Slumber Time

By the time babies are three months old, they tend to sleep more at night and stay awake longer during the day. But it’s amazing just how different babies can be – some will sleep for hours on end, while others hardly seem to sleep at all. There’s no such thing as normal when it comes to sleeping babies.

Average sleep pattern for babies

All guides to babies’ sleep patterns are just that – guides. You know your baby best. If your baby is awake and happy, he’s had enough sleep. If he’s awake and unhappy, more sleep might be needed. Sleep needs for babies vary, but a little extra sleep can be all that stands between a contented baby and a grumpy one.

Age  Day Sleeps Night Sleeps
3 -6 months 2 or 3 sleeps of up to 2 hours each Might still wake at least once during the night
7-12 months 2-3 hours total, usually taken as a morning sleeps and afternoon sleep Between 6pm and 10pm until 5am or later

Sleeping with you

Many experts agree there are benefits to sharing your bed with your baby (also called co-sleeping). It can make breastfeeding easier in the early weeks. But it also comes with risks such as accidental smothering or crushing.

Moving baby to a cot
If your baby’s been sleeping with you for the first three months, you might want to move her to a cot. With a little luck this will go without a hitch, and your baby will doze off happily in the new bed. But if your baby is having trouble adjusting to bedtime without you, read our article on independent sleep. If you’re looking at portable cots, it’s important to find one that’s safe and easy to use.

Dropping off to sleep is one thing most babies can cleverly do for themselves. But if your baby is having trouble falling asleep or settling, you could try the patting settling technique.

Bedtime routine

By the time babies are six months old, they often appreciate the soothing ‘sameness’ of a bedtime routine. Babies love routine, and it won’t take long for your baby to understand what’s expected. A typical bedtime routine might look like this:

  • Give your baby dinner.
  • Give your baby a bath.
  • Have a short play.
  • Give your baby the last feed of the day.
  • Change his nappy.
  • Give him some quiet time with you in the bedroom (reading a book or telling a story).
  • Put him into the cot while singing a lullaby, such as Rock-a-Bye Baby.
  • Say goodnight.
  • Turn the lights out or a night-light on (whatever he’s used to).

At six months, there’s usually no need for a feed during the night. Some parents find that a feed around 10 pm (a rollover feed) helps their baby sleep longer through the night. You can read more about phasing out night feeds.

Night waking

All babies wake during the night as part of their normal sleep cycle. Problems start when they can’t get back to sleep without your help. Once a baby knows how to fall back to sleep independently, everyone in the house can enjoy nights of relatively unbroken rest.

Help your baby learn how to go to sleep independently by putting your baby to bed sleepy but still awake. If she can learn to go to sleep without you, she’s more likely to drop off again after waking during the night. This means putting her into her bed before she falls asleep on your lap or on the bottle.

Sleep tips

Help your baby learn to settle and fall asleep independently by:

  • emphasising the difference between night and day
  • putting him to bed drowsy but awake
  • starting a feed, play, sleep routine.

You can help your baby to associate darkness with sleep by minimising activity, noise and light when you’re feeding or changing a nappy during the night.
A milk bottle in bed isn’t a good sleep aid. It can cause illness if milk goes down the wrong tube. Later, as your baby develops teeth, it can also cause severe tooth decay.Some parents find pacifiers helpful. But there can be downsides. Babies can become dependent on pacifiers to get to sleep. Getting up to replace your baby’s lost pacifier at night can be very tiring. But the good news is that from around eight months, most babies can learn to manage their own pacifiers during the night.

To sleep well and safely, your baby needs to be dressed in bedtime clothes so he’s not too hot or too cold.Lots of babies share a bedroom with older siblings. This can make getting your baby to sleep a little more complicated, but there are ways to work around this.Help your child to feel comfortable about sleeping away from home, so as not to disrupt your child’s routine.Camping out is a strategy for dealing with persistent settling and waking problems in young children. Young children get overtired easily. When they do, they find it harder to get to sleep. Once you can spot the signs of tiredness, you’ll be able to settle your baby to sleep before grumpiness sets in.

Children’s sleep problems are one of the most common reasons parents seek help from professionals. Drugs (medicine) aren’t usually the answer – there are better ways to deal with your child’s sleep difficulties. Your child’s sleep problems will be much easier to manage with the support of a trusted child health professional.