It seems that most new parents relish every waking moment they get with their newborn baby. But the honeymoon period can quickly wear off. And parents find themselves asking ‘how do I get my baby to sleep through the night.’ This is where baby sleep training comes in.
Sleep training is a process. But it can’t be laid out step by step, as every baby is different, every parent is different and every home environment is different.
There are certainly ‘ages and stages’ of sleep training though. And although we can’t suggest a one-size-fits-all approach, sleep experts can definitely recommend how not to sleep train a baby!
Before we jump into approaches and methods, let’s first consider how long a baby’s nap should be.
How Long Should a Baby Sleep – By Age
- Newborn: about 16 – 20 hours (say 6 – 8 sleeps of 2 – 3 hours)
- 4 – 6 Week Old: about 16 – 20 hours (say 4 – 6 day-sleeps of 2 – 2½ hours, and evening sleep of about 5 – 6 hours, eg. 10pm – 4am)
- 2 – 3 Month Old: about 15 – 19 hours (say 3 – 4 day-sleeps of 2 – 3 hours, and evening sleep of about 7 – 8 hours, eg. 10pm – 6am)
- 3 – 4 Month Old: about 15 – 18 hours (say 3 day-sleeps of 2 – 2½ hours, and overnight sleep of about 9 – 11 hours, eg. 8pm – 6am)
- 4 – 6 Month Old: about 15 – 17 hours (say 2 – 3 day-sleeps of 1½ – 2½ hours, and overnight sleep of about 10 – 12 hours, eg. 7pm – 6am)
- 6 – 8 Month Old: about 15 – 16 hours (say morning & afternoon day-sleeps of 2 – 2½ hours, and overnight sleep of about 10 – 12 hours)
- 9 – 12 Month Old: about 14 – 15 hours (say morning & afternoon day sleeps of 1½ – 2 hours, and overnight sleep of about 11 – 12 hours, eg. 7pm – 7am)
3 Important Steps to a Sleeping Baby
Here’s the 3 most important tips from sleep expert Kathy Fray:
- Babies love predictable routines. From the first week during the daytime, use the routine of Sleep-Time –> Feed-Time –> Play-Time –> Sleep-Time. Babies should wake-up because they are hungry, not go to sleep because they are full. (With newborns each awake-time Feed-Play period may only take 1½-2 hours total – and there is no ‘play time’ during the darkness of night.)
- Babies need to be put down for sleep at the first on-set of any Tired Signs: Tensing body, jerky arms and legs, fists clenching, face grimacing, wide-eyed blinks, or grumpy grizzles. (Even 10 minutes later, a young baby can transition into being Over-Tired, which can manifest as a wide-eyed alert stare, flailing limbs, wailing cries, or yawning … now you’ve got a baby that can struggle to fall asleep unaided.)
- A not-over-tired infant, who is self-settling by crying itself to sleep, has a normal pattern of the cries getting shorter and the silences between cries getting longer. As a rough example: 5min cry –> 30sec silence –> 2min cry –> 1min silence –> 30sec cry –> 2min silence –> Fidgeting –> Plummet to sleep. Crying stimulates the relaxing happy hormone oxytocin, which also aids digestion. (Over-tired infants can cry until they become hysterical, which is revolting and usually preventable.)
For really practical advice, and to see all 13 steps, check out Kathy Fray’s 13 steps to a sleeping baby.
How Can I Get My Newborn to Sleep Longer at Night?
Baby Sleep Training – 0-6 Weeks
Sleeping is not something that can be considered independent of other parts of a newborn’s routine. The relationship between eating and sleeping (and later on stimulation) is very closely linked.
Sleep promotes sleep.
I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. If your baby is not getting enough sleep during the day, they will typically not sleep well at night and vice versa.
I like to think of sleep as a gift – it is definitely a gift for parents, but it is also a gift for your child.
By helping them to learn to settle themselves and to get good full night’s sleep you are giving them an excellent base for their health, growth, energy and development.
Find out more in our article on how to soothe and settle a newborn to sleep.
Can You Sleep Train a 3 Month Old?
Baby Sleep Training – 6-12 Weeks
At about 6 weeks, you can begin to develop the routine of: Bath, Breast/Bottle, Burps, Bed at the 7pm feed.
I do this in the dark or very low lighting. I would try to be very consistent with this routine and around 6 weeks babies most often will just fall into the pattern and it isn’t a struggle.
If there is a digestive issue at all, then this will possibly interfere with it, but persistent burping and picking up for a cuddle, then putting back down almost straight away will work with time and perseverance.
At about 10 weeks, I would also begin to cut back on any late afternoon sleep, if possible, so that your baby is awake from 5.30/6pm. This makes a 7pm bedtime easier to establish.
Find out about the first steps on how to get baby to sleep on their own.
How do I Sleep Train my 6 Month Old?
Baby Sleep Training – 6-12 Months
At this point, the stage is more or less set. What you have been doing so far has set the scene for what can go on for quite some time. This of course can be wonderful or downright awful, depending on the routines you’ve set up, and depending on your child.
It’s not impossible to get a baby of this age to sleep at night, but it will take commitment and determination!
At this point, a baby who just doesn’t sleep because they have never learnt to is likely to need some form of assistance to learn what it means to go back to sleep.
There are lots of different options here, from crying it out, to modified cry it out, to fading and a plethora of other methods. Find out about these methods and more in our article on baby sleep training.
And What About Sleep Issues for Older Kids?
So how much sleep does a child need? The amount of time a child sleeps can vary greatly, but here’s a guide for the amount of sleep an average child needs in 24 hours:
|Newborn baby||16 hours|
|3 – 6 months||14 – 15 hours|
|9 months – 2 years||13 – 14 hours|
|3 – 5 years||11 – 12 hours|
|6 – 9 years||10 – 11 hours|
|10 – 14 years||9 – 10 hours|
|15 – 18 years||8 – 9 hours|
The above times are only a guide; every child’s sleeping pattern is different. If your child is happy and healthy, then it is likely they are getting enough sleep. Check out our article for overcoming sleep problems in older children.
Or, for more expert advice and sleeping tips, check out our Sleep section.