakes in the night, a few soothing words or a loving pat may be enough to comfort your little one
    •If your baby needs a nappy change or feed in the middle of the night, try to do these as quickly and as calmly as possible.

Sleeping through the night is a milestone that your child will eventually reach. It takes time and patience on your part, along with maintaining the kind of environment that encourages your little one to sleep for longer blocks of time during the night.

Though you may be feeling a little frazzled and sleep-deprived at the moment, this period of sleepless nights will eventually pass. Hang in there!

How we wrote this article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.