It may seem at times like the sleep patterns of babies are nature’s version of a practical joke on parents. If you’re parenting an infant, you’ve no doubt had many sleep-deprived nights or moments of frustration that left you wondering whether your baby’s sleeping habits are normal (or perhaps more importantly, when you can expect to see some reprieve from the middle-of-the-night chaos). The following information will outline typical infant sleep patterns, so that you better understand what’s normal and what you can expect in the months to come.
Typical infant sleep patterns by age:
1 week: (newborns) Average amount of P.M. sleep: 8 hours
Babies this age usually sleep around 16 to 18 hours each day, with half of this sleep coming at night. However, they will not sleep all through the night, usually divided into three or four hour naps that are relatively evenly spaced between feedings.
6 weeks: Average amount of P.M. sleep: 8 1/2 hours
By 6 weeks a baby’s nighttime sleep habits may finally start to solidify, though they still should not be expected to sleep through the night.
3 months: Average amount of nighttime sleep: 9 hours
At this age, your baby may show the first hints of falling into a regular sleep schedule. Start moving her bedtimes up.
6-month-olds: Average amount of nighttime sleep: 10 hours
This age is the best time to start sleep training your child. They should be sleeping for longer stretches during the night, and can be taught to sleep through the night.
9-month-old babies: Average amount of P.M. sleep: 11 hours
If necessary, continue sleep training
12-month-old babies: Average amount of nighttime sleep: 12 hours
If by this age your child still struggles with establishing a sleep pattern, consult your pediatrician or a sleep specialist.
Having realistic expectations about your infant’s sleep patterns
Understand that in the first few weeks most babies won’t seep for longer than 4 hour stretches at a time, and it’s best not to let them slumber more than 5 hours anyway, since you want to keep them on regular feedings. Infants this age eat less per feeding but must eat more regularly, so their feeding needs are a big factor in their erratic sleep patterns. During the second and third months you can start working on getting them to sleep longer.
By the time babies are two to three months old they can typically go at least 6 hours, and this schedule will continue to gradually stretch out. Ninety-percent of 6-month-olds can sleep through the night without needing a nighttime feeding, according to clinical social worker Kim West, author of 52 Sleep Secrets for Babies. If everything is on schedule and your pediatrician gives you the ok to stop night feedings, you can gradually start reducing them.
Sleep Regression in Babies
Parents should also anticipate some regression, and understand that there may be times when their baby seems to slide backward. As the American Academy of Pediatrics states, “don’t expect the sleep struggle to end all at once. Most children swing back and forth, sleeping beautifully for a few weeks, or even months, and then returning abruptly to a late-night wake-up schedule.” (Shelov, 1998, -55) This might be because a growth spurt increases their need for food, or as they grow older, it could also be related to teething or developmental changes.