How Can I Help my Baby (4-12 months) Sleep Well at Night?

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 3 minutes

What to know about getting your baby to sleep better at night

  • Know the recommended sleep time for babies

  • Understand the role of a bedtime routine

  • Learn how baby’s sleep environment helps them sleep better

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, babies 4 to 12 months old need 12-16 hours of sleep per 24-hour period, including naps.1,2,3

It may seem like a lot of sleep; however, these long hours are necessary for your baby’s cognitive and physical development.34

And while for the first few months your little one may be waking often, partially because they need to feed often, know that babies tend to start sleeping longer at night when they are 4 to 5 months old.5,35

While your baby’s sleep pattern may develop and change as they grow, there are certain things that could help them sleep better at night. Read on to learn more.

Will my baby sleep through the night?

Each baby is different and has their own unique sleep needs. Although tiring for parents, it is normal for a baby to wake up at night.6,7,8

Research has shown that up to 50% or more of children over the age of 6 months old may continue to wake up at night.5,7,9

For some of these wake-ups, many babies are able to put themselves back to sleep within a few minutes.6

Things that may wake your baby at night include:

  • Growth spurts (they need extra calories!)

  • Sleep regressions

  • Teething

  • Developmental milestones

  • Temperature

  • Reflux

  • Illness28,29,30,31

For many little ones, continued waking can be developmentally appropriate.7

Read more:

What are Typical Sleep Patterns for 4 to 12-month-old Babies?

How can I Drop my Baby’s Night Feedings

How can I help my baby sleep better?

Establish a bedtime routine

Bedtime routines give your child’s body and mind a chance to calm down and prepare for sleep.10,11

Having a routine is associated with baby falling asleep in a shorter amount of time, sleeping longer stretches at night, less nighttime wake ups, and better caregiver sleep quality.1,10

A bedtime routine is made up of activities that are done in the same order every night which let your little one know that bedtime is coming.5,12,13 It should include quiet and low stimulation activities.14

Examples of activities to include in your baby’s bedtime route include:

  • Breastfeeding, having a bottle, or snack (if age appropriate)

  • Taking a bath

  • Reading a story

  • Singing

  • Baby massage

  • Rocking your little one in a chair10,13,15

Learn more: How Do I Create a Bedtime Routine for my Infant and Toddler?

Create an optimal sleep environment

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends low noise levels, slightly cool room temperature, and a dark room.11,16

Read more:

Setting up a Safe Sleep Environment for your Child

Which Sleep Positions are Safe for your Baby?

Avoid screens and bright lights before bed

Blue lights from screens (e.g. T.V., tablets, cell phones) impact our bodies more than any other light, but even a regular room light can suppress the body’s melatonin production.17,18

Melatonin tells our bodies that it is time to sleep.19 When it is suppressed, our bodies can think it is daytime.19

To help your child sleep better, try to avoid screens within the hour before they go to bed, and keep lights dim.

Use a sleep sack when your baby outgrows their swaddle

When done correctly, swaddling can be a very beneficial aid to sleep as long as it is used before (and never after) your baby learns to roll.20,32

Some babies may begin to roll over around 2 months of age. Once baby shows the slightest sign of rolling over, swaddling is no longer safe.20,21

If you are worried about baby being cold, consider transitioning baby to a wearable blanket like a sleep sack.22

A sleep sack is made to cover baby’s body (while keeping their head and arms free) and can help decrease the chance of baby’s legs from sliding through crib slats.22 They offer the feeling of being snug and cozy while following safe sleep guidelines.

Learn more: Everything You Need to Know About Swaddling Your Baby

Be mindful of sleep associations

Sleep associations are the conditions present when we fall asleep.24

This is something we all experience. Being aware of your little one’s associations can help you determine if changes should be made to help your little one sleep better.

Examples of sleep associations include:

1. Pacifier use

For some babies, a pacifier can be a helpful soothing tool.

However, note that if it is used to help baby fall asleep, you may have to reposition it when they wake up at night, especially since most babies do not yet have the fine motor skills to retrieve and replace their own pacifier until closer to 7 months of age.25

2. Falling asleep in your arms

If baby is held and rocked to a deep sleep, it can be more difficult for them to go back to sleep when they wake up at night unless you spend the time to rock them back to sleep.4,26

To help baby learn to return to sleep alone, end their bedtime routine by placing them on their back while still awake and aware.4,21

This may mean you rock and cuddle them a little, but place them in their crib before they fall asleep. This helps baby become familiar with their surroundings before falling asleep.

As baby cycles through the stages of sleep – sometimes even waking up – they will “feel” like they are in the right place. This may help them fall back to sleep more easily and independently.

What to do when your baby wakes up at night

If your little one does wake up at night, keep things calm and boring.4 You want to help keep them drowsy and not stimulated.

  • Keep the lights dim or off

  • Quietly feed, change, or comfort baby

  • Try not to talk to your little one too much

  • Avoid playing with them26

As your baby gets older and you continue using these tips, they’ll get better at falling back asleep on their own.

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

How to Safely Sleep with your Child

What are Sleep Regressions?

How can I help my newborn (0-12 weeks) sleep well at night?

What are Typical Sleep Patterns for Newborns (0 - 12 weeks old)?

How do I Keep my Breast or Formula Fed Baby Awake during Feedings?

How to Share Nighttime Feeding Duties with your Partner

Why Is My Baby Waking Up So Early?

How Do I Teach My Baby to Sleep in Their Crib?