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.
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.
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 %|
|8||About 80%||About 70%||—|
|11||—||About 80%||About 70%|
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.