Throughout the first few years of life, babies and toddlers have a long list of milestones to meet, and while they’re all important, there’s nothing like the relief that comes over a caregiver after the first time their baby sleeps through the night. After months of sleep deprivation, it’s pure bliss. The sooner you can get a full night’s sleep, the better. But when your baby will start sleeping through the night depends on a variety of factors, as experts explain.
“This is a tough question to answer because there really isn't one specific age when babies (sleep trained or not) automatically begin sleeping through the night,” pediatric sleep consultant, Aubrie DeBear, Psy. D., tells Romper in an email. Every baby is different, and there are a lot of factors that play into when baby will sleep through the night, such as their environment, their routines, and their caloric intake. “Some babies can begin sleeping a 6-8 hours stretch as early as 4-6 weeks,” she says, “and on the other side, I know families with toddlers who are still waking every 2-3 hours throughout the night.”
The good news is that there are some things sleep-deprived caregivers can do to encourage their baby to sleep through the night sooner than later.
When will baby sleep through the night without sleep training?
For some caregivers, sleep training is a last resort and they’d rather let their child meet that milestone naturally. This is perfectly acceptable, but there is a wide timeframe for when you can expect your baby to get to the point of independent sleeping without any kind of help. “[It] will usually happen by the time the [child is] between 3 to 4 years old,” Natalie Willes, infant and toddler sleep consultant, tells Romper, “[but] it can happen earlier, with babies spontaneously sleeping through the night as early as 4 months.”
DeBear echos Willes, saying “without any parental intervention whatsoever... there is not a specific age that babies will definitely begin to sleep through the night.” And, while some babies do start sleeping through the night without any intervention, she says caregivers can encourage their babies to start sleeping through the night on the earlier side by “setting a strong sleep foundation.” If you’re going to go this route, the earlier you start, the better, according to DeBear. “For babies older than 6 months, these more gentle and general tools may take much longer to work because these little ones are so much more aware and can easily become frustrated if they're accustomed to needing lots of outside assistance to get to sleep,” she explains.
Here are DeBear’s top five tips for encouraging your baby to sleep through the night without sleep training:
- Create an “optimal environment” where they’re sleeping. Keep the room temperature between 68-72 degrees F, ensure the space is quiet (she suggests a sound machine to help with this), dark, and distraction-free, and provide a comfortable and safe sleep space.
- Establish a bedtime routine, and stick to it. “Implementing a bedtime routine is scientifically proven to help babies fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer than babies who do not have a consistent bedtime routine,” she says.
- Once the baby reaches 3 months old, stick to a consistent bedtime between 7-8 p.m. every night.
- Avoid putting them to bed drowsy. “When babies are put to bed drowsy, they're actually already in the process of falling asleep and therefore not learning to fall asleep on their own,” DeBear explains. In fact, she suggests putting them to bed awake so that they learn how to fall asleep independently.
- Make sure they’re getting enough calories throughout the day (and not napping through feedings) “so that they aren’t waking more frequently than necessary overnight to eat.” For babies between 0-8 weeks old, she says they should be eating every 2-3 hours consistently throughout the day.
When will baby sleep through the night with sleep training?
If the thought of your baby waking up throughout the night until they’re 3-4 years old scares you, then you can try sleep training. According to both DeBear and Willes, sleep training can usually begin as early as 4 months old (but get it cleared with your pediatrician before you start). Of course, if you still want to give your little one some time to develop the skill naturally on their own, you certainly don’t have to start at 4 months. However, once you get closer to the one-year mark, be prepared to intervene. “For most babies, if they haven’t started to sleep through the night without sleep training by 10-11 months, it’s less likely they will do so on their own (without sleep training/intervention) before their third birthday,” says Willes.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest factors in how well a baby will take to sleep training is whether or not the caregivers are actually ready, according to DeBear. “Babies generally take to sleep training really well,” she says, “but when the adults are anxious or unsure, that can have an impact on the process for the whole family.” It’s understandable for a caregiver to feel this way, but Willes says the best way to get over this anxiety is to learn more about what sleep training actually is. “Sleep training has everything to do with a kid learning to fall asleep on their own and much less to do with things like a schedule and whether or not a kid is still eating overnight,” she says. “Data shows that babies continue to wake the same number of times overnight even after sleep training [but] the difference is sleep trained babies know how to fall back to sleep without intervention.”
How to sleep train
There are a lot of different sleep training methods and programs out there, and it’s up to the caregiver to decide which makes them feel the most comfortable. That said, whatever method you choose you will need to stick with it, because consistency is important. In fact, Willes explains that there needs to be consistency not just at night, but with naps, too. “It is much, much easier for a child to fall asleep ‘on their own’ at bedtime because the body is flooded with melatonin,” she says. “When a child wakes overnight without as much melatonin in their body, they will demand and expect the same help they get to fall asleep for naps.”
Here are some of the common sleep training methods:
- Cry it out (aka Extinction): Put the baby down for bed and do not go back in to console/soothe them, resulting in them learning how to fall back to sleep alone (this one can be hard on caregivers).
- Ferber method (aka Graduated Extinction): Instead of letting the baby cry for however long it takes for them to fall asleep on their own, this method has you go in to comfort the baby (by putting your hand on them, not picking them up) in intervals, with each interval getting longer than the last.
- Pick up/put down: With this method, you’ll stay in the room while your baby falls asleep, giving them gentle touches if they start to fuss, then if they start to cry, you’ll pick them up to calm them down and then put them back in their crib and start the process over until they are asleep.
- Chair method: This is another gradual method that has caregivers put the baby down for bed while they sit in a chair next to the crib until the baby falls asleep. Every few nights, you’ll move the chair further and further away until you’re out of the room entirely.
Sleepless nights are hard on caregivers, so it’s totally normal to wonder when your baby will start sleeping through the night. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect answer, but if you’re eager to get some rest, consider this advice from DeBear and Willes. What do you have to lose?
Natalie Willes, Infant and Toddler Sleep Consultant and Founder of Baby Sleep Trainer