The first few nights with a newborn are a sleepless blur for most new parents. Sometimes, you go weeks and even months sleeping just an hour or two at a time after your baby arrives. But, when do babies start sleeping through the night? Like, will you actually ever see the inside of your eyelids for a full eight hours ever again?
Unless you’re just extremely lucky and blessed with a baby who happily sleeps more than a couple of hours at a time, as a new parent, you can expect to get even less sleep than you did pulling all-nighters your freshman year in college for a while. (No? Just me?) Rest assured that there will eventually come a time when you aren’t woken up to the sound of your baby's cries, but experts say the timing looks different for every family.
When Do Babies Sleep Through The Night?
There are no guarantees, of course, but from a developmental standpoint, experts say that your baby is likely capable of sleeping a full eight-hour stretch around 6 months of age.
“Some 4 to 6-month-old babies will start sleeping for longer stretches at night, but eight-hour stretches normally occur consistently when babies reach 6 months,” pediatrician and author of The Working Mom Blueprint: Winning At Parenting Without Losing Yourself, Dr. Whitney Casares tells Romper. “Most babies won’t start sleeping through the night until they lose their startle — aka Moro — reflex, are able to drop a significant number of nighttime feedings, and have developed the ability to self-soothe by sucking on their hands, fingers, or a pacifier.”
A doctor of osteopathic medicine, Allison Pressimone is the chief resident at Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. She tells Romper that while many babies will actually be able to sleep through the night as early as 3 months, some don’t gain this ability until they’re a year old. “It is not uncommon for some babies to need one full feeding in the middle of the night until 6 to 9 months, but the intervals should get longer as time goes on,” Pressimone explains. “As their nervous system matures, they experience less REM sleep and transition to the adult sleep cycle.”
Why Is Sleep Important For Babies?
“Sleep is essential to so many things for children's health and development,” Jensine Casey, a certified sleep expert and owner of Baby O & I Consulting, enthusiastically explains. She calls proper sleep “a non-negotiable” for kids and adults alike.
“Sleep is needed to restore and build a healthy immune system, build neuro-pathways in the brain to learn new skills. and regulate emotions while awake,” Casey tells Romper. “If a child is chronically exhausted, they will not have the energy or drive to be able to devote to learning new skills — it will all be used strictly to keep them awake and perform daily functions.”
Pressimone tells Romper that some parents may be concerned about their baby sleeping too much. “If the baby is energetic, engaged, and eating well when awake, that's not usually a problem,” she explains. “Newborns can sleep 16 to 18 hours a day for the first few days, and an average of 14 hours a day at 4 weeks old. You should always ask your pediatrician if you're worried, but a bedtime of 7 p.m. and several hours of napping during the next day are often just what the doctor ordered to help your child grow into the healthiest version of themselves”
What Can Parents Do To Encourage Good Sleep Habits?
Helping your baby develop good sleep habits is one way to help support your baby (and you) to sleep through the night. “Parents can encourage their baby to sleep through the night by making the nighttime sleeping environment as womb-like as possible,” Casares says. “Turn down the lights, use a swaddle for infants, and use white noise.”
A consistent nighttime routine along with plenty of opportunities for play and engagement during the day are key, according to experts. Additionally, making sure that their sleep environment is safe and they start to learn to self-soothe is crucial.
“In the first month of life, babies will sleep anytime and anyplace, and very often that is in one's arms,” Pressimone tells Romper. “But the earlier you can start to practice putting your baby down before they are fully asleep in a safe place, they will be a better sleeper when they are a few months older.” She says parents can still comfort or snuggle up with their babe, but it’s harder to break the habit of falling asleep on you the older your baby gets.
“Once a child is able to develop some independent sleep skills — i.e are able to settle themselves to sleep with little to no adult intervention — they will have a better chance of being able to sleep through the night,” Casey tells Romper. “Some children are introduced to those skills easier than others, so it really depends on the parents' interest in fostering those skills that can impact at what time a child is able to sleep through.”
To help babies learn to self-soothe, Casey recommends parents pay particular attention to how their baby falls asleep best. Whether they like to be rocked, driven around, or fed can help you suss out exactly what they need to soothe themselves.
Another way Casey says parents can help their babies learn to sleep through the night is by not letting them reach the point of no return — being overtired. “From the beginning, watching babies' natural and age-appropriate awake windows and giving them the opportunity for sleep before they become overtired is crucial. Having a child that is under tired or overtired at bedtime will make it much harder for them to relax into sleep,” she tells Romper.
Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P., author of The Working Mom Blueprint: Winning At Parenting Without Losing Yourself
Jensine Casey, certified sleep expert, owner of Baby O & I Consulting
Allison Pressimone, D.O., Chief Resident, Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore