Recently talking to new parents, I was reflecting on the popular phrase “sleeping like a baby.” In many ways, nobody would want to sleep like a baby – waking multiple times a night, crying, needing help to fall asleep each time. Let’s take a look at what is happening with babies’ sleep, and how to help them learn to sleep well.

Facts About Infant Sleep
When infants are 6-8 weeks old they will start to have more sleep at night, and less during the day. Their circadian system is starting to become entrained by the environmental light / dark cues.

By 6 months of age, 70-80% of babies are capable of sleeping 5-6 hours at a stretch in the night. Remember though, just like adults, babies will wake 4 to 5 times a night, at the end of each sleep cycle. This is when they may have difficulty returning to sleep on their own and call out to you.

Here’s how an infant’s sleep needs change over the first years:
- Newborns sleep 16-20 hours total
- 3-6 mos olds sleep 12-15 hours total
- 6-9 mos olds sleep 11.5-15 hours total
- 9-12 mos olds sleep 11-14 hours total
- 12-36 mos olds sleep 12-13 hours total

How to Help Your Baby Sleep Well
Once your baby starts to have more sleep at night (about 7 weeks old), you can start to teach them to sleep well. At this point, you can observe when your child is sleepy, and put them down to sleep at that time. The first signs of sleepiness are that your child will become quiet, will stop making eye contact, and will no longer be interested in toys. If your baby starts rubbing her eyes or is fussy, then she is getting overtired. Gradually the times that your child naps will become routine, consolidating into two naps after 6 months of age.

Sleep is interesting because it is shaped by both our physiology and our habits. Here are some habits that will help your baby sleep well.
- Have a bedtime routine that is consistent each night, for instance “Bath, bottle, book, bed.” Write this down and post it so everyone who puts the baby to bed can do it the same way. Research shows that after just 3 weeks of a consistent, relaxing bedtime routine, babies fell asleep more quickly, woke less in the night, and return to sleep more easily.
- Put the baby to bed sleepy but still awake, so that he learns to fall asleep by himself.
- Be thoughtful about the sleep environment your child falls asleep in, and make sure it will be the same during night wakenings so he can return to sleep easily. For example, if the room will be dark and quiet in the middle of the night, it should be dark and quiet when he is put to bed at the beginning of the night.
- Decide what strategy you will use in the middle of the night to help the baby return to sleep, and be consistent each time. Again, post this strategy so you can refer to it in the middle of the night when you are tired.

The most important thing to teach your infant is that when she is sleepy she goes to sleep, and the way to help her fall asleep easily is to be consistent with good sleep habits.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Catherine Darley combines her knowledge of sleep disorders with her training as a naturopathic physician to bridge these two fields. As a naturopath her expertise lies in providing natural and effective treatments for sleep problems. She treats people of all ages, and especially enjoys working with children and their families. She founded The Institute of Naturopathic Sleep Medicinen ( in Seattle which is dedicated to patient care, public education about sleep health, and research on natural treatments for sleep disorders. Dr. Darley regularly writes articles and speaks for professional and public audiences.