A common complaint of many parents is that their baby doesn’t sleep through the night. Why is it so difficult sometimes for babies to stay asleep?
Did you know that sleeping through the night is a learned skill? Your baby will not be born knowing automatically how to do this.
While you can’t guarantee that your baby will sleep through the night at any given age, there are strategies you can use to support the natural development of good sleep habits for your baby. I’ll discuss the most respectful methods in this article.
If you’re like me and you are a mama to a sleepless baby, you need some caffeine! Make a cup of coffee with me and let’s talk about how we can promote good sleep habits for our little ones.
When will baby sleep through the night at last?
It’s an age-old question. At what age do babies finally sleep through the night?
If only I had the answer for you. But all babies are different. When your baby first sleeps through the night is due to a combination of factors.
As they grow, you’ll notice that their naps (because that’s all they really are at this point, naps) last less than an hour. That is because a baby’s full REM cycle is 50-60 minutes long. At this stage, babies need to learn how to “turn over” into the next REM cycle without fully waking up, so they can achieve a more restorative sleep.
Additionally, babies can sometimes go through a “sleep regression” when they reach new developmental milestones. Just when you thought you had it made, your baby will suddenly start waking up more than before and might be fussier.
The most infamous age for the first sleep regression is around 3-4 months, but more can occur later. Don’t worry, though—once your baby adjusts to her new development, she will get back on his normal routine.
Baby needs to be ready
There is no point trying to force your baby to do anything she’s not ready for, sleeping through the night included. Babies need time to develop habits. In addition to respecting your baby’s individual development and sleep patterns, at the same time you need to lead by example and start to transition her onto your family’s routine.
Babies can and will learn to adapt to your family’s routine. You need to know when they are ready to make changes and capitalize on that timing. It’s the same for potty training: you would never attempt this before your baby was physically ready, but as the mama, you can sort of see when your baby is psychologically ready as well.
Patience is key
This should go without saying, but patience will only serve you well as a parent—not only for developing good sleep habits, but for just about everything else as well. Don’t be too eager to see your child achieve any “milestone,” sleeping through the night included, at the expense of the present.
Adopt an attitude of patience. There is nothing you can really do about a baby’s naturally changing sleep patterns, or your baby’s readiness at sleeping through the night. As parents, and particularly as Americans, if we’re not “doing something” about a particular problem, we feel like we’re failing. We always need to be in control.
Trust in your baby. She will eventually sleep through the night. The rest of this article well help guide your baby toward developing good sleep habits.
Sleep is a learned skill
All beings need periods of rest, and your child will eventually fall asleep, believe me. But most of us don’t view sleeping through the night as a learned skill. I can assure you, it is!
I am sure you can think of plenty of times when you, as an adult, were unable to sleep. How many times did you reach for medication to help you sleep? For a variety of reasons, anyone at any age can have trouble sleeping at night.
We all learned how to do it eventually. Recognize that your baby is learning first, that you want her to sleep through the night, and second, how to accomplish it.
Pitfalls to avoid when helping your baby to sleep through the night
There are some polarizing opinions out there about how to put your baby to sleep or how to get her to sleep through the night. There is a lot of good advice, but it won’t work for each and every baby. And there is a lot of bad advice.
There is a reason why sleep training exists, and binkies, and dream feeds. They work for some babies and moms but not all. And they might work for a time, but then stop working, and you have to change your strategy.
Also avoid methods that say ‘get your baby to sleep in 7 days or less’ because that’s just marketing bullshit. I guarantee you those methods are not going to last.
You need a long-term strategy for your baby to develop good sleep habits, because as I mentioned above, it would be nice to take this learned skill into adulthood, too. You can’t “trick” your baby to sleep, because that’s not a sustainable solution.
The point is: you need to feel good about any method you try. Keep an open mind. Feel free to experiment. Don’t be afraid to change tactics if something isn’t working.
Develop these good sleep habits for baby to sleep through the night
So, how can you support your baby in developing her own good sleep habits? Your role as the parent is to provide the framework and the right conditions conducive to sleep.
Here are my top tips that worked for us.
Establish a daily routine
I cannot overstate this enough. The very first thing I did for C’s sleep habits was to establish a daily routine.
When C was born, it seemed as though she was awake all night and slept all damn day. I just let her do her thing as much as I could. Then, when she was 4 weeks old, I began gently nudging her onto a daily routine that would later form the basis for her nighttime routine.
I got her up at the same time every day. I changed her and fed her. Then I did a few things around the house while she rested in her bouncer.
I don’t need to bore you with the whole rest of our daily routine, but you just need to know that we pretty much did the same things in the same sequence every day. Do not underestimate the power a daily routine has on your baby in general, but in particular on her sleep habits.
Eventually, C became tired at around the same times every day. Her naps became predictable. Then, slowly, her nights got longer and longer.
If you want your baby to sleep through the night, stick as much to a routine as possible! It lets them know what to expect throughout the day, and soon nighttime will become, well, routine.
The best time to put your baby to sleep is when you know she is already a little bit tired. Wait too long, and she’ll be too tired—which will sabotage your efforts, and hers, to get to sleep. She can catch a “second wind” which will make her either too hyper or too irritable to get to sleep, and trust me, it will be even harder to achieve, if at all.
The Window is that magical time when your child is just a little bit sleepy, but not overly so. Not only is it physiologically easier for a baby to fall asleep during this stage, but they are also just alert enough to begin to associate their feelings of tiredness with going to sleep as a way of relieving the tiredness.
Remember, sleep is a learned skill. The Window is the best way to help them learn this skill naturally.
Establish nighttime rituals
Just as a daily routine will help parents predict when their babies will get tired, a nighttime ritual tells baby it is time for The Big Sleep. It’s not naptime anymore! Give your baby some cues to tell them that it’s time to calm down and prepare to sleep through the night.
There are different things you can do as part of your nighttime ritual. I suggest you take lots of time, more than you think you need, to develop a good nighttime ritual. Of course, adapt as you go along, because your baby’s development at any point in time will change and she might need more cuddles or less reading, etc.
Here is our usual nighttime routine:
Generally, we actually start our nighttime ritual with dinner. We feed C on her own because we tend to eat much later. It’s a wonderful time to connect and talk about her day.
Then we change her and bring her upstairs into her room.
We begin by reading books.
Then we pull the shutters down, turn off the light, and turn on the nightlight.
At this point I used to breastfeed her, but we don’t do that anymore.
Then it’s into the sleeping bag, into bed, and we leave the room.
One tip I have for this step is to involve your baby as much as you can with the nighttime process. For example, I let C choose which books she wants to read. She “helps” me pull the shutters down. Now her fine motor skills are such that she can flip the switch on her nightlight herself. Involving your baby with your rituals helps make her an active participant. The nighttime ritual isn’t just “happening” to her—she’s the one doing it!
Babies do need to learn how to get back to sleep by themselves if they wake during the night. The best would be to have patience and trust that your baby will naturally learn to soothe herself.
But I’m not perfect and I was very impatient with this step. I know I’m not alone. Like so many other parents, I wanted to do something for C. I gave her a binky (pacifier, dummy), but you can also try a lovey toy or a special blanket.
Many babies will naturally learn to suck their thumbs to soothe themselves back to sleep. Personally, I really didn’t want C to do this, so I went with the binky.
Of course, she had to learn how to put it back in her mouth. Then she learned to throw it across the room. I don’t want to think of how many times we had to get up and give it back to her.
Encourage your baby to self-soothe in a way that fits your family’s sanity.
Wait, then respond
You’ll find that babies cry and shout and make all sorts of noises in their sleep. This is not a reason to rush to their side as though something were wrong.
Wait a few minutes, and if your baby is still crying, go and see her. Waiting longer and longer before responding is one strategy that you can use to support your baby to self-soothe or roll over into her next sleep cycle.
How long are your nights?
No one can tell you when your baby will finally sleep through the night for the first time.
At least now you know some strategies to help your baby develop good sleep habits naturally, along with some common pitfalls to avoid.
Your goal should be to help your baby learn the skill of sleeping through the night on their own.
I hope this article cut through the noise for you! I know it can be so agonizing when your baby doesn’t sleep through the night. As a parent, it’s easy to feel helpless sometimes. Trust in your baby and take it slow. You have my best wishes for a long, restful night!
For further reading, I would recommend you check out this post:
Jessica is an American expat living the dream in Normandy. She is wife to a French hubby and mama to a Franco-American daughter, born in 2018, and one whippet. Passionate about all stages of writing, this Francophile created her blog in 2020 to help others navigate motherhood with a focus on conscious parenting and bilingual parenting. Bonne lecture !
Save this post, and come back to it later! Just pin the below image for easy reference.