From around 3.5 to 6 months of age babies should start to develop the ability to sleep longer at night. Sleeping through the night depends on a range of factors such as baby temperament, digestive system development and sleep routines.
How much sleep does your baby needs
At night babies between 2 and 12 months need 10-12 hours sleep.
During the day most babies sleep from 2 to 4.5 hours, split between morning and afternoon naps. As babies get older daytime sleep decreases and time awake between sleeps increase. Young babies could have 3-4 short naps a day, while older babies would have 1 to 2 longer naps.
How your baby sleeps
From 0 to 12 months the way your baby sleeps changes.
From 0 to 2 months a baby will spend 50% of the time in active sleep (believed to be responsible for brain development) and 50% of the time in quiet sleep (believed to be responsible for growth and healing). Babies often wake after phases of active sleep.
At around 3 months, the amount of active sleep decreases and babies begin to enter quiet sleep at the beginning of their sleep cycles. A sleep cycle would last around 20 to 50 minutes.
As your baby gets older the sleep patterns get closer to those of grown-ups, meaning that they wake less at night. If the baby is able to develop a healthy sleep pattern and a consistent routine by 6 months they should have the ability to settle themselves back to sleep without the parent’s help.
How your baby’s development can interfere with sleep
As your baby grows he will develop new cognitive skills and physical abilities that can interfere with his sleep.
When your baby starts crawling and again when he starts walking you may notice that he has difficulty settling. These newly acquired skills are very exciting for your baby. To avoid sleep disturbances make sure your baby has plenty of opportunities to practice during the day.
At around 6 months, your baby will develop the ability to remember that things exist, even if they are out of sight. This can affect his sleep because when he wakes he might remember that you exist and call or cry to make you reappear. Make sure you are responsive to your baby during the day. Playing games that demonstrate you can disappear and reappear is a good way to help him understand that you will be there if he needs you.
Between 6 and 12 months it is common for babies to develop separation anxiety. This is a temporary stage and may increase resistance to going to sleep and lead to a temporary increase in night waking. If that is the case respond to your baby’s call to reassure him that you are still there. However, make the visits to the room quiet, quick and boring.
From 6 months, babies don’t need to be fed during the night. If your baby is a healthy weight you can start teaching your baby to go back to sleep without a feed.
It is easier to transition if you never use feeding as a prop to settle the baby. Some babies that are not used to be fed to sleep can drop the night feeds themselves without needing your interference.