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Firstly, let’s make it clear what sleeping through the night means for different people. Some specialists consider sleeping through the night to be anything from 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep. As a parent that doesn’t mean much sleep at all. For that purpose for CBC, sleeping through the night consists of 9+ hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Uninterrupted means that your child is able to smoothly move from one sleep cycle to the next independently with no help required from you.
One of the most challenging aspects of parenthood is getting up several times through the night to attend to a crying baby. Especially if you have to wake up in the morning and go to work – you may wonder if it will ever end and if your baby will ever sleep through the night. It is normal for newborns to need your assistance 3-4 times during the night to go back to sleep. After 6 months (sometimes earlier), when the digestive system and body clock are better developed they may go back to sleep on their own.
All babies are unique, and sleep patterns vary greatly from infant to infant. Young infants tend to sleep for around 2-4 hours at a time, and then wake for short time, usually to be fed. In the first weeks of life a baby doesn’t understand the concept that we sleep when it is dark and wake when it is light. Babies gradually begin to organise sleep and waking according to daily cycles of darkness and light at around three months.
To encourage your newborn to learn the difference between day and night make sure you expose the baby to sun light safely during his awake hours and keep light and noise to a minimum during night waking. Make sure your behaviour during day awake times can be differentiated. During the day play, talk, sing to your baby and at night lower your voice, keep lights dim and stimulation low.
By six months of age, many babies are able to organise their sleep time according to darkness and light. Some might sleep six hours or more at a time and most of these longer sleeps take place at night. Some babies at this age are able to transition from one sleep cycle to the next without needing your assistance.
Researchers using video recording systems in babies’ homes observed that babies vary a lot when it comes to waking and crying – or not crying – at night. They found the biggest changes in infants’ sleeping and waking patterns happen between three and six months. Six-month-olds sleep longer at a stretch than three-month-olds. They’re also more likely to go back to sleep on their own when they wake. But this rarely happens naturally if your baby is used to props to help her to go back to sleep – such as using pacifier; is breast or bottle fed back to sleep; is rocked; bounced or walked to sleep; sleeps in a car or stroller ride.
As they get closer to their first birthday, infants tend to sleep longer, wake up less often, and sleep more at night. And they may take a nap once or twice during the day.
If taught the skills of independent sleep, your baby should be able to sleep 9-12 hours a night.