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

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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.

  8. Hi Dr Weissbluth,

    Our daughter is just 8 months. She naps around 9am for 40 to 60 minutes. And then around 12:30pm for around an hour. We were putting her to bed for the night between 6 and 6:15pm and she would wake up between 1 and 2am for up to an hour and sometimes crying so we would then take her out of her crib and console her. And then she would be up again at 5am and would sometimes fall back asleep after 45 minutes for another hour.

    Since 3 nights we have been putting her to bed at 5:30pm hoping that it would help but she is still waking up between 1 and 2am for up to an hour, however now she doesn’t cry but chats and makes noises then falls back asleep on her own. She is then up again around 5am for up to an hour and then sometimes falls back asleep to 7am.

    How can we get her out of the habit of waking up at between 1-2am and then again at 5am?

    She gets a bottle of milk when we put her down for the night and then a dream feed at 9pm.

    Thanks so much for your help,
    Astrid

    1. For naps and bedtime, does she self-soothe? Are you putting her down drowsy but awake and leaving the room?
      Because “Since 3 nights we have been putting her to bed at 5:30pm hoping that it would help but she is still waking up between 1 and 2am for up to an hour, however now she doesn’t cry”, it appears that the early bedtime is helping. The fact that she is able to return to sleep unassisted in the middle of the time should give you confidence that you are on the right track, so please stay the course.
      Dream feeds are bogus, please stop.
      Please share your thoughts.

  9. Yes, she self soothes. I try to put her down when she’s drowsy but I find it hard to catch those signs so sometimes it might be a bit after. I put her in her crib and leave the room and she’ll cry for 3 minutes sometimes and then self soothe herself to sleep. Should I try to put her to bed at night at 5:20pm or should I stay with 5:30? Thanks for your help

    1. Please look at and have your husband also look at Blog Posts 9, 83, and 115X. Today and this week-end, if possible, be extra meticulous to watch for drowsy signs. Thus, you might shorten the interval of wakefulness between the naps and also have a slightly earlier bedtime as you suggested. Then, on Monday, let me know if this made a difference in her sleeping.

  10. Hi Dr Weissbluth, I read your three blogs you recommended. I put our daughter down for her naps earlier, Friday and Saturday she slept an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. And I put her to bed at 5:20pm and she slept all night until 6am, both Friday and Saturday. However, on Sunday she slept for 1 hr 15 in the morning and 1 hr 30 in the afternoon and then I put her to bed at 5:25pm but she cried for a bit and then went back to her old habit of waking up at 1am and then at 5am. Do you know why that would be?

  11. At 1am she woke up and was making noises and moving around but didn’t cry. She fell back asleep on her own after 20 minutes or so. At 5am she woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep on her own so was getting annoyed. I then took her out and she fell back asleep on me for an hour.

    1. My suggestion is to consistently ignore non-distress sounds in the middle of the night because she has great self-soothing skills: “At 1am she woke up and was making noises and moving around but didn’t cry. She fell back asleep on her own after 20 minutes or so.”

      Early in the morning, around 4-5am, she might need a quick diaper change or feeding. If so, do it quickly without any extra soothing, return her to her crib, exit, and leave her alone until about 6ish. Your attention to her in the early morning (“she fell back asleep on me for an hour.”) will cause her to force herself to a more wakeful state and cry more to get this soothing attention.

      The reason that you do not want her to start the day too early is that it will throw off her nap schedule. How do you feel about this?

  12. Hi Dr. Weissbluth,

    My son is now 6 months old. I messaged you at 4 months because we were having short naps. Around 5 months, we started seeing one longer mid morning nap. He would usually take a 40 minute nap after an hour of being up, and then a 1.5-2 hour nap after another 2 hours of being awake, often with about 20 minutes of awake time babbling in his crib, and sometimes crying at the 40 minute mark. Later in the afternoon, he struggled more with naps and would only take a 30 minute nap. We consistently do bedtime between 5:30 and 6pm. He would then consistently wake up around 12 and 3 am and I would feed him at those times.

    Now that he’s 6 months old, he seems to prefer to take a long nap about 90 minutes after waking up in the morning. He is now napping 1.5-2 hours with no crying in the middle. Unfortunately, for the rest of the day, he barely naps at all, taking maybe a 30 minute nap around mid day, and then often no nap in the afternoon, but he is really sleepy and fussy by bed time.

    I am also trying to cut the night feeds because he is a large baby (97%ile) and I think he probably doesn’t need them as much as I need sleep. After about 4 nights of trying to cut the feeds, he usually wakes up crying around 12:45 and will cry for an hour. At this point, we usually get him up and I feed him, and if he goes to bed early enough, he will sleep until 6 (I noticed on a few occasions when we had a later bedtime, he woke up around 5am crying). I know when he wakes up well rested because he wakes up babbling and not crying.

    I’m wondering if you have any advice about cutting night feeds? It’s very difficult to tolerate an hour of crying in the middle of the night. How do I know if he’s actually hungry? I’m also wondering if you have any advice about trying to consolidate naps into 2 good naps per day.

    Thank you for your advice.

  13. Hi Dr. W,
    Our little one had been sleeping 6:30p-6a until about 2 weeks ago. He is 6.5 mos old. About 2 weeks ago, he started waking to feed – needing a massive amnt of formula each day (approx 42 oz/24 hrs). He eats solids 2x/day. Is this a “growth spurt”? Any advice? We miss our sleep!

    1. Growth spurts are bogus. Please look at the first few chapters in my book for a better analysis of his problem, choose a sleep solution that comports with your values and then I will help you navigate his sleep issue.

  14. Dear Dr Weissbluth,
    My 17 week old son has started waking to feed twice at night where previously he used to only do this once. His previous schedule was bedtime around 7pm, one wake at 3am (ish) and then wake for the day at 6am (ish). However, since he reached about 15 weeks, his bedtime has shifted earlier (it’s around 6pm now and this naturally seemed to come about when he went down from 5 to 4 naps and needed to go to bed earlier). However, he now tends to wake twice a night needing a feed, which never ever happened previously – once around 11pm/midnight and then again around 3am ish. He then gets up for the day around 5.30am (which we are ok with). The weird thing is that occasionally he will sleep through, other nights he’ll only wake once for a feed – but the time is variable (could be 11pm or 3am!) and it seems like the number of nights where he needs the two feeds is increasing. He actively feeds at both of these wakes – after I’ve fed him (exclusive breastfeeding), I place him back into his cot and he falls back asleep himself. He self soothes from awake to asleep for bedtime and for all his naps. He typically has 4 naps at day at present – early morning, later morning, midday/early afternoon and late afternoon (typically totalling 3-4.5 hours depending on whether he’s managed to achieve any longer naps or if he’s just done 4 x shorter 45m naps). My question is whether it is developmentally normal for his night wakes for feeds to have increased at this age & whether there is anything I can do to try and reduce the night wakes back down to 1 per night (rather than 2)? Many thanks for your assistance 🙂

  15. 9m old adjusted what questions should we asl ourselves to assess our response to a single 1:30-5am waking?

    She falls asleep independently and can put herself to sleep.

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