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By around six months, your night-time duties are likely to decrease, as baby starts waking less during the night. But your baby’s sleep habits will depend a fair bit on both temperament and sleep routines.

Sleeping baby credit iStockphoto.com/svetikd
 

How much babies sleep

At night
Between two and 12 months, babies generally sleep 9-12 hours at night. Most babies aged 7-12 months go to bed between 6 pm and 10 pm.

During the day
At this age, most babies sleep from 2-4½ hours during the day, divided between morning and afternoon naps. Daytime sleeps decrease as babies get older. Your baby could have 1-4 naps, lasting between 30 minutes and two hours.

By the time your baby is six months old, baby might be sleeping for six or more hours at a time. Your baby might still be waking you during the night, but this should be happening less often.

How babies sleep

The make-up – or biological basis – of baby sleep changes between two and 12 months.

In the early months of life, baby sleep tends to be 50% active sleep and 50% quiet sleep. Babies often wake after phases of active sleep.

At around three months, the amount of active sleep decreases. Babies also begin to enter quiet sleep at the beginning of their sleep cycles. At this age, the sleep cycle for babies consists of alternating active and quiet sleep periods of 20–50 minutes each (compared with 90-minute sleep cycles for adults).

By six months, a baby’s sleep patterns are closer to those of a grown-up – which means less waking at night.

By eight months, 60-70% of babies are able to self-soothe themselves back to sleep without a parent’s help. Others will continue to wake if they need help to settle back to sleep, or if their parents are continuing to feed them through the night.

Your baby’s development and sleep

At around six months, your baby will develop lots of new abilities that can affect sleep. Babies gain the ability to keep themselves awake. At the same time, they are learning many exciting new skills. The combination of being able to do exciting things and stay awake means your baby might wake more often during the night and be more reluctant to go back to sleep.

Crawling
You might notice temporary disruptions to your baby’s sleep habits as your baby becomes more physically mobile. Researchers have noticed that settling difficulties can coincide with crawling.

Object permanence
At around six months, your baby will also figure out object permanence, which means that your baby can remember that things exist, even when they’re out of sight.

This important cognitive development can affect sleep. Your baby used to think that you didn’t exist whenever you left the bedroom. Now your baby knows you’re still there … somewhere. This means that if babies wake during the night, they might call or cry out because they know that mum or dad are there to come to them.

Separation anxiety
From 6-12 months, it’s also common for babies to begin to experience separation anxiety. This might increase resistance to going to sleep and lead to a temporary increase in night waking.

Feeding

Once babies are six months old, they do not physically need to be fed during the night.

From this time on, you can begin to teach your baby to go back to sleep without a feed if you wish. Equally, you can happily continue breastfeeds at night, feeding before settling baby back to sleep, as many mothers do.

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A rollover feed is a late feed somewhere between 10 pm and midnight. Some parents find that rollover feeds help babies sleep longer towards morning. If this works for your baby, there’s nothing wrong with continuing a rollover. 

How baby sleep patterns affect grown-ups

Most parents of babies under six months of age are still on night duty to some degree. Many will continue to accommodate their baby’s night-time demands long into the future. They find they can continue to do so as long as they have adequate support and other opportunities for sleep.

For other parents, persistent night-time disturbance can have a serious impact on them and their family life.

Like all aspects of child development, the strength of your relationship with your baby, and the quality of your interactions during the day, can affect both the quality and quantity of your baby’s sleep.

And evidence is mounting that the reverse is also true – the quality of your sleep can affect your health and your mood. Being exhausted can make it hard to give your baby positive attention during the day. 

If you’re concerned about your baby’s sleep, you might find some useful strategies in our Guide to solving sleep problems. If you’ve tried these kinds of strategies, and there has been no improvement, or the difficulties are starting to cause you distress, seek professional help. There are effective methods to make sure that everyone gets the sleep they need.

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Infant sleep problems can affect mothers’ health. An Australian study found a strong association between sleep problems in infants and symptoms of depression in mothers. This relationship did not hold true when mothers of infants with sleep problems were getting adequate sleep.
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  • Last Updated 18-02-2010
  • Last Reviewed 12-08-2009
  • Armstrong, K.L., Quinn, R.A., & Dadds, M.R. (1994). The sleep patterns of normal children. The Medical Journal of Australia, 161, 202-206.

    Hiscock, H., & Wake, M. (2001). Infant sleep problems in postnatal depression: A community-based study. Pediatrics, 107, 1317-1322.

    Iglowsten, I., Jenni, O.G., Molinari, L., & Largo, R.H. (2003). Sleep duration from infancy to adolescence: Reference values and generational trends. Pediatrics, 111:2, 302-307.

    Settling and Sleeping, Research Based Professional Resource. Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne.