October 25th, 2010
12:01 AM ET

First four months critical for new baby's sleep habits

One of the challenges faced by new parents is getting their infant to sleep through the night and on to a sleep schedule similar to that of Mom and Dad. A new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that most babies will sleep five to eight hours per night by their fourth month of life.

"Sleep is important for optimal growth and development and also goes a long way towards a baby’s mood, " said Dr. Jennifer Shu, a practicing pediatrician and CNNHealth's Living Well expert. "Most newborn babies sleep about 16 to 20 hours per day (ie, more asleep than they are awake) and by a few weeks of age they already tend to sleep more at night than in the day. There can definitely be some differences, however, with some babies needing less sleep overall or less daytime sleep than others.

"It can be an issue with parents if parents expect their babies to sleep a certain amount but it’s not happening—ie, the baby’s sleep pattern doesn’t fit with the rest of the family’s or the family’s expectations." Shu said. "Also, parents are often exhausted in the early days because even though baby sleeps plenty of hours, they are interrupted periods, with feedings occurring every few hours so parents don’t get the stretches of sleep they’re accustomed to getting."

The researchers asked parents of 75 babies to keep sleep diaries. Parents kept diaries of their infants for six days per month for the first 12 months of the babies' lives. The parents were also invited to shoot time-lapse video of their child's sleep, to help verify the results of the diaries.

Three  criteria were used to judge whether the baby was sleeping through the night: Sleeping uninterrupted from midnight till 5 a.m., sleeping uninterrupted for eight hours, or sleeping uninterrupted from 10 p.m to 6 a.m.

The study found the most babies will sleep five to eight hours per night by about the age of four months. Many babies will sleep while the rest of the family is sleeping–50 percent of babies at age five months.

"There is always a caveat," Shu notes:  "It's important to note that babies are different and we shouldnt expect or force all of them into a cookie-cutter sleep mode. Some babies just don't respond to the 'cry it out' method."

Shu notes that she talks to many parents with concerns about a new baby's sleep patterns. "Parents whose babies sleep less than they would like (as well as those who sleep more than their friends’ babies sleep) wonder if their baby’s sleep is normal. Also, parents have concerns when babies won’t fall asleep on their own and need to be rocked/fed/etc.","

"What’s normal for your baby is very individual," she tells parents. "If baby is thriving and happy, then it’s normal! There’s almost no such thing as getting too much sleep—that is, if your baby sleeps a lot and is feeding/growing/acting well then be grateful!

"Also, it’s helpful to build good sleep habits by giving baby the opportunity to sleep in the same place at roughly the same time every day and night. Also offer a routine that involves helping the baby relax (by cuddling/holding/rocking for example) and putting them into the crib slightly drowsy but not completely awake. Consistency really helps.

"One problem I see is that parents may give up on the routine too soon and hold the baby for a long time so the baby sleeps, or put baby into bed with them, etc. This is a short-term patch but not a good long-term solution. If they keep trying to put baby down drowsy but awake, baby will eventually learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep (and get back to sleep since we all have brief nighttime awakenings) on her own."

The Pediatrics study confirms what pediatricians generally tell parents about sleep and their baby, according to Shu, "I usually tell parents that most babies can sleep at least five-hour stretches by four months. Knowing that many will sleep for 8 hours straight is icing on the cake. Having those eight hours fall during the time when the rest of the family is asleep is a touchdown!"

And she warns that parents shouldn't feel guilty if their child is taking longer to get onto a sleep schedule, saying "Parents should not feel bad if they've tried everything, yet their baby still won't sleep. It may help to readjust their expectations. It can take time for a baby to mature and learn to 'self-regulate'.  A parent of a one-month old can take comfort in knowing that in most cases, their baby’s sleep will improve within a few months. However, the first month is an ideal window to help promote good sleep habits in babies so they are more likely to self-regulate within the expected four-to-five-month period. It’s important to be consistent in the first few months to help babies develop this self-regulation but to keep in mind that there are definitely some outliers—some babies will continue to have sleep difficulties even if parents are doing everything 'right' although the majority will have a good sleep."

soundoff (48 Responses)
  1. vadakemadam

    Does one needs a study for this with tax payer dollars and a journal article. Everyone's ancestors knew this for generations.
    And then CNN needs a healthy living expert to confirm this. In fact it may be useful to have a study on how sleep patterns of teenagers( 3AM to 12 Noon) affect their health and increases their parents BP

    October 25, 2010 at 07:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • test

      Where does it say tax payer dollars paid for this study?

      October 25, 2010 at 07:36 | Report abuse |
    • JT

      Maybe the study was done at a university as a thesis research activity. A lot of research happens this way and is *not* taxpayer funded - at least not directly. Taxpayers might be paying some of the costs to run the university but it is up to the PHD candidate to identify their research project and get it approved. It is a way for a student to get their PHD or Masters.

      October 25, 2010 at 09:28 | Report abuse |
    • Constantine

      Hmm – I dont think this was a bad article

      October 25, 2010 at 21:28 | Report abuse |
  2. always complainers

    seems like someone will *ALWAYS* complain, no matter what the topic/issue....

    good article, especially since i'm expecting my first child. 🙂

    October 25, 2010 at 07:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • KELP

      The key part of this entire article is that "babies are different and we shouldn't expect or force all of them into a cookie-cutter sleep mode."

      Do what works for your family. You won't know what that is until your little one arrives. Congrats!

      October 25, 2010 at 13:35 | Report abuse |
    • Alexandra


      October 25, 2010 at 14:27 | Report abuse |
    • Constantine

      HA – so true, i wonder if they do this on every site they come to

      October 25, 2010 at 21:29 | Report abuse |
  3. cb

    Definitely good information about babies' sleep patterns and parents' expectations. We are expecting our 2nd and hoping that we have an easier time with him than our first. It is also beneficial for parents to know that most babies' stomachs aren't big enough to hold enough food to keep them sustained through the night until they are at least 3 months. As far as tax payers dollars, I'd rather see research money spent on studies like this than the study I heard about this week on whether some dogs are natural pessimists. I mean, really? 🙂

    October 25, 2010 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Rachel

    Research in this country is generally done with donated money (from large business usually) not government or taxpayers money.

    October 25, 2010 at 09:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Constantine

      Pharma – i would say is the biggest contributor

      October 25, 2010 at 21:32 | Report abuse |
  5. monah

    Too many parents put their baby in bed with them because it is easier for the parent. Then, three years later they are complaining that they never get a good night sleep because their 2 1/2 year old and 1 year old children are still sleeping with them. They complain that it's the only way they can get them to sleep because the children cry when they are placed in their own beds. And thus begins the child controlling the parent.

    October 25, 2010 at 09:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Amber

      I couldn't have said it better myself!

      October 25, 2010 at 11:18 | Report abuse |
    • Desiree

      My 7 month old daughter sleeps in our bed and it couldnt be more perfect. Babies have slept with their parents for centuries in other parts of the world and babies also cry less in those parts of the world. Definitely a choice but dont knock it because you didnt make the same one...

      October 25, 2010 at 14:49 | Report abuse |
    • Mariana

      I loved having my children in bed with me. If it didn't work for you, thats fine, but for us it worked great. And Monah, this had nothing to do with my children controlling me. We all enjoyed it! Now my children are happy,healthy and independent teenagers.

      October 25, 2010 at 14:55 | Report abuse |
    • Carla

      I couldn't disagree more. I think it's totally unnatural to put a newborn to sleep alone, let alone to expect them to sleep for so many hours. Newborns and infants show significantly better breathing patterns when they are sleeping close to an adult, not to mention it makes night feedings much easier. If you don't want to deal with the fact that I child NEEDS you for many years, and NEEDS you 24*7 for many many months, then don't have one.

      October 25, 2010 at 14:56 | Report abuse |
    • Constantine

      Yup – i have heard the same complaints

      October 25, 2010 at 21:33 | Report abuse |
  6. Christina

    I remember my son slept on my chest for the first six weeks and we slept in the recliner downstairs where I was recovering from my c-section. He slept better and I recovered quicker because I had minimal sleep interuptions.

    However it did make for a more difficult time later on. He was almost 6 months old before he would sleep more than 4 hours at a time. Now at a little over a year old he rarely wakes at night and if he does he only wants comfort for a few minutes before being put back into his crib.

    As for the some of the nay-sayers and ninnys who are downing this study; it's good to publish things like this because some people don't have the support network or family to tell them these things. IT can give new parents the heads up on information that they need to know and save them the pain of learning the hard way later!

    October 25, 2010 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Snuggle Mama

    This article focuses on a particular style of parenting (ie "crying it out") that–like all styles of parenting–has pros and cons. There is also much being said about the benefits of co-sleeping and attachment parenting as ways of creating deep-rooted stability for a child. The notion of putting a child in their own bed in a separate room to "cry it out" simply doesn't exist in many cultures, and frankly, with the way our culture's children are "turning out", I am willing to try something different with my child, even if it means I don't sleep like I used to. Actually, nothing much about my life is the same as it "used to be" before I had children, so I'm happy to go with the flow. I hit the walls a couple of times on the way, but I recovered. Maybe people who don't want their lives to change shouldn't have babies.

    October 25, 2010 at 12:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mark

      Whenever I read articles like this, I always try to think about what we, humans, did 1000 years ago given the context. I have a hard time believing a mother would ever be more than an arms distance away from a newborn back then. It's not like our physiology has changed in the last 1000 years, so why do something so drastically different?

      October 25, 2010 at 12:26 | Report abuse |
    • Dumbed Down American Parenting

      thank you for such a sensible and coherent and factually based comment. There's lots of research, even published in Time last month, and Harvard study earlier this year, that close contact throughout the night is beneficial, not a detriment to babies. Why is it that we expect 3 months for STTN, and Russia expects 3 years? Hmmmm..... What this study lacks is to say what percentage of the babies being studied are BF versus FF. BF babies sleep less, and it is by no means a reason to stop BFing early. BF and cosleeping are symbiotic and not only can be necessary, but desired as it was in our house. Wish I had the link to the study I read last week about BF/Cosleeping mommas getting better quality sleep that mommas with FF babes in cribs

      October 25, 2010 at 14:23 | Report abuse |
  8. Heather

    75 babies does NOT an accurate sample make. What's more, it sounds like this study assumed all parents use the abusive CIO method (shown to cause brain damage, sleep disorders later in life and emotional disorders in adults as well as attachment issues in children and later in adults as they become parents) and didn't include any babies in a natural sleeping situation (with their parents and not alone in a separate room–even the AAP recommends that infants be in their parents' room, in their own crib/bassinet, until 6 months of age). What's more, it doesn't mention that babies that STTN young are more prone to SIDS.

    Much of this is good, about how it's pretty individual, but expecting 8 hours of sleep from a 4 month old is not only ridiculous, but dangerous for that baby, who still needs nourishment through the night. A period of 5-6 hours is one thing, but 8 is too long. Many babies who sleep long periods of time at night do so because their blood sugar has dropped too low for them to rouse properly.

    October 25, 2010 at 12:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sarah

      Show me the research that says CIO is "abusive" creates problems for kids later in life. I believe these claims are mostly based on babies in Romanian orphanages, not loving parents who are attentive to their babies' needs, but use CIO as a way to help their babies self-soothe.

      October 25, 2010 at 13:57 | Report abuse |
    • Carla

      @ Sarah ,

      this is the link to the research article:
      I'm citing:

      Three new studies led by Narvaez show a relationship between child rearing practices common in foraging hunter-gatherer societies (how we humans have spent about 99 percent of our history) and better mental health, greater empathy and conscience development, and higher intelligence in children.

      “Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms, or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will ‘spoil’ it,” Narvaez says.

      Whether the corollary to these modern practices or the result of other forces, research shows the health and well being of American children is worse than it was 50 years ago: there’s an epidemic of anxiety and depression among the young; aggressive behavior and delinquency rates in young children are rising; and empathy—the backbone of compassionate, moral behavior—has been shown to be decreasing among college students.

      October 25, 2010 at 15:12 | Report abuse |
    • Constantine

      CIO – there must be a balance somewhere in there

      October 25, 2010 at 21:36 | Report abuse |
  9. Oleg

    A child should sleep in a caged enclosure in a separate room from mom and dad and be fed a steady diet of factory-processed gruel with an occasional helping of ground beetles until he/she is ready to go to a government-run brainwashing facility with $2.14/day lunches. This is the only way to prepare successful corporate drones of the 21st century. To live like cosleeping, breastfeeding, unstructured play savages is unthinkable!

    October 25, 2010 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TicTacToe

      Looks like that worked well on you.

      October 25, 2010 at 13:37 | Report abuse |
    • Constantine

      Hahah – nicely said

      October 25, 2010 at 21:37 | Report abuse |
  10. LMB33 Milwaukee

    Re the comment from "Snuggle Mama" – you sleep with your children because of how kids these days are "turning out"? Well, from what I see, many are turning out to be self-centered, entitled, and thinking that the universe should revolve around them...and don't move out of their parents home until they reach their 30's. Is it possible that teaching a baby some self-soothing skills and the ability to sleep on their own might help to form more independant children which, in turn, might lead to more productive adults? As monah's comment said – the child should not control the parent.

    October 25, 2010 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mariana

      My three boys all slept next to me and my husband from when they were newborn until the age of two or three, and we loved it!! I also breast fed them all for two years each. They are now teenagers, and all three of them are very independent, responsible, polite, great students and very caring. If I had to do it over again, I would not change a thing!!!

      October 25, 2010 at 14:10 | Report abuse |
    • Dumbed Down American Parenting

      if the recommendation of the AAP is to CIO, and only 10% of moms are still BF at 1 year, a large percentage of parents are using these tacts and thus, the generation you are complaining about is the one thats a product of mostly "Abandoparenting". Indulgent parenting and attachment parenting are two different things.

      October 25, 2010 at 14:37 | Report abuse |
    • Carla

      The only thing you're teaching them is that no matter what their problem is, just because maybe you don't know what it is, they can cry as much as they want and still noone is giving a dime about them.
      Great lesson for a three months old.
      This is the link to the three studies done by NotreDame regarding sleeping and child rearing practices, and how distant and crying-it-out-parenting is linked to less mental health, less empathy and conscience development, and lower intelligence.
      Infants and young children cannot self-regulate their hormonal system, that's some kind of myth. If they are exposed to repeated or long-lasting stressful situations, the level of their stress hormones will NOT go down to normal by itself, but stay elevated, and thus create an already elevated "baseline". Just because they eventually might stop crying does NOT mean they're fine and healthy and this doesn't have a physiological effect on their bodies. When you end up having an epidemic of kids with neurological and auto-immune disorders, you're right on!

      October 25, 2010 at 15:09 | Report abuse |
  11. Open to humane suggestions

    How timely... Out of sheer desperation, we finally took the advice of so many other parents and just tried the "crying out' thing with our baby, who is a few days shy of six months, last night, (in his own crib but in our room). First the baby cried himself to sleep, then my husband and I cried ourselves to sleep. Then he woke up forty-five minutes later and we did it all again. I can't do it ever again. It was hell. But I have to admit part of my tears were thinking I will never sleep more than a few hours again- I will never be able to remember anything, or learn anything, or function properly, or have any energy for my other child, because I will be sleep deprived in that Prisoner-of-war kind of way forever. Our other child was sleeping through the night at three months and I have no idea what is different? There must be an answer, but sadly, this study doesn't reveal it, neither does "Ferber", or "BabyWise" or "Happiest Baby on the block"... so I am off to other blogs to search for some help...

    October 25, 2010 at 13:53 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Valerie

      If you've tried everything: feeding, burping, gas drops, diaper change, bath... and the baby still is crying, then it could just be boredom. When you let them cry themselves to sleep enough times in a row (usually takes 3 days or so), then you are training them to be able to fall asleep on their own. Of course this is only after you have exhausted all other options of why they could possibly be crying.

      October 25, 2010 at 13:59 | Report abuse |
    • Dumbed Down American Parenting

      look to food allergies/intolerance next. It can cause a lot of sleep and or reflux issues and sometimes parents AND docs have no clue. Its what kept our little guy waking ever 45min at 6 months old. Sleep drastically improved, but wasn't perfect as it shouldn't be, once the food stuff was relatively figured out.

      October 25, 2010 at 14:32 | Report abuse |
    • ggm

      the best gift you can give your child is good sleep habbits! Try the cry it out for a few nights in a row, at 6 months, they usually get it quickly, better now than at 2 years old.

      October 25, 2010 at 16:54 | Report abuse |
    • Constantine

      POW baby – thats nice. Can see how its easy to dole out advice from other commenters but much more difficult to implement as a parent

      October 25, 2010 at 21:38 | Report abuse |
    • Em

      Allowing your child to cry it out does not teach your child self-soothing techniques. Rather, it teaches him that you will not respond to his cries no matter how long he cries, and he then gives up on crying as a technique to have his needs met. Crying for extended periods of time releases unhealthy amounts of stress hormones (http://www.naturalchild.org/guest/pinky_mckay.html) and results in decreased intellectual, emotional, and social development (http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/handout2.asp).

      For ideas on how to encourage sleep, look at http://www.askdrsears.com/html/7/t070300.asp.

      And Valerie, a child at this age does NOT cry from boredom.

      October 27, 2010 at 20:01 | Report abuse |
  12. Valerie

    When I had my second child, she spent most of her time and slept in her carseat on a stroller (they came together), that I could wheel around the house. It was too convenient, and having her half curled up like that seemed to make her sleep better. It wasn't until about the 2nd or 3rd month when her doctor asked me if I was doing something to make the back of her head flat that I thought, "Okay, time to not do this anymore." After that she slept in a playpen, though it was a very nice one with good fabric (not scratchy sounding), which her brother had also used. They really don't make them like that anymore, or at least I couldn't find another one recently. But she was just a good, easy baby all around.

    October 25, 2010 at 13:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. a mom

    I think some of the issues have more to do with people not understanding infant development...do some research on the theory of the "fourth trimester"...why do we have such a hard time nurturing our babies (notice...nurturing is different than spoiling!!). I make this as a statement in response to so many statements like "I'll never sleep again"..."Life is never going to be normal"...I think some of the fault lies with the way society approaches parenting...Watch any television show, reality show, etc...The unrealistic picture of life with a baby leads people to believe that is the way things are!!! If we talked more about being a realistic family in our culture...and we stopped always working for bigger, better, more, etc! We might find our focus could return to what matters...nurturing a family! I know...we all have to eat, have shelter, etc. and that's not what I am talking about...Slow down...Enjoy your children...They are precious gifts! Enlist the help of family and friends...You don't have to do this alone!!!!

    October 25, 2010 at 15:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Kira Fix aka Confused

    I am confused – the article does not mention CIO or STTN yet some comments do – what do these mean? Can someone explain please?

    October 26, 2010 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Em

    The WHO recommends breastfeeding your child "as often as the child wants, day and night" (http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/exclusive_breastfeeding/en/index.html) for at least the first six months. Spacing nursing sessions further than 3-4 hours apart can decrease the breastfeeding mother's milk supply.

    Doctors agree that breastfeeding is best but then some recommend practices that will sabotage the practice, such as encouraging sleeping apart from your child and sleeping 5-8 hours straight. Co-sleeping (child within arm's reach) and bedsharing safely (with a firm mattress, parents not under the influence, and precautions taken to avoid falls and entrapment), promote a healthy breastfeeding experience and actually allow parents to get more sleep than sleeping separately. The true "touchdown" is a well-rested mother with an exclusively breastfed child, most often found in a co-sleeping home.

    October 27, 2010 at 19:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Jan

    I believe that sleep is one of the most important things for a baby. Having a happy baby is also very important for the parents as there can be so much stress in a family today. An upset, tired baby is one less thing to worry about if the baby gets good sleep.

    November 1, 2010 at 16:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. jokiebird

    I know every baby is different, but my daughter started sleeping through the night at 11 or 12 weeks. One thing I did not do–and it may or may not have made a lick of difference–was turn on the TV or lights when she awakened in the middle of the night and I did nothing more than whisper to her. It seems logical that if you behave differently at night than you do during the day, the baby eventually starts to "get it." But who knows, I could have blared the TV and turned on the lights and she would have started to sleep through the night at the same time. Either way, I felt lucky!

    November 6, 2010 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
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    I sleep trained my LO and it made such a difference for us. I've read a lot on the internet, and a lot of people were saying good things about "How to teach a baby to fall asleep alone" by Susan Urban and her HWL method ( I’ve found it here https://www.parental-love.com/shop/baby-sleep-training ). It just made my son sleep 🙂 I was tired and down, but now it is much much better! My son is only 4 months old, so, normally, he eats at night but with this guide, I got rid of waking up every hour to feed him and he can fall asleep alone in his crib what was impossible a few days ago. Big recommendation from my family and me

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