Baby's sleep: a vast and complex subject... and yet so important for the well-being of baby and his parents... Baby's sleep plays a major role in his good development and growth. And what young parent doesn't dream of their little koko sleeping through the night as soon as possible?
In this article, co-written with Alexia POIRIER, a childcare nurse and founder of the parenting blog Parlons Bambins, we seek to understand baby's sleep: sleep time, importance of sleep, rhythm... We discuss the principles to keep in mind so that baby's night is peaceful.
What about a baby's sleep time?
Every parent wonders how long an infant sleeps... The amount of time a baby sleeps can vary from one child to another. As with us adults, the needs differ from one little koko to another: there are little sleepers and big sleepers. And each temperament is different! From birth onwards, some babies will have longer wakefulness phases.
Here is a baby sleep chart showing how long an infant sleeps based on a worldwide study conducted by the National Sleep Foundation in 2015. This chart gives recommendations and indicates the possible sleep range by age.
Baby sleep chart
In summary :
Approximate age of baby
Baby sleeping time
From birth to 3 months
Between 14 and 17 hours. In 2 to 4 hour increments. It is normal for your little one to have to wake up at night to take his bottle or suckle.
From 4 to 11 months
Between 12 and 15 hours. The sleep phases lengthen during the night to the delight of the parents and baby can link several sleep cycles more easily.
From 1 to 2 years old
Between 11 and 14 hours. Baby's rhythm in general and baby's night are regular
From 3 to 5 years old
Between 10 and 13 hours
When does baby sleep through the night?
Here is THE question we all ask ourselves as young parents: when does baby sleep through the night?
First of all, let's answer the question: what does sleeping through the night mean for baby? It means sleeping 5 or 6 hours in a row... Seen from this angle, our little koko "sleeps through the night" earlier than we think. We adults often have a higher expectation of "uninterrupted" sleep time in the definition of "sleeping through the night". Physiologically, a baby sleeps through the night on average around 4 months. Here are some figures that will help you to know when your baby sleeps through the night and, above all, to situate yourself in relation to an average:
- 25% of babies 'sleep through the night' at 2 months of age
- At 4 months, this figure rises to 75% of babies
- At 10 months, this figure rises to 90% of babies
It is said that a baby can physiologically sleep through the night at 4 months of age because at birth the baby needs to eat in small quantities and very regularly because of low caloric reserves. At birth, your baby's stomach is the size of a cherry (5-7 mL), at 1 week it is the size of an apricot (45-60mL) and at 1 month the size of an egg (80-150mL). So your little koko can only consume small quantities at a time and this day and night. At one month, your little koko needs to be fed (bottle or breast) every 3 or 4 hours.
As far as the size of his stomach and his ability to drink more milk are concerned, patience is your best ally. However, you can help your baby with another point: differentiating between day and night.
Accompanying baby's rhythm
Is your baby confusing day and night? This is perfectly normal. At birth, a baby lives in an ultradian rhythm, i.e. phases that are repeated every 3 to 4 hours and therefore without any distinction between day and night. These phases are punctuated by the alternation of feeding, waking and sleeping. Then, around 3 months, baby switches to a circadian rhythm, i.e. his biological rhythm over a period of about 24 hours: he sleeps less during the day and more at night. Let time take its course. Baby's clock will eventually regulate itself. And above all, it is important to respect your baby's rhythm.
Nevertheless, here are a few tips to give your baby a little boost and help him to differentiate between day and night:
- As long as your baby has an ultradian rhythm, leave some light on during naptime and make it completely dark at night
- Set up a bedtime ritual at night. He will get the signal that it's night time
- Separate the waking area (preferably during the day) from the sleeping area
- During the day and during naps, continue to make noise and live normally around your baby
- When your little koko wakes up at night to eat, keep the lights dimmed
When to put baby to bed?
At birth, you have to follow your baby's rhythm. He needs a lot of sleep and is not able to sleep for 6 hours in a row. You will not be able to put your baby to bed at a fixed time. It will depend on when he is feeding or suckling.
As soon as he can sleep for 6 hours straight, you can help him to establish a rhythm and put him to bed at a more fixed time. This will happen naturally. Be vigilant and observe the signs of tiredness of your little koko: one thing leading to another, these signs will come back at the same time and then you will be able to adjust to his schedule. It is absolutely necessary to introduce the bedtime ritual if you have not already done so (this will help you and your baby to fill up his "emotional tank" before the long separation that the night represents for him). It is very difficult to give a fixed time because it is very random according to the rhythm and habits of your little koko.
After 6 months and up to 5 years old, the ideal time is to put your child to bed around 7pm to take the time for the ritual and to fall asleep around 8pm. In any case, bedtime should be 8pm maximum. We know that it's not always easy between bath time, meal time and a little parent/child relaxation time. Keep in mind that your little koko can sleep for about 11/12 hours according to specialists' recommendations.
Why not wake up a sleeping baby?
There are several obvious reasons not to wake a sleeping baby:
- A baby needs a lot of rest because he is developing and validating important learning
- Sleep contributes to good physical and cerebral development. It is important in learning language, for example
- It helps them manage their emotions and moods
- It also plays a role in the development of the immune and nervous systems
This is why you should avoid waking your sleeping baby. Except in very specific cases validated with your paediatrician (if baby needs to be fed at regular times for example). On the other hand, if your little koko sleeps too much, think of monitoring his temperature and his general behaviour. And consult a doctor if necessary.
If you have to wake up your little koko to go to an appointment or to the nursery, do it gently... First, open the bedroom door and make a little noise. And if not, a little cuddle should help him to wake up from his sleep.
Do you need help with sleep?
If you have more questions about baby sleep, Alexia from Parlons Bambins offers an online workshop on sleep from birth to 12 months. Numerous topics on infant sleep are covered: co-sleeping, deciphering signs of fatigue, safety, swaddling, sleep rituals, dummies, sleep regressions...
And if you are breastfeeding your baby, take a look at our article on « sleep and night of the breastfed baby ».