Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
52
Sleeping Through the Night
November 8, 2021

Found in age groups

Related Parents' Reports

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep

Buy now

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
Chapter 1 (only 16 pages!) outlines everything you need to know about your child's sleep.

Buy now

Introduction

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.

Blog 52Sleeping Through the Night

Sleeping Through the Night

What does the phrase sleeping through the night mean? You might be surprised that there is no standard or widely accepted definition. In 2010, Dr. Jacqueline Henderson studied three different definitions. Uninterrupted sleeping means that there is no feeding or soothing.

  1. Sleeping uninterrupted from midnight to 5:00 a.m.
  2. Sleeping eight hours uninterrupted between sleep onset and waking time in the morning, without regard to the clock time when the sleep occurred
  3. Sleeping uninterrupted between 10:00 p.m., or earlier, and 6:00 a.m.

Here are her data:

Definition of Sleeping Through the Night

Age (months)  12:00-5:00 A.M. 8 hours straight 10:00 P.M.-6:00 A.M.
3 58% Less than 50%  Less than 40%
4 Almost 70% 58% Less than 50%
5 More than 70% About 60% 53 %
7 About 60%
8 About 80% About 70%
11 About 80% About 70%
12 87% 86% 73%

So at 3 months of age, 58% of babies are able to sleep uninterrupted for five hours between midnight and 5:00 a.m. By 4 months of age, 58% of babies are able to sleep uninterrupted for eight hours. By 5 months of age, 53% of babies sleep uninterrupted for eight hours or more when their parents are likely to sleep. By any definition, more than half of all babies are sleeping through the night by age five months.

Dr. Henderson wrote, “The most rapid consolidation in infant sleep regulation occurs in the first 4 months. This reflects the emergence of infant’s self-regulation and self-soothing capacities [Emphasis added].” A 2015 report showed that about 70 percent of 3-month-olds were described by parents to sleep continuously for five hours or more, but video evidence showed that about a quarter of them actually “resettle”. They wake and return to sleep unassisted. These reports support the idea of using the child’s natural internal sleep regulation machinery as an aid to help your child sleep better during the first 4 months. Because this process of sleep regulation is developing during the first 4 months, there is no reason for most parents to delay and begin to think about helping their child sleep better only at 4 months of age. Starting earlier is easier.

In Dr. Henderson’s study, the average bedtime at 12 months was 8:30 P.M. Based on my research and experience, at 12 months, 8:30 P.M. is too late for many children, especially for those who are taking a single nap (17 percent of children) and for those who have total nap duration of less than two hours (whether in one nap or two). A bedtime that is too late would likely produce a second wind that interferes with easily falling asleep and staying asleep. In my experience, all children who are napping well and have early bedtimes are sleeping uninterrupted through the night by 9 months or earlier. The data about sleeping through the night presented above describe a population of children. But what is most important for you is your own child’s behavior and mood in the late afternoon and early evening, which can guide you toward a reasonably early bedtime and help you avoid unnecessary soothing and feeding in the middle of the night.

My name is Marc Weissbluth and I’ve been a pediatrician since 1973. This baby sleep blog will help you create a healthy sleep schedule for your child. My baby sleep advice and sleep training will teach you how to get a baby to sleep through the night. To stay updated with my latest baby and child sleep blog posts, be sure to subscribe today.

Comments

  1. Marc,

    I have currently read the first 7 chapters of the most recent edition of your book and would have found the definition of sleeping through the night helpful – perhaps something to include in your next edition.

  2. Thank you. Because all infants are up at night for feeding during the first few months and the data above starts at 3 months, this study appears in Chapters 8 and 9 of my book.

  3. I appreciate all your previous help with our son’s naps!
    Our 8 month old (7 months adjusted) has been sleeping through the night (12 hours+, no need for parental intervention) since about 3.5 months. We had instituted an earlier bedtime about 2 months ago, to assist wih his naps, which worked. He self-soothes reliably and takes 2 naps/day between 40minutes and 1.5 hours in length and a variable third nap that is around 30 minutes. He is generally in good spirits all day and does not exhibit a “second wind” or the “witching hour”.

    My current concern is his fragmented morning sleep. He reliably wakes 2-3 times beginning as ealy as 4, but more routinely in the 5am hour. After vocalizing and rolling about the crib, he almost always falls back to sleep, sometimes for 10-20 minutes, sometimes for another hour. Is fragmented morning sleep typical? For the last month or so, he had sleep onset between 5 & 5:30 and got up for the day between 6:30 & 7 after several morning wakings.

    We are in the process of shifting his bedtime later, back to 6 or 6:30. Not sure if we should be getting him up in the 5am hour when he first awakens? Or continue to let him put himself back to sleep, however noisily.

    Thank you,
    Beth

    1. Regarding his fragmented morning sleep, is it possible that ‘street noises’ might be the problem? If so, try a white noise machine.
      I would follow his lead and allow him to return to sleep at 5am when he first awakens because starting the day too early might throw off his nap rhythm.
      Please go very slowly as you shift the bedtime later: If you see any difficulty falling asleep at bedtime, back off; if you see anything resembling a ‘witching hour’ or a ‘second wind’, back off.
      Congratulations on your success. Have you received any negative comments about the early bedtime these past few months? Was it difficult for you or your husband to adapt to the early bedtime?

  4. Thank you! No street noise at that time, and we use a noise machine all night since about 3 months of age. We now follow his cues and depending on the timing of his second nap, determine if there is time for a third. Have not noticed any second wind or witching hour in many months. Have found that a wake period between 2.5 and 3.5 hours prior to bedtime is ideal, with bedtime varying between 5:30 and 6:30.

    We haven’t received any negative comments, but lots of true surprise! We have afriend with a toddler whose bedtime is 9pm, which we now find shocking. We also really love the extra time we have alone in the evening after bedtime. The only difficulty sometimes is timing out the day properly regarding naps.

    Appreciate your help. I also have a video of him from several months ago, when he was winding down before nap time, sort of a 1,000 yard stare and no interest in toys. I believe I read in one of your posts about looking for such a video, is that right? If so, please let me know how to get it to you.

    1. Thank you, Beth. Please send the video to familysleep@gmail.com.
      Around 9 months of age, please avoid a 3rd nap and instead go to an earlier bedtime. Because his night sleep and naps are so good, going forward, you will see less sleepiness in the late afternoon or early evening. But sometimes, real life messes up a nap or naps; then, an early bedtime is better than a 3rd nap.

  5. Understood, thank you! Even now, the third nap doesn’t happen every day. Will definitely move to phase out within the next month.

    Unfortunately, your email address didn’t come through. You can also DM on Instagram with email address. (easternfarmer).

  6. Another related question! I was rereading some sections in your book about how early bedtimes do not translate directly to early wake up times. But at a certain point, does an infant not have a “preferred” number of hours of night sleep? For example if that number is 12 hours, and we put our son to bed at 5pm, can we not expect a 5am wake up?

    We are still struggling with very early wake times, and for the last week he has had a runny nose and is no longer putting himself back to sleep when he wakes that early. He is either up at that early hour (5/5:30am) or I go in and soothe him all the way back to sleep in my lap and then transfer him back to the crib. He naps better and is in better spirits throughout the day when I do this.

    Thank you.

    1. The answer is a bit complicated because sleep is controlled by two processes:
      1. There are two separate genetically controlled rhythmic brain outputs that signals sleep and wakefulness that are well-studied in adults but not well-studied in young children who are taking naps (a circadian process). These processes definitely effect the wake-up time.
      2. The less a parent allows the child to sleep, the sleepier the child becomes (a homeostatic process). This is like drinking less and less makes you more thirsty. This will also effect the wake-up time.
      One idea is to push the bedtime later with the hope that the wake-up time will be later. There is no data, but here is my opinion, based on my professional experience:
      This almost never works in children who have a big sleep need and are taking 2 or more naps per day.
      This sometimes works in children who are taking 1 nap a day.
      This often works in children who are not napping.
      This rarely works in children who are short on sleep.
      This might work in children who have healthy sleep, but it might take several days or a few weeks to shift the schedule.
      My advice to families who have infants who appear well-rested throughout the day but who get up around 5ish is to focus on the awake behavior and accept the early morning wake-ups as a temporary inconvenience. Perhaps a parent can go to bed earlier and cope better.
      For you, having read and thought about these issues, I would add that by protecting healthy sleep for your child, you are enhancing your child’s brain development.
      How does this sound?

  7. Thank you for your thorough response, I appreciate it! I do believe that our son is a very well-rested child, normally taking 2 naps/day and consistent ability to self-soothe. We have been in the process of shifting his bedtime to 6:30pm (as opposed to 5:30pm) so we will continue on this path and hope his morning sleep normalizes in the future.

    And yes, I go to bed exceedingly early as well (8:30pm!) in order to be well-rested even if he wakes at 5am.

    Appreciate your attention to our questions!

    1. You are welcome.
      Please shift the bedtime later very slowly and be wary of cumulative sleepiness. If you note an increased latency to sleep or night wakings, go back to a 10-20 minute earlier bedtime for a few weeks.

Add comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related blogs

These blogs are related or mentioned in this blog.

Stay updated with new blog posts

Get access to free lullabies when signing up!
Get notified when new blogs are posted
Loading
Notify me
About Marc
The first month
The second month
Months 3-4
Months 4-12
magnifiercrossarrow-left linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram