Infant Sleep – What’s Normal?

“Is the baby sleeping through the night yet?” is likely one question you will hear more times that you can imagine during the first year of your baby’s life. For the mother who’s baby continues to wake frequently, hearing this can be very discouraging and make someone question their nighttime parenting techniques. What needs to be known is that a baby waking frequently at night is completely normal! The child who sleeps through most of the night at a young age is actually in the minority. It is also completely normal for a child to need to be parented to sleep(and back to sleep) throughout their first years of life and beyond. So what is within the range of normal infant sleep?

  • Baby’s sleep cycles last around one hour(compared to an adult sleep cycle which lasts around an hour and a half). This means that every single hour of the night your baby goes through a “light sleep” period where she will either be able to settle herself back to sleep fairly effortlessly or she may need a little help getting through the light sleep phase back into deep sleep. Babies often have an easier time moving through light sleep by themselves during the first hours of the night and need more help as the morning approaches.
  • It takes about 20 minutes after your baby’s eyes close for him to enter “deep sleep”. Although the end of the day is a time when most parents are really itching to have some alone time, it helps to approach bedtime knowing that it might take up to an hour and rarely takes less than 30 minutes.
  • In the early months, babies need to nurse frequently throughout the night. Breast milk takes approximately 1-3 hours to be digested. Waking up frequently is a survival technique. Although breastfed babies do wake more frequently, they are often easier to get back to sleep.
  • A sleep study done in 1994 that involved 640 babies revealed that only 17% of babies are sleeping through the night at 6 months old. Another 1994 sleep study, involving over 3,000 participants, determined that it is not until at least 24 months old that regular night waking decreases naturally.
  • Due to developmental leaps, it is common for night-waking to increase between 6 and 12 months.

I hope that some of this information eases some of the common worries regarding, and provides a clearer picture of, normal infant sleep patterns.