by Dr. Mandy Penny
One of the most common questions I am asked in clinic is, “How do I get my baby to sleep?” Another common question is, “When is my baby going to sleep through the night?” These are very reasonable questions! Each baby is a unique individual and sleeping patterns vary. However, there are studies of normal infant sleep behavior that provide helpful guidance. Dr. Marc Weissbluth has studied sleep habits for years and published his data in a book titled Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I’ve adapted and summarized some of his findings here.
Until about 6 weeks after birth, babies commonly get their days and nights mixed up. So, for the first 6 weeks, it’s simply survival mode. Many people will offer you well-meaning suggestions about how to train your newborn’s internal clock, but my best advice is just to give your baby some time. Keep in mind, if your baby came 2 weeks early, it might be 8 weeks until their days and nights are straight. Parents in my clinic sometimes tell me they have a two-week-old baby who sleeps through the night, but that never happened at my house!
Usually around 4 months of age, babies develop a habitual morning nap between 9 and 10am. Prior to that age, it is common for infants to cat-nap multiple times a day. Once the morning nap develops, your child may still take short frequent naps later in the day. Bedtime at this age can vary but is often around 9 or 10pm. In my experience, infants who sleep through the night earlier may be poor nappers.
By about 6 months, your baby will typically take 3 naps a day. These will be around 9am, 1pm, and a short nap at 4:30 or 5pm. This is also when bedtime needs to be moved earlier–commonly to about 7pm when parents may notice their infant becoming tired. If the window of sleepiness is missed, the infant can become overtired and difficult to get to sleep.
Some families find a 7pm bedtime too early. Afternoons and evenings can feel short to a working parent who wants to spend time with their child at the end of the day. I’ve struggled with this too. It also seems counterintuitive that an early bedtime would help a baby sleep through the night. However, I’ve given this advice for over 10 years and have had many families come back and tell me that the early bedtime was the key to their baby sleeping through the night.
Having an understanding of normal sleep/nap patterns and optimal bedtimes can help parents develop realistic expectations for their child’s sleep. Hopefully the information I’ve provided will be a guideline for sleep patterns of infants less than 6 months of age. Please watch for another post soon about healthy sleep patterns of older babies.