MS, RD, LDN, CBS
Janel holds a Master’s in Nutrition Communication from Tufts University. As the recipient of the 2010 Massachusetts Young Dietitian of the Year award, she believes in making healthy eating simple, sustainable, and delicious.
Sleep is essential for your baby’s optimal growth and development. Babies ages 4-12 months, on average, sleep 13.5-15 hours during a 24-hour period. While the amount of sleep your baby needs will not change much, the way their sleep is distributed throughout the day and night will change by age and developmental stage. These changing sleep patterns and nap schedules are not only completely normal, they are expected.
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Here are examples of typical sleep patterns and schedules for babies by age (it’s ok if your baby’s sleep needs and patterns vary from these examples!):
Ages 4-6 months
At this age, your baby’s circadian rhythm is fully developed, but still immature. Nighttime sleep is generally 10.5-12 hours (which may include 1-2 overnight feedings). Daytime sleep is generally 3-4 hours spanned through 3-4 naps. The morning nap is usually the most predictable, likely starting 1.5-2 hours after your baby’s morning wake-up time. Any other daytime naps will be less predictable in timing and duration, as a regular daytime nap pattern usually does not emerge until your baby is about 5.5 months old.
Ages 6-9 months
As of 9 months, nighttime feedings are typically no longer needed, but by watching your baby’s signals you’ll know what’s necessary for your little one. Encourage lots of daytime feedings to wean your baby gently off of nighttime feedings. Keeping your baby full during the day and reducing calories at night will help reduce your baby’s biological hunger cue to wake during the night. Nighttime sleep is generally 10.5-12 hours (which may include 1-2 overnight feedings). Daytime sleep becomes more predictable and likely looks something like this:
Ages 9-12 months
At this age, your baby can likely withstand longer periods of wakefulness and fall into a regular 2 nap- per-day pattern. Nighttime sleep is generally 10.5-12 hours (night feedings are no longer biologically necessary for almost all babies at this age, although some families choose to incorporate an overnight feed and some babies do still have a need to comfort nurse or “dream nurse”. If it works for your family, there is no harm in letting baby follow their instincts!). Daytime sleep is generally 2 naps totaling 3 hours with the schedule looking something like this:
Your baby should now be able to withstand at least 4 hours of wakefulness until bedtime (although you may need to shift bedtime slightly earlier since you’ve dropped the third late afternoon catnap from the schedule).
Keep your baby well-rested!
Children should fall asleep quickly, sleep well at night, wake spontaneously (or at least easily) in the morning, and nap appropriately for their age. If they do all of these things and function well during the daytime, then they are probably getting enough sleep.
Keep a sleep log for your baby
If you are not sure whether your baby is getting the right amount of sleep or following a typical pattern for a child his age, keep a log of his sleep. Things to note in the log include: the time your child actually falls asleep, the time your child wakes up in the morning, and the number and length of each daytime nap.
Help foster your baby’s new sleep pattern as it changes
Make small changes in your baby’s sleep schedule as his biological pattern changes. For example, when your 9-month-old no longer needs a third nap, adjust his bedtime 15-30 minutes earlier so he does not become overtired in the evening. And always encourage healthy sleep in an optimal sleeping environment (for tips on achieving the optimum, see How can I help my newborn (0-12 weeks) sleep well at night?).
Use light and dark cues to help regulate your baby’s sleep
Light has a strong impact on the circadian rhythm. Expose your baby to light, especially natural daylight, at the times when you will want him to be awake. Keep your baby’s environment dark and offer very low stimulation activities at night during the time you want him to be sleeping (even if he is not sleeping).
Follow these sample sleep schedules by age
First nap at 8:30am (75 minutes)
Second nap at 12:00noon (45 minutes)
Third nap at 2:30pm (45 minutes)
Fourth nap at 4:00pm (45 minutes)
Total day sleep = 3.5 hours
Total night sleep = 12 hours
Total sleep in 24 hours = 15.5 hours
First nap at 9:00am (90 minutes)
Second nap at 1:30pm (75 minutes)
Third nap at 5:30pm (15 minutes)
Total daytime sleep = 3 hours
Total nighttime sleep = 11.5 hours
Total sleep in 24 hours =14.5 hours
First nap at 9:00am (60 minutes)
Second nap at 1:00pm (120 minutes)
Total sleep in 24 hours = 14.5 hours
How Much Sleep Do Children Need? WebMD. Date accessed 6 August 2018. Ferber, Richard “Solve Your child’s Sleep Problems”, 2006.