Baby sleep needs
Babies need sleep to grow and develop well. But babies’ sleep needs vary, just as the sleep needs of older children and adults do. Your baby might be doing well with more or less sleep than other babies the same age.
Your baby’s mood and wellbeing is often a good guide to whether your baby is getting enough sleep. If your baby is:
- wakeful and grizzly, they might need more sleep
- wakeful and contented, they’re probably getting enough sleep.
How baby sleep changes from 2 to 12 months
As they get older, babies:
- sleep less in the daytime
- are awake for longer between naps
- have longer night-time sleeps and wake less at night
- need less sleep overall.
2-3 months: what to expect from baby sleep
At this age, babies sleep on and off during the day and night. Most babies sleep for 14-17 hours in every 24 hours.
Young babies sleep in cycles that last 50-60 minutes. In young babies, each cycle is made up of active sleep and quiet sleep. Babies move around and grunt during active sleep, and sleep deeply during quiet sleep.
At the end of each cycle, babies wake up for a little while. They might grizzle or cry. They might need help to settle for the next sleep cycle.
At 2-3 months, babies start developing night and day sleep patterns. This means they tend to start sleeping more during the night.
Around 3 months: what to expect from baby sleep
Babies keep developing night and day sleep patterns.
Their sleep cycles consist of:
- light sleep, when baby wakes easily
- deep sleep, when baby is sound asleep and very still
- dream sleep, when baby is dreaming.
Sleep cycles also get longer, which might mean less waking and resettling during sleep. At this age, some babies might regularly be having longer sleeps at night – for example, 4-5 hours.
Most babies still sleep for 14-17 hours in every 24 hours.
3-6 months: what to expect from baby sleep
At this age, most babies sleep for 12-15 hours every 24 hours.
Babies might start moving towards a pattern of 2-3 daytime sleeps of up to two hours each.
And night-time sleeps get longer at this age. For example, some babies might be having long sleeps of six hours at night by the time they’re six months old.
But you can expect that your baby will still wake at least once each night.
6-12 months: what to expect from baby sleep
Babies sleep less as they get older. By the time your baby is one year old, baby will probably sleep for 11-14 hours every 24 hours.
Sleep during the night
From about six months, most babies have their longest sleeps at night.
Most babies are ready for bed between 6 pm and 10 pm. They usually take less than 40 minutes to get to sleep, but some babies take longer.
At this age, baby sleep cycles are closer to those of grown-up sleep – which means less waking at night. So your baby might not wake you during the night, or waking might happen less often.
But many babies do wake during the night and need an adult to settle them back to sleep. Some babies do this 3-4 times a night.
Sleep during the day
At this age, most babies are still having 2-3 daytime naps that last for between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
6-12 months: other developments that affect sleep
From around six months, babies develop many new abilities that can affect their sleep or make them more difficult to settle:
- Babies learn to keep themselves awake, especially if something interesting is happening, or they’re in a place with a lot of light and noise.
- Settling difficulties can happen at the same time as crawling. You might notice your baby’s sleep habits changing when baby starts moving around more.
- Babies learn that things exist, even when they’re out of sight. Now that your baby knows you exist when you leave the bedroom, baby might call or cry out for you.
- Separation anxiety is when babies get upset because you’re not around. It might mean your baby doesn’t want to go to sleep and wakes up more often in the night. As babies mature they gradually overcome this worry.
6-12 months: night-time feeding
From around six months of age, if your baby is developing well, it’s OK to think about night weaning and phasing out night feeds. But if you’re comfortable with feeding your baby during the night, there’s no hurry to phase out night feeds.
You can choose what works best for you and your baby.
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 you and your baby, it’s fine to give baby a rollover feed.
Concerns about baby sleep
If you’re concerned about your baby’s sleep, it can be a good idea to track your baby’s sleep for a week or so. This can help you get a clear picture of what’s going on.
You can do this by drawing up a simple chart with columns for each day of the week. Divide the days into hourly blocks, and colour the intervals when your baby is asleep. Keep your chart for 5-7 days.
Once completed, the chart will tell you things like:
- when and how much sleep your baby is getting
- how many times your baby is waking during the night
- how long your baby is taking to settle after waking.
You can also record how you tried to resettle your baby and what worked or didn’t work.
Then you can compare the information in your chart with the general information about baby sleep needs above:
- How does your child compare to other babies the same age? If your baby is wakeful and grizzly and getting much less sleep than others, your baby might need more opportunities for sleep.
- How many times is your baby over six months old waking up during the night? If it’s 3-4 times a night or more, you might be feeling very tired. You might want to think about phasing out some of your baby’s sleep habits.
If you decide you need to see a professional for help with your baby’s sleep, take your chart with you.
If you’re concerned about your baby’s sleep, it’s a very good idea to see a child health professional for help. You could start by talking with your GP or child and family health nurse.
How baby sleep patterns affect grown-ups
Babies and grown-ups need sleep for wellbeing, but babies sleep differently from adults. Most parents of babies under six months of age get up in the night to feed and settle their babies. For many, this keeps going after six months.
Some parents are OK with getting up a lot at night as long as they have enough support and they can catch up on sleep at other times. For others, getting up in the night over the long term has a serious effect on them and their family lives.
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. And your relationship with your baby and the time and attention you give baby during the day can affect the quality and quantity of baby’s sleep.
So it’s important that you get some help if you’re not getting enough sleep. You could start by asking family or friends for help. And if you feel that lack of sleep is affecting you mentally or emotionally, it’s a very good idea to talk with your GP or another health professional.
There’s a strong link between baby sleep difficulties and symptoms of postnatal depression in women and postnatal depression in men. But the link isn’t there if parents of babies with sleep difficulties are getting enough sleep themselves.
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