When Should My Baby Sleep Through the Night?

a mum sitting on a chair with her baby after a night feed wondering when her baby will start sleeping through the night

A look at the research of sleep development to discover when you can realistically expect your baby to sleep through the night

As a parent, one of the most common questions you get asked is “Are they sleeping through the night yet?”

Many people think that all babies should be sleeping through by a certain age (usually 6 months) but actually the reality is that sleep is much more complicated than this.

Understanding the timeline of sleep development can help set realistic expectations and alleviate some of the anxieties surrounding your baby’s sleep patterns. Let’s look at the research to provide a clearer picture of when babies typically start sleeping through the night.

mum and baby sleeping through the night

What does sleeping through the night actually mean?

This phrase can be somewhat ambiguous, and its meaning can vary widely depending on who you ask. For most sleep experts and paediatricians, “sleeping through the night” means that a baby can sleep for a stretch of 6-8 hours without waking up. 

For some parents, “sleeping through the night” might imply a more extended period, such as 10-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep, similar to adult sleep patterns. Either way, multiple studies show that it is common for babies up to 18 months to be  waking several times a night.

mum wondering when baby will sleep through the night

The reality of sleep development

It’s important to remember that nobody sleeps all the way through the night. We all stir briefly in between sleep cycles but usually do not remember it the following day. As adults, we might turn over or plump our pillow and head straight back to sleep. 

However, babies have varying abilities to be able to fall back to sleep after these brief awakenings in between sleep cycles and this often depends on their temperament. Some will be able to do this a lot sooner and start to have more consolidated sleep earlier than others.

What does the research tell us about when a baby will start to sleep through the night?

Research shows that sleep quality is highly variable particularly during the first two years of life but night time sleep often begins to consolidate during the second year.1 Despite common beliefs that infants “should” be sleeping through the night and not receiving night feeds, this does not appear to the reality. 

Here is what the research shows:

  1. Night wakings are normal and common in the first year

  • A UK study of over 700 6-12 month old babies found that nearly 80% woke at least once a night.2
  • Another even larger study of over 55,000 children aged 6-18 months found that over 70% of them were waking up at least 1-3 times per night.3
  • In the large Paavonen et al. study (2020)1, the average night waking was 2.5 times a night at 6 months old dropping to 1.8 times a night at 12 months and 1.1 times a night at 18 months old.
  • Only 22.3% of 8 month olds were sleeping through the night which increased to 63.9% at 18 months and 72.6% at 24 months.1

baby having a night feed and then sleeping through the night

  1. Night feeds are also normal and common in the first year

  • On average babies who are 6-12 month old feed 1.4 times a night.2 Interestingly, the research shows no significant difference in night wakings between breast and formula-fed infants.

 

The effect of development on sleep

There is a lot of development happening between the ages of 6 and 12 months. Babies are starting to sit up, crawl, pull up to standing and sometimes even walking. First words and sounds, starting solids, increased social awareness, separation anxiety and changes in sleep needs are also happening around this time. All of this development can disrupt sleep and mean that your child needs you more in the night.

The good news is that during the second year of life (when your child is 1 year), the research shows that sleep tends to become more consolidated. Many babies can sleep for long stretches at night, with some achieving 8-12 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

baby sleeping through the night at 9 months old

Conclusion

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to when a baby should sleep through the night, understanding normal patterns of sleep and waking for infants can help set realistic expectations. 

Parents are under considerable pressure to have a “good” baby who sleeps though and when their baby falls outside of this expectation, they can feel like a failure and question what they are doing wrong. 

The obsession with babies sleeping through the night is part of the sleep training culture and is NOT based on the research behind sleep development.

The research shows that waking once or twice in the night is normal and common for babies in the first year of life. In my experience as a sleep coach having worked with hundreds of families, a lot of parents are experiencing a lot more waking than this. 

I also find that it is the point at which maternity leave is ending where this very frequent night waking can become unmanageable.

The mistake I see a lot of parents make is that they just wait it out and hope that one day it will improve. The truth I is that there is so much you can do to improve your little one’s sleep without leaving them to cry. 

Through gentle sleep coaching which is based on a good understanding of the science and biology of sleep, it is possible to improve sleep and start getting long stretches of sleep from 5 months onwards.

Would you like some help to improve your baby’s sleep?

If you are currently struggling with lack of sleep and feeling frustrated that nothing is helping your child, you are not alone. I speak to many parents every day in a similar situation.

Even if you feel that you have tried everything and nothing has worked, I’m here to tell you that there’s always a way forward for improved sleep.

As a holistic sleep coach, I can help you firstly work out what is causing your sleep challenges and secondly support you to make positive changes to achieve peaceful nights.

If you would like to find out how I can help your family, please get in touch with me by sending an email or booking a free call. 

  1. Paavonen, E. et al., (2020) Normal sleep development in infants: findings from two large birth cohorts. Sleep Medicine, 69:145-154.
  2. Brown, A., & Harries, V. (2015) Infant sleep and night feeding patterns during later infancy: association with breastfeeding frequency, daytime complementary food intake, and infant weight. Breastfeeding Medicine, 10(5):246-252.
  3. Hysing, M. et al (2014) Trajectories and predictors of nocturnal awakenings and sleep duration in infants. Journal of Developmental & Behavioural Pediatrics, 35(5):309-316