A Comprehensive Guide To Babies And Sleep

Table of Contents

babies and sleep

Any new parent can tell you that life changes in some beautiful and unexpected ways when your baby finally arrives. They’ll also tell you that your life and sleep schedule will probably be upended for the better part of the next year. And understandably so! Beyond getting used to sleeping outside the comfy confines of the womb, your little one must learn to crawl, stand, talk, and walk all within that first year — that’s a lot of work! With so much going on for everyone, you can bet that sleep disruptions and challenges are part of the deal. 

Why Do Babies Not Sleep at Night?

Babies may not sleep at night for any number of reasons. For starters, newborns spent the last nine months in a cozy, warm cocoon. Understandably, sleep may not come easy when they’re suddenly thrust out into the real world. Pair that with feedings, diaper changes, and the fact that your baby’s circadian rhythm is still in its developmental stage, and you have your answer. 

Somewhere around four months, your baby’s circadian rhythm will begin to develop. At that time, many parents will probably see a slight change in their baby’s sleep habits. 

To support the development of your baby’s circadian rhythm and, ultimately, a healthy sleep pattern, you might think about exposing your baby to light during the daytime hours and keeping that exposure to a minimum during the evening and overnight hours. By reinforcing light and dark cues, your baby’s circadian rhythm will likely get a nice push in the right direction. 

What Is Sleep Regression?

While the term “sleep regression” may sound serious, it’s really just a change in your baby’s sleep pattern. Triple board-certified sleep medicine physician Dr. Funke Afolabi-Brown says, “Sleep regression is often described as a period of time when your baby starts waking frequently or refusing to fall asleep.” 

When a sleep regression sets in, parents will find that their babies may: 

  • Resist and fuss more when bedtime rolls around
  • Have difficulty falling asleep
  • Take shorter naps
  • Wake more frequently at night

“Sleep regressions are common in a baby’s first year of life when their brains develop very rapidly,” says Dr. Afolabi-Brown. Sleep regressions typically make an appearance at four months, eight months, one year, and 18 months, and they’re often triggered by developmental milestones. 

Common triggers of sleep regressions are:

  • Reaching developmental milestones (i.e., sitting, standing, rolling over, or walking)
  • Growth spurts
  • Teething pain 
  • Illness
  • Disruptions to your baby’s schedule or routine

Sleep regressions can seemingly come out of nowhere. For many parents, it can feel like someone flipped a switch, and suddenly their wonderful little sleeper is crying and fussing for the better part of the night. And while that can be incredibly frustrating, parents are reminded that sleep regressions are a good sign. 

Christine Brown, Lead Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Bella Luna Family, says 

“Oftentimes, our babies are also working on major skills in each of these timeframes. Whenever our little ones are working on something developmentally, it can affect sleep. Sleep regressions are actually our babies progressing! Even though it can wreak major havoc on your baby’s slumber, sleep regressions are a clear sign that your little one is maturing and developing, which is amazing.” 

At What Age Do Babies Sleep Best?

Your baby’s sleep schedule will ebb and flow throughout the first year of their life. But as your child approaches their first birthday, you’ll probably find that their sleep patterns will settle down quite a bit. Around this time, your baby will sleep for 8 to 12-hour stretches per night, only waking once or twice, and he will also take fewer naps during the day. 

When Can I Sleep Train?

Every baby is different, as is every parent, so the decision to begin sleep training is quite personal. Ultimately, it’s really up to each family to decide what’s best for everyone under the same roof. While there is no one size fits all age for sleep training, there is an ideal window of opportunity for a smoother transition.

“Sleep training can start at about 4 to 6 months of age and ideally not before then,” says Dr. Afolabi-Brown. “This is because children younger than this often require frequent nighttime feeding. Also, melatonin, the sleep hormone our brain produces, is not released consistently in babies until they are at least three months old.” 

Brown suggests that parents carefully consider the following before sleep training: 

  • Do you have two solid weeks to dedicate to the process, meaning no trips planned, no overnight guests, and the ability to stick close to home on the weekends for naps?
  • Have you done your research to make sure that your child’s sleep environment, schedule, and routine are all in alignment? This can make the sleep training process MUCH easier. 
  • Are both parents truly committed to helping their baby to be a healthier sleeper right now? If one or both parents aren’t completely on board, they won’t be able to stay consistent, and they will create confusion for the child. Consistency is the #1 predictor of success. 
  • Have you researched all the sleep training methods and chosen one that will be a good fit for your child’s personality and temperament [and one that] aligns with your parenting philosophy? This is important because different children respond better to different methods. Plus, parents have to feel comfortable with the method they choose so they can stay consistent. 

To learn more about sleep training, check out our comprehensive guide. 

Your Baby’s Sleep Routine: 0-3 Months

According to the National Sleep Foundation, babies from 0 to 3 months require up to 18 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period. And while any parent can tell you that 18 hours of sleep per day is easy (and normal) for newborns, they can also tell you that sleep stretches in this age range are regularly punctuated with feedings and diaper changes. 

As babies exit the newborn stage somewhere around three months, parents will find that their little one will sleep for longer stretches during the overnight hours. Incidentally, when your baby sleeps for 4 to 5 hours per night, that’s considered sleeping through the night. 

0 – 3 Month Example Sleep Schedule  

6:30 AM – Wake and feed

7:00 AM – Play and tummy time

7:30 AM – Nap #1

9:30 AM – Wake and feed

10:00 AM – Play and tummy time

10:30 AM – Nap #2

12:30 AM – Wake and feed

1:00 PM – Play and tummy time

1:30 PM – Nap #3

3: 30 PM – Wake and feed

4:00 PM – Play and tummy time

4:30 PM – Nap #4

6:00 PM – Wake and feed

6:30 PM – Play 

7:30 PM – Bedtime routine/reading  

Your Baby’s Sleep Routine: 3-6 Months

From 3 to 6 months, babies will typically sleep anywhere from 14 to 15 hours in a 24-hour period, including naps. At this age, babies will still take about three daytime naps, and some can sleep up to 8 hours at night. For these reasons, if you’d like to sleep train your baby, this is the best stage to do so. 

Around the three-month mark, babies also begin to have sleep stages resembling that of adults. Instead of spending 50 percent of their time in REM sleep as newborns do, babies now experience all four sleep stages (NREM 1, NREM 2, Slow-wave sleep, and REM). 

But while their sleep stages may be similar to adult sleep stages, they’re not exactly alike. One notable difference is when REM occurs. Whereas babies can slip into REM sleep almost immediately, REM is the final stage for adults, typically occurring about 90 minutes into their sleep cycle. 

Somewhere around the four-month mark, parents will likely see the first of many sleep regressions in their baby’s development. The 4-month sleep regression is typically the worst of all sleep regressions, and it tends to last the longest as well—5 to 6 weeks is not uncommon. 

Remember that sleep regressions are often triggered by the incredible strides your baby is making in their growth and development. At this age, your baby is probably beginning to roll over, hold toys, reach for objects, and genuinely smile. There’s a lot going on and a lot to discover, so sleep might tumble to the bottom of your baby’s list of priorities. 

3 – 6 Month Example Sleep Schedule 

6:30 AM – Wake and feed

7:30 AM – Play 

8:00 AM – Nap #1

10:30 AM – Wake and feed

11:30 AM – Play 

12:00 PM – Nap #2

2:00 PM – Wake and feed

3:00 PM – Play 

4:00 PM – Nap #3

5:30 PM – Wake and feed

7:00 PM – Bedtime routine/reading 

Your Baby’s Sleep Routine: 6-9 Months

Once your baby hits six months, you’ll likely find that their sleep patterns will begin to mesh better with yours. On average, babies at this age will sleep about 15 hours in a 24-hour period, and much of that will occur during the overnight hours as daytime naps will drop in both frequency and duration as well. Babies at this age typically take about one to two naps per day, and each one will likely be no longer than 2 hours. Parents will also notice that nighttime waking will drop to a manageable minimum, and that’s largely because babies don’t wake to feed as often. 

Your baby’s 8-month sleep regression will likely make an appearance around this stage too. Like the 4-month sleep regression, developmental milestones tend to trigger the 8-month sleep regression as well. In this case, it’s teething, standing, and crawling. With so much to do and so little time to do it, your baby may feel they have better things to do than sleep. 

In addition to being on the move, this is also the stage where many babies tend to experience separation anxiety. Your little one has a heightened awareness of your absence when you leave the room. So, when you leave the nursery at night, you can queue the crying on your way out. 

6 – 9 Month Example Sleep Schedule

  • 7:00 AM – Wake and feed
  • 7: 30 AM – Play 
  • 9:00 AM – Nap #1
  • 10:30 AM – Snack 
  • 11: 00 AM – Playtime 
  • 12:00 PM – Lunch 
  • 1:00 PM – Nap #2
  • 2:00 PM – Wake and feed
  • 2: 30 PM – Play 
  • 3:30 PM – Nap #3
  • 4:30 PM – Wake Up 
  • 5:00 PM – Dinner 
  • 7:00 PM – Bedtime routine/reading

Your Baby’s Sleep Routine: 9-12 Months

From 9  to 12 months, your baby needs about 14 hours of sleep per day. While babies at this stage will still take 1 to 2 naps per day, they will sleep for longer stretches during the overnight hours — some babies may even sleep for 10 to 12 hours at a time. 

At this stage, parents will find that their little ones’ sleep schedule levels out nicely, but you’re not quite over the hump yet. Somewhere around 12 months, your baby may experience another sleep regression, again tied to their developmental milestones. 

At this stage, your little one is probably walking and talking. There’s a lot of ground to cover and plenty to discuss, so, understandably, sleep will likely take a back seat. Your baby’s growing independence and changes in their naptime patterns may also play a role in this sleep regression. The good news here is that the 12-month sleep regression is typically short-lived, often only lasting for about two weeks or so.  

9 – 12 Month Example Sleep Schedule

  • 7:00 AM – Wake and feed
  • 7: 30 AM – Play 
  • 9:00 AM – Nap #1
  • 10:30 AM – Snack 
  • 11: 00 AM – Playtime 
  • 12:00 PM – Lunch 
  • 1:00 PM – Play 
  • 3:30 PM – Nap #2
  • 4:30 PM – Wake Up 
  • 5:00 PM – Dinner 
  • 7:00 PM – Bedtime routine/reading

Your Baby’s Sleep Routine: the Toddler Years

As your baby moves on to the toddler stage, they still need about 11 to 14 hours of sleep every day. This will likely include 10 to 12 hours of sleep at night and one nap that lasts anywhere from 1 to 2 hours during the day. 

During this stage, it may be a little more of a challenge for parents to get their little ones to sleep, and understandably so. Any parent of a toddler can tell you that these little ones are the busiest people on the planet. There’s a lot to do, a lot to explore, and let’s face it, for toddlers, FOMO is real.

Parents should note that when these little guys push off their sleep, it could backfire fantastically — on everyone. Your child can end up feeling overtired, and meltdowns and tantrums are sure to follow when that happens. (Not sure what time your tot should get to bed? Check out our sample schedule below or our kids sleep calculator, which can help you calculate the right bedtime for your little one.)

Common signs that your toddler is overtired include:

  • Tantrums
  • Clinginess
  • Hyperactivity
  • Trips and falls 

Toddler Example Sleep Schedule 

  • 7:00 AM – Wake up/feed
  • 9:00 AM – Snack 
  • 9:30 AM – Playtime/Freetime/Lunch
  • 1:00 PM – Nap (no more than 2 hours)
  • 3:00 PM – Wake up
  • 3:30 PM – Snack 
  • 4:00 PM – Playtime/Freetime/Dinner
  • 7:30 PM – Bedtime routine/Reading

Why Does My Baby Only Want to Sleep When I Hold Them?

Babies often like to be held when they sleep because it’s warm, cozy, and comfortable. Not only can they hear your heartbeat when you hold them, but being in your arms and smelling your scent makes them feel safe. Remember that these little ones just got here, and the world is a big scary place; falling asleep in your arms is the closest thing they have to the safety of the womb, and if given the opportunity to sleep while being held, you can bet they will gladly take it. 

How to Get My Baby to Sleep Without Being Held 

While many parents will no doubt find it hard to put down their new little bundles of joy, the fact is that life goes on, and holding your baby while they sleep is not a sustainable practice. When you’re ready to get your baby to sleep without being held, you might try any or all of the following. 


Mimicking the sensation of being in the womb, swaddling can go a long way toward soothing your baby enough to fall asleep without being held. Beyond keeping them warm and cozy, swaddling also wraps them securely enough to prevent the startle reflex from waking them while they sleep. 

White Noise 

Studies have shown that white noise can promote better sleep. As a matter of fact, in one incredible study, 80 percent of the newborn participants fell asleep within 5 minutes of hearing white noise

Beyond its ability to block ambient noise, the swishing and humming of white noise closely resemble the sounds babies hear in the womb, so as you might have guessed, your little one will likely fall asleep faster with a little white noise in the background. 

Ease Your Infant Into The Crib 

When putting your baby down, be sure to ease them into their crib. The best way to put your little one down is to put their feet down first, followed by their bottom, and then their head. If you lead with your baby’s head when putting them down, you run the risk of eliciting the Moro (or startle) reflex and waking them up. 

Beyond easing your baby into the crib, think about gently adjusting their position once they’re down to closely match the way they’ll be sleeping, and do your best to steer clear of abrupt movements and transitions. 

Use a Pacifier 

Pacifiers are also called soothers, and for good reason; they’re an excellent way to comfort and soothe your baby. And as a little added bonus, research has shown that pacifiers may also reduce the risk of SIDS

Try a Rocking Bassinet

If you’re consistently bumping into some trouble when putting your baby down to sleep, you might consider investing in a rocking bassinet that closely mimics the sensation of being rocked in your arms. There are plenty of great options available, like the Snoo bassinet or the Halo Swivel Sleeper, all of which ultimately do the same thing — soothe and rock your baby back to sleep should they begin to stir. 

Why Does My Baby Cry So Much?

Crying is how your baby communicates with you. And when bedtime rolls around, babies can cry for any number of reasons. 

In many cases, crying at night could be your baby’s way of telling you that they’re tired — just in case you had any doubts. Beyond crying because they’re tired, your baby’s crying might be a sign of pain or discomfort. Colic symptoms tend to worsen in the evening and nighttime hours, and if it’s colic or gas, your baby will let you know.

If you’re in the sleep training phase with your baby, it’s important to remember that crying is par for the course. Babies don’t like change, and sleep training is all about change. Considering that it usually requires a change in scenery and a shake-up of their normal routines, you can bet your little one will voice their objections right from the start.  

When To Call Your Doctor

While crying is your baby’s primary means of communication, sometimes it’s a tough code to crack. Ultimately, all parents should use their intuition as their guide. If you feel something is off, you shouldn’t hesitate to call your doctor. 

The Last Word from Sleepopolis

Your baby’s first year of life will be incredibly joyful and equally challenging. Their sleep schedules often start out wonky, and just when you think things have settled down enough for everyone to get a little shut-eye, sleep regression can make an appearance. And so it goes for the first year — three steps forward and two steps back. And while it may be frustrating, your baby’s first year will also be dotted with some truly wonderful memories and moments; in either case, it’s important to remember that it won’t last forever and there are ways to get through it. 

Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein

Sharon Brandwein is a Certified Sleep Science Coach and a freelance writer. She specializes in health and beauty, parenting, and of course, all things sleep. Sharon’s work has also appeared on ABC News, USAToday, and Forbes. When she’s not busy writing, you might find her somewhere curating a wardrobe for her puppy.