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When do babies start sleeping through the night?

Tired of living in a sleep-deprived haze? If your baby is waking regularly, it can leave you feeling utterly exhausted. Here are some practical tips and advice from real Mumsnet parents and parenting experts to help your baby sleep through the night

By Lucy Cotterill | Last updated Jan 13, 2023

Baby sleep through the night

Everyone’s favourite question when they meet your baby for the first time is ‘Are they sleeping through yet?’; the answer to which is likely to be met by most of us with a bite of the tongue and a half-hearted laugh. If the lack of sleep is starting to take its toll, you may find yourself googling ‘when do babies start to sleep through the night?’ and wonder when you can expect to become reacquainted with your pillow. 

At times, with relentless hourly wake-ups, cluster feeding and a baby who fails to settle without assistance, it can feel like you may never get a good night's sleep again. Instead, your nights are spent repeatedly being woken by the baby monitor, and zombie walking to and from your baby's cot, crib or moses basket; feeding, rocking and comforting your baby until they finally drift back to the land of nod.

We’ve researched best practice, guidance from experts like the Lullaby Trust and real-life experiences from the Mumsnet community to bring you our ultimate guide to baby sleep. Here's our run down of what to expect, plus practical tips to help your baby sleep through the night and secure you all some well-earned rest.

When will your baby start sleeping through the night?

First up, it’s worth remembering that for babies, it’s entirely normal to wake up during the night. It’s actually a form of self-preservation. Sleeping through the night is also defined as sleeping six to eight straight hours overnight, so in reality, it may be some time before us grown ups receive a completely undisturbed night’s rest.

The most common reason a baby wakes during the night is hunger, with small tummies that need topping up far more regularly than our own. They may also be experiencing discomfort such as teething pain or trapped wind that can leave them feeling uncomfortable.

Just like us grown-ups, babies also have regular sleep cycles (periods of deep sleep and light sleep) and tend to naturally wake when each cycle comes to an end. The difference being, baby’s sleep cycles are a lot shorter than our own (just 50-60 minutes at a time). 

As adults, we tend to naturally drift back to sleep before we’ve even registered we’re awake, but for babies it’s quite different. Suddenly they’re alert, their parent has gone and they have no clue how to get back to sleep again. They communicate the only way they know how - by crying, seeking out some comfort and reassurance. 

Whilst baby sleep patterns can take a while to establish and every child is different, here’s a rough guide to some of the sleep patterns you can expect at each stage of your baby’s development. 

  • Newborn

    Sleep? What’s that?? 

    Whilst it’s fair to say that newborns sleep a lot (up to 18 hours a day) much of this sleep is spread across the entire day. As such, your newborn will wake regularly throughout the night to feed, have a nappy change or simply receive some comfort. 

    For newborn babies, waking every 2-3 hours is relatively common, but breastfed babies tend to wake more regularly and sleep in shorter bursts.

  • 3- 6 months

    By three to six months old, your baby may be feeding more efficiently and as such, may sleep for longer stretches of around five to six hours during the night. 

    You can still expect a few night feeds at this stage, however, but there are hopefully more opportunities to get some solid blocks of rest in between.

  • 6-12 months 

    Between the age of six and twelve months, your baby may be more full from their daytime feeds and therefore no longer wake for food during the night. They may also be starting to become physically active during the day (crawling or cruising) which can leave them feeling more physically tired at bedtime. Some babies at this stage are capable of sleeping in blocks of up to 12 hours, although this will vary significantly from one child to the next. 

    Unfortunately, this is also the age where challenges such as teething and separation anxiety may start to rear their head, so night time wake-ups are unlikely to be gone for good. 

Tips for getting your baby to sleep through the night

There’s no doubt that a lack of sleep can have a huge impact on your physical and mental well-being, so if you’re struggling with a lack of sleep, here are some tips to help your baby sleep through the night. 

Follow a consistent, repeated bedtime routine 

Following a consistent bedtime routine each night helps your baby recognise when it's time to go to bed. Whilst the elements of this routine can vary from one family to the next and don’t necessarily need to occur at a fixed time, building familiarity with repeated behaviours is key. 

I take her upstairs and get her into her sleepsuit in her room, pop her in her sleeping bag and feed her in the quiet with dim lighting then put her to bed (bath included in that every other day). I think it’s important to get into a routine early, not just for baby but for you too” - bedtime routine suggested by Mumsnet user Littlefroggy18

“I’ve got a six-month-old and have been doing a bedtime routine since she was about three months. We do the same routine (story, ready for bed, feed etc) - the same things in the same order, starting about 45mins before sleep time. At this stage though, we’re still working by wake windows, so the bedtime routine starts, say, an hour & half after she wakes up from her last nap, rather than being at a set time on the clock.” - method by Mumsnet user WooWooWinnie 

Help them differentiate between daytime and nighttime 

Your baby needs to learn the difference between night and day and changing how you interact with your baby can help. The NHS recommends keeping daytime activities lively, loud and active, with lights on or being naturally exposed to daylight. When it approaches bedtime, reduce the volume and keep singing to gentle lullabies only. Avoid stimulating your baby and slow down the pace. If they do wake overnight, avoid playing with your baby, as this may make it more challenging to get them back to sleep. Use a soft light at night, like one of our best night lights, to keep your baby's room calm and unstimulating. 

“Eventually your baby will learn the difference between night and day. Make daytime bright, lots of background noises etc. Then night time sit in the room with a low lit lamp and quieter.” advice from Mumsnet user BeautyAndTheBump1 

“Try and make as much difference between day and night. Music/tv on in the day and lots of quiet and dimmed lights at night, will make a difference eventually. One of my friends also suggested no eye contact at night and then lots of attention in the day.” - recommendation from Mumsnet user Sewsosew

Encourage self-soothing 

When babies wake during the night, they often seek out support from their parents or caregivers to help them get back to sleep. Whilst this is only natural, encouraging self-soothing can help your baby settle themselves without requiring external assistance every time they wake. To encourage self-soothing, aim to put your baby to bed drowsy but awake; supporting them to learn how to drift off by themselves.

“All babies (and adults) stir and wake slightly during the night. She needs to learn how to settle herself back to sleep and not use the bottle (which means waking you up)” - method recommended by Mumsnet user SeaToSki 

“Try putting her down awake and helping her to settle but eventually helping her to get herself to sleep, ie patting her gently and ssshing for a few days, then just try ssshing and stop patting etc, gradually reducing the amount you have to settle her. Allowing her to learn how to do this will help her get back to sleep when she wakes in the night.” - tried and tested by Mumsnet user Grumpos 

Reduce overnight feeds 

If your baby is still waking regularly during the night, it can be easy to assume that hunger is the reason. The reality is, they may simply want the comfort of a bottle or breast. If your baby is six months plus and they’ve fed enough during the day, don’t rush to offer food straight away. Instead, try and encourage them to settle without. Spacing out, reducing the offer of night feeds or reducing the duration of feeds can gradually extend their periods of sleep.

“My son went through a stage at around 8 months of waking every 1/1.5 hours to feed. One night my husband went to settle him and turned out he didn't need to feed, he just needed a cuddle. After that, I fed every other wake and husband settled him the others and that seemed to space him out much more” - the experience of Mumsnet user QforCucumber 

“I would set an alarm at midnight and at 3am and dream feed. After a few weeks, I dropped midnight and just did 3am dream feed. After a few more weeks baby did not wake for feeds.” - the approach used by Mumsnet user Grassgreendashhabi 

Don’t change your baby’s nappy unless needed 

Whilst newborn babies soil their nappies regularly during the night, older babies can go longer without needing to be changed. 

Unless your baby’s nappy is soiled or heavily sodden, you don’t need to rush to change it during the night or wake them in order to do so. Most nappies can hold for up to twelve hours, so changing them around their natural wake up times can allow them to sleep for longer.

“As they feed less at night they wee much less. We stopped changing wet nappies at all at night quite soon, as it wakes them up too much.” - experience of Mumsnet user BendingSpoons

“My 5 month old gets a pampers baby dry on for the night (they last 12 hours). She does wake every 2-3 hours for a feed but goes to sleep right after UNLESS I try to change her nappy, then she's awake for 2 hours. I never wake a sleeping baby.” - method used my Mumsnet user wombatspoopcubes

Ensure the room is conducive to sleep

It’s recommended that your baby sleeps in the same room as you until they are six months old to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Regardless of whether they’re in their own room or in a bedside crib, you should ensure the room is a calm and comfortable sleep environment for your baby.

The room setting should be dark, with no glare or sunlight coming through windows and you should aim to create a quiet and calm environment. Blackout blinds can help during the summer months to prevent any confusion around night and day.

“Both my babies slept better once they were in their own room as it was quiet with nobody moving around. We had a nice cosy cot with black-out blinds.” - experience of Mumsnet user Converseandjeans

“Absolutely blackout. I cannot stress this enough. BUY THE BLACKOUTS” recommended by Mumsnet user MonkeyPuddle

What might prevent your baby from sleeping through the night?

The amount your baby sleeps through the night can improve as they grow, but it’s also incredibly common to experience periods of set back or sleep regression too. 

Here are a few reasons why your baby may be waking regularly or suddenly start struggling to settle at bedtime. 

Teething - Teething pain, particularly when the molars start to break through, can be incredibly painful for your baby, causing radiating pain around their ears and jaw. If your baby is waking up due to teething pain, medicine such as Calpol and over the counter teething remedies can help.

Separation anxiety - From around six months of age, your baby has learned that they are a separate entity from you and that they depend upon you for their care. As such, waking and finding you are gone can trigger anxiety or upset. Settling at bedtime or leaving them alone in the cot can suddenly become more challenging, even if your child has previously slept through the night. Comfort and reassurance is key here, so your baby learns that you always come back and that they are safe and secure. 

Sickness - Coughs, colds and blocked sinuses in particular can leave your baby feeling uncomfortable and congested, meaning they find it harder to breathe when lying down. If your baby is old enough, over the counter medicines, nasal aspirators, decongestants and humidifiers can help manage the symptoms. 

Seasonal weather changes - When the seasons change, your baby may also wake because they are cold, particularly if the temperature drops significantly during the night. Ensure that your baby is dressed appropriately for sleep and that they aren’t too hot. Babies will cry if they’re cold, but being too warm can lead to overheating.

baby in a cute hat with a teddy, yawning

What to do when your baby’s not sleeping well

Sleep deprivation can be physically and mentally exhausting, so it's important to look after yourself and get some much-needed rest when you can. Encouraging your baby to sleep through the night takes patience and practice, so experiencing both good days and bad days is entirely normal.

If you’re struggling with a lack of sleep, reach out to your partner, trusted friend or family member and ask for their support - even a short catch up on lost rest can do you the world of good.

The good news is, although it may feel like it at times, you’re definitely not alone. You simply have to head to the Mumsnet forums to find many other parents going through the same parenting challenges as you. Reach out, start a conversation and see if you can help each other through the sleep-deprived haze. 

In most cases, your baby will sleep through at the time that's right for them, but if your sleep challenges continue, we recommend contacting your health visitor who may be able to offer some additional advice and support.

Read our in-depth guide to coping with sleep deprivation