Shhhhh - they're asleep!

Shhhhh - they're asleep!

A sleeping baby is a wonderful sight - especially when you're tired.

Untitled Document The busy brain

There's nothing like the sight of a peacefully sleeping baby. But as many new parents can tell you, it's a sight they don't see much, especially at night in the first months of life.

Getting a baby to sleep through the night is a milestone every new parent works towards. Soon, warm baths, fluffy pyjamas and multiple readings of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and other picture stories every night will become part of the whole family's routine, and a cherished household tradition as well.

In the meantime, parents have a lot of questions when it comes to sleep and their baby. The first and most important: How much sleep does my baby need? Here are some general guidelines.

AGE Approx. amount of sleep needed:
Newborn 16 to 18 hours per day
3 weeks 15 to 18 hours per day
6 weeks 15 to 16 hours per day
4 months 9 to 12 hours plus two naps (2 to 3 hours each)
6 months 10 to 11 hours plus two naps (2 to 3 hours each)
9 months 10 to 12 hours plus two naps (1 to 2 hours each)
1 year 10 to 11 hours plus one to two naps (1 to 2 hours each)
18 months 10 to 12 hours plus usually one nap (1 to 2 hours)
2 years 11 to 12 hours plus one nap (1 to 2 hours)
3 years 10 to 11 hours plus possibly one nap (2 hours)

As the table shows, the total day- and night-time sleep decreases rapidly during the first three years of life (from 15/16 hours to 11/12 per day). By this age, the amount of sleep needed varies individually with the baby, the same as it does between different adults (just think of your partner or friends). For example, some 6-month-olds still need 14 or 16 hours sleep, others seem to manage well on 13 hours. If the amount of sleep is much less than this, it is often due to difficulties sleeping and may influence how alert and open to interaction your baby is during the day.

Sustained periods where your baby is awake increase from about 2 hours at 6 weeks to 3 and a half hours at 6 months of age and they are usually in the late afternoon (great for Dads if they are home in time). At 6 months virtually all infants have 2 or 3 naps during the daytime, with only about 50% of infants having more than one nap a day at 1 year. By 2 years, most infants only have one nap, usually in the afternoon. There are cultural differences in how long infants maintain a daytime nap.

And don't believe the common folklore that you are in for a bad time with sleeping if you have a boy - many major studies have shown that there are no differences in sleep amounts and night waking between boys and girls in the first 3 years of life!
Click on your baby's age to learn more about his sleep patterns and on "realistic expectations" of when you can expect your baby to sleep through the night from sleep expert Professor Dieter Wolke.

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Realistic Expectations:

The biggest milestone related to sleeping is the first night (between midnight and 6 a.m.) that your baby has slept through the night. In fact, it often comes as such a shock that you are most likely to wake up anyway and have to check whether your baby is OK.

Some parents have babies that sleep through the night within the first 3 months, others are still struggling at the end of the first year or beyond. So when should your baby be able to sleep through the night?

The baby's sleep structure, that is how sleep is regulated in the brain, is similar to that of the adult by about 6 months of age. Potentially, babies can be taught to sleep through the night from 6 months onwards. It is unrealistic to expect sleeping through the night before six months.

For some babies (they are all individually different) it is harder to get to sleep at night and they need more (but the right) help to do so. They will need a regular daytime and sleeping routine.

Babies that are breastfed do wake more often at night. This is because breast milk has a faster transit time and breastfed babies need more feeds, even at night. However, breast milk, if you can give it, is best. There are tips, such as feeding before you go to bed to stretch the night-time period. In the long run, there is absolutely no difference in the sleeping habits of breast- or bottle-fed babies.


Babies are not born with the ability to sleep through the night. They need to wake often and feed around the clock, including at night, to enable them to double their weight in the first 3 to 6 months.Your newborn baby does not know the difference between night and day. He has to learn it! In general, your newborn will sleep for about 16 to 18 hours out of every 24. A newborn usually sleeps for two to four hours at a time, around the clock, and wakes up hungry.

You can begin to teach your baby the difference between night and day by behaving differently at different times. During the day, talk to your baby more while you feed him. At night, be more subdued and quiet. Also, while you feed at night, do not switch on the light but just use a dimmed light source. Light and darkness and differences in noise and activity are the most powerful factors in building a day-night rhythm. Eventually, he'll catch on and start to sleep more at night-time.

Tip: When your baby was in the womb, your walking motions lulled him to sleep. It's no surprise that your newborn still loves being gently rocked and swayed. Swaddling also helps make him feel "at home". Many babies also find comfort in music.

3 weeks

Although your baby still wakes up to eat during the night, he's probably sleeping for longer stretches at a time, maybe for three or four hours. He'll also start to stay awake for longer periods. Starting in the first 4 weeks of life there is a shift towards an increase of sleep at night and a reduction of sleep during the day

Remember, if you're breastfeeding, your hormones have reorganised your sleep patterns to match your baby's. These hormones may help you avoid sleep deprivation if you give yourself a chance. Nevertheless, quite a few mothers do feel the change in their sleep patterns and find that they just about manage to deal with all the demands. It's important that you try to slowly introduce a clear routine and day-night difference - the sooner you do, the sooner you will get your night's rest. Formula-fed babies may sleep longer because formula tends to stay in their stomachs longer, but in general, their sleep patterns mimic those of their breastfed peers.

Tip: If your baby tends to sleep all day, dozing through his feeds, try waking him up to eat. He needs to learn that the longest sleeping period is during the night. Help him get a little bit more organised at this point by taking him into the centre of family activity at around 4 p.m. Even if he dozes, keep him upright in an infant seat, carrier or bouncy chair. Then give him a bath at around 7 or 8 p.m. This will simultaneously keep him awake and relax him for his long sleep ahead.

2 months

Your baby is starting to settle himself down to sleep, but probably still needs to wake up to eat during the night. Although his pattern is starting to regulate itself, you still need to follow his lead while keeping a clear distinction in lighting and behaviour between day and night. It's too early for a set schedule and trying to force too strict a timetable on him wouldn't be healthy.

Babies at this age sleep a little less each day than they did as newborns, about 14 to 16 hours on average. Your baby will sleep most of these hours at night and will stay awake much longer during the day, although he'll be working his way towards three naps a day. As always, this varies with the baby.

Contrary to what your mother or mother-in-law may tell you, 2-month-old babies don't usually sleep through the night. There are huge differences between babies at this age, but typically a 2-month-old still needs to eat during the night.

Tip: A little whimpering upon waking is normal. Although you should still go to him when he cries, give him a little time (five minutes or so) to whimper and cry. He may settle down on his own.

4 months

The average 4-month-old baby sleeps about 9 to 11 hours each night and takes about two one- to three-hour naps each day. This is a time of gradual transition towards two regular daily naps. On days when your baby has just two naps, he'll probably sleep more or less through the night.

Your baby is now capable of doing a lot more to settle himself to sleep. It's time to establish a pattern of putting him to sleep that will work for him during the night and at naps. Routine is very important to your 4-month-old, so try to make sure things like naps and bedtime happen at more or less the same time and in the same way every day. You don't have to be rigid, just as consistent as possible.

Tip: Your baby will now roll over a bit and will probably move around in his cot. Place him on his back. Consider using a blanket sleeper or he'll often end up outside his covers - and wake up cold. Check the label to make sure it's flame-retardant.

Tip: Put him in his cot awake. Soothe him with your voice or music and gentle strokes but do not take him out of the cot, rock him to sleep or feed him into submission. Babies who have not learnt to fall asleep by themselves can only cry for you when they wake at night - they have not acquired a strategy to soothe themselves

6 months

Everyone's sleep patterns are different and the same goes for your 6-month-old. Special circumstances such as illness or sleeping in a strange bed at Grandma's could affect your baby's pattern; otherwise, his sleeping patterns are settling down.

The average 6-month-old sleeps about 11 hours each night and has settled into two naps of about one to two hours, usually in the morning and afternoon. Almost all healthy 6-month-olds can sleep through the night, with no need for midnight snacks or early-morning conversations unless you want to spend this time with your baby or are trying to keep up your milk supply.

Your baby is starting to get more opinionated, however. This is the last chance to decide where you want him to sleep without him becoming a vocal part of the decision-making process. Developing firm bedtime routines will help him get himself to sleep and stay asleep.


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Tip: Here are a few good habits to help make bedtime easier:

Put your baby to bed while he's still awake. This way he'll have practice of falling asleep in his own bed. If he's fed or rocked to sleep, he'll expect the same service in the middle of the night.

Don't allow any sleeping early in the evening (e.g. after 5-6 p.m.). To make it through the night, your baby has to be tired.

Give your baby a favourite soft toy or "comforter" to help him get to sleep. Although you'll want to keep your baby's cot free of lots of toys, one special blanket or stuffed toy is fine. It'll help him comfort himself to sleep.

9 months

Sleep concerns are very common at 8 or 9 months. Your baby may wake himself up in the middle of the night and then wake everyone else up in the household after previously sleeping through the night. This can put a big strain on parents and make them feel that life with their little one is backsliding.

Babies at 9 months sleep about 11 to 12 hours per night. Just as before, your baby will wake up every few hours all night long. The difference now, however, is that he remembers you and misses you when he wakes up. It is the time when attachments are consolidated and more importantly, your baby has learnt that when he cries, Mum or Dad come and it is playtime. Why can't I have them all to myself at night? If he's used to being rocked or cuddled to sleep, then he'll expect the same in the middle of the night. It's up to you to decide whether you're prepared to go along with this routine or whether you want him to learn to fall asleep again on his own.

Your baby will usually have two naps at this age. Both the afternoon and the morning nap typically last one to two hours. As his parent, you know best how much sleep your baby needs. But no matter what his personal average, he'll sleep less at night if he takes extra-long naps.

Tip: Children tend to sleep longer when they're ill. But adding more than an hour to a regular nap is unusual. If your baby is sleeping more than an hour longer than normal due to illness, consult your GP straight away.

1 year

At 1 year, the bedtime struggles begin. Your baby is so excited by his new abilities that settling down for bed gets harder and harder. He may tease you and try to get you to go and pick him up - and he's so adorable, he's hard to resist! He is also testing the limits - how much he can get away with. Maintain your bedtime routine, though, as this structure will help you both in the coming months.

The typical 1-year-old will sleep between 10 and 11 hours at night and take a couple of one- to two-hour naps during the day. As always, the amount of sleep a baby needs depends on the baby.

Tip: You may notice that your baby's afternoon nap is getting a little shorter, but that he seems content to play in his cot a bit before calling for you to come and get him. Put a few small toys in his cot to encourage this behaviour. But make sure they're not too big - he could learn how to stack them up and climb out of his cot.

18 months

Life is so fun and intense for your one-and-a-half-year-old that going to sleep is the last thing he wants to do. He needs your help to calm down at night so he can get his much-needed rest.

Babies at 18 months typically need 12 to 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours. This is often less sleep than their parents think - and wish - they needed.

Since sleeping needs vary from child to child, you'll have to work out what's right for your child. Here are a few suggestions to help you out:

Your child may soon need only one nap each day. But he will probably need two rest periods, even if one is short.

Many children who are at nursery school or with a childminder might get two naps, even if they don't need them, and some only one. Find out from the nursery how often and reliably your child sleeps. If he gets a lot of sleep and you don't want to deal with a late bedtime or early waking-up time, you may want to talk to your childminder or the nursery staff about changing the amount of sleep your toddler gets during the day.

If you have an older child, he may actually need an earlier bedtime than his younger sibling. This is especially true if the older one doesn't nap during the day. Your baby's naptime is a good chance to spend some quality one-to-one time with your toddler.

Tip: A bottle at night is a bad habit. It's bad for your toddler's teeth and if it becomes part of his routine, he'll always need it to fall asleep, even when he wakes up in the middle of the night. If the bottle at night persists, he will be more often wet at night.

2 years

Your 2-year-old is still trying to bend the rules, and struggles over getting to sleep are common. Your toddler doesn't want to leave you or his exciting day. What to do? Establish rituals and routines for bedtime. It's the best way to encourage good sleeping habits.

Different toddlers need different amounts of sleep. But in general, 2-year-olds need 12 to 13 hours of sleep per 24 hours. Typically, they'll sleep 11 to 12 hours at night, with maybe one nap each afternoon of one to two hours.

Toddlers are good at refusing to go to bed. Being consistent every day about bedtime rules and routines is the best way to teach your child good sleeping habits and make things easier on you. Here are a few tips:

Start winding down after dinner. Slowing the pace for yourself and your child will help make the transition to bedtime easier. Reading, singing and quiet play are better than running around. Dads and their toddlers often like a rough and tumble, but do not have them an hour before sleep time.

Keep the before-bed routine short and sweet. Bathing, brushing teeth and going to the toilet shouldn't take more than half an hour or so. Any longer and your child will start getting wound up and you'll start getting frustrated.

Your toddler will probably refuse to go to bed at least some of the time. Be firm and consistent about bedtime rules.

Toddlers don't need their own rooms. In fact, many children this age sleep more soundly with someone else in the room. Another child between the age of 3 and 5 would make a good room-mate. Older children can usually sleep very well through almost any kind of commotion.

Tip: Leave a book or a quiet toy in your child's bed so he can amuse himself for a little while after waking up. He can't understand the concept of "too early", but you can tell him to stay in his room until the light comes through the window or he hears you say "good morning" (or some other specific signal).

3 years

The average 3-year-old sleeps about 12 hours each day. This usually means 10 or 11 hours at night and a one- to two-hour nap. However, nap times are more variable for 3-year-olds than for 2-year-olds and some are starting to do without one on some days. Your 3-year-old may need more or less sleep depending on the day's events, an illness, changes in his routine, or any developmental changes he's going through. Whatever amount of time your child naturally sleeps in a day is the amount he needs.

Your 3-year-old leads a very busy life, fuelled by his improving language ability and active imagination. At night, these can also set the stage for vivid dreams and nightmares. Between 3 and 7 years of age many children have nightmares and it is a normal developmental phase. You can't and shouldn't want to prevent his wild dreams; they help him deal with the challenges of his day. But you can help him settle down each night by keeping his bedtime routine calm and simple.

Tip: If your child has trouble sleeping without a light on, put a dimmer on the switch and let him adjust it. Praise him as he turns it down and in a few weeks he'll be used to a very dim light. Or try gradually lowering the wattage of a table lamp bulb over several weeks.

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