Sleeping through the night - what does it really mean?

Sleeping through the night is usually defined as sleeping 6 hours or more at a stretch, between the hours of 12am-5pm at approximately 6 months of age but all babies are different. Similar to other developmental milestones, babies may start to do this earlier or later than 6 months, and as already explained, there are many reasons it takes babies time to learn how to do this.

Parents can try and encourage babies to sleep for their longest periods during the night from 3 months onwards using the following techniques:

  • A baby swaddle should be utilised from day one, so that as babies increase their motor skills being swaddled will slightly restrict their movements, making it less likely they will wake up from being too cold or too restless.
  • After 6 months of age, when they are feeding less, delaying is a way to try and shift babies into sleeping for longer when they wake up early and won’t go back to sleep. This can involve parents offering a dummy, rocking or cuddling the baby, or changing a nappy all before starting the day at a later time. 
  • Sometimes overusing baby slings or baby swings can affect night time sleep because babies become so comfortable while out and about with their parents that they drift off into sleep instead of remaining alert at times when they should be awake and may not expend enough energy. Restricting sessions with baby slings and baby swings to 30 minute periods should ensure these things don’t impede on your baby’s night time sleep routine.- Sleeping problems related to illness or teething should be treated with appropriately prescribed medication and teething pain can often be helped by offering teething rings and using medicated numbing gel. But remember a baby who is unwell or teething should not have to undergo any additional stress and should be attended to during the night. Once your baby has regained her health parents can then try to make subtle changes to a routine.
  • Other techniques such as keeping a baby up slightly later at night in 10 minute increments until bedtime has been pushed forward a little, as well as letting a baby lie alone for a while after he or she has woken up rather than going in straight away (provided she is content even when making noise such as babbling or playing with toys) are both extra things parents can try to teach their baby to stay asleep for longer.

Facts verified by Jo Ryan, child sleep expert at Babybliss and a registered nurse of 20 years experience, with much of that time spent working in paediatrics.