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Helping your baby sleep

When it comes to sleep, babies are like adults — some need more than others. Understand more about your baby’s sleep and how babies can learn to settle themselves to sleep.

How much sleep does your baby need?

Below is just a general guide to how much sleep a baby may need – your baby may sleep more or less than indicated here. They are individuals so don’t worry too much about the exact number of hours they sleep.

Approximate sleeping times for babies by age

Age Sleep time
Newborn Upwards of 16 hours, spread through the day with each sleep lasting 2-3 hours.
1-3 months Around 15 hours, with the amount slept during the day in a few naps (5-6 hours) decreasing as their night-time sleep increases
6-9 months Around 14 hours, mostly at night as they need less naps
1 year Around 11.5 hours at night with a short nap or two during the day

Newborns have small stomachs and don’t have a 24-hour body clock (Circadian rhythm) so they can’t tell the difference between night and day. This means you will need to feed them through the night. Many babies sleep through the night without a feed by 6 months but some need an overnight feed until they are nearer 10 months old.

Understanding your baby’s sleep cycles

Babies have a similar sleep cycle to adults. The main difference is that babies and young children have shorter sleep cycles. A baby’s sleep cycle lasts 30-40 minutes, a toddler’s about 60 minutes while an adult’s sleep cycle lasts around 90 minutes.

Each sleep cycle consists of two main stages. These are repeated for as long as you or your baby sleeps.

  • Deep or non-rapid-eye-movement (non-REM) sleep - during non-REM sleep your child sleeps deeply and quietly. This means that even if you touch your baby they may not stir.
  • Dreaming or REM sleep – as well as dreaming during this sleep phase, your eyes move rapidly in various directions as well – hence the name. During REM sleep your baby will move around more and may make noises. You may think they’re waking up but they’re really still fast asleep. Infants spend about 80 percent of their sleep cycle in REM sleep. This falls to about 20 percent by the time we’re teenagers.

Your baby may wake up briefly during the night after their first sleep cycle. Some babies will settle themselves back to sleep. Others will wake up and cry and need help settling back to sleep.

During the day you may be able to rock your baby back to sleep if they stir after 30-40 minutes of being asleep. If they don’t settle within a few minutes though, they may be ready to wake up.

Helping babies sleep at night

Let them sleep in your bedroom

Babies that sleep near their mothers tend to breastfeed successfully and are nearby for safety. For these reasons it is recommended that babies sleep in your bedroom in their own cots for the first 6 to 12 months. Don’t have the baby in bed with you. This has been linked to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and can lead to unfortunate sleeping accidents.

Establish a bedtime routine

Night-time sleeping patterns are learned behaviours. By establishing a bedtime routine, your baby will associate this routine with sleep. For example, give your baby a bath, then a feed, have some quiet time together and then put them to bed. Try to pick a routine that you feel comfortable to carry on when they are older. You can start to follow a set nightly sleep routine from as early as three months.

However, it can become a problem if your baby relies on these bedtime cues to go to sleep as they’re not learning to sleep independently. An example is when your baby can’t get to sleep without the habitual cuddle. Another example is a baby who sleeps with a dummy but won’t go back to sleep when it falls out unless you replace it.

If this behaviour develops with your baby, decide on a new pre-bedtime routine and stick to it. Your baby should adapt to the new routine and learn to settle themselves to sleep. This usually takes between 3 and 14 days. Usually 60–70 percent of babies can self-soothe themselves back to sleep without a parent’s help by 8 months of age.

More tips to help your baby sleep

Try to schedule naps at the same times each day. Make sure your baby has enough sleep during the day. Overtired babies are often harder to settle at night. Get to know the signs that they’re getting tired. These can include:

  • rubbing their eyes
  • clenching their fists
  • frowning and grimacing
  • jerking arms and legs about
  • yawning
  • becoming quiet or not wanting to play
  • crying
  • grizzling or fussing.

Put your baby to bed while they’re still awake and calm. This helps them learn to sleep independently. A baby who falls asleep in your arms and then wakes up in a cot may be unable to go back to sleep. To relax your baby, try rocking the crib, patting them with a cupped hand or singing to them.

Check for things that may distract your baby from sleeping due to discomfort. Check for wet or dirty nappies, that they are not hungry, overheated or too cold, or that their clothes are not too tight.

It may take 10 minutes or more for your baby to fall asleep. They may grizzle during this time, but you don’t have to go in and soothe them. Usually, as long as your baby isn’t crying, it’s fine to leave the room and let them settle. If they’re crying, you may decide to stay in the room until they're calm and then leave.

Persistent settling problems in young children

‘Controlled comforting’ and ‘camping out’ are two behavioural strategies that are effective in 80 percent of babies or young children who cry and won’t sleep independently. However, before you try either of these approaches make sure your baby is getting lots of attention, time and affection during the day.

Both these approaches can be included as part of the bedtime routine.

  • Controlled comforting - this is suitable for babies between 6 months and 2 years. With this technique, you stay in the room until your baby has quietened down, or for 1 minute, and then leave before they fall asleep. Set the amount of time you will let your baby cry before going back in to soothe them (preferably without picking them up). If your baby continues to cry, increase the time intervals before you return to comfort them – for example 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 minutes, or 5, 10 and 15 minutes.
  • Camping out - this involves staying in the room with your baby but gradually reducing the amount of help you give your baby to settle. It is based on the principle that your presence reassures the baby. Research suggests that this process involves less crying than the controlled comfort approach.

Safe sleep for your baby

The following steps can help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

  • Put babies to sleep on their backs - tummy and side sleeping have been linked to SIDS. Put your baby on its back even when they are able to roll over during sleep, which usually happens between four and six months of age. By this time the risk of SIDS is reduced and you can allow them to find their own sleeping position.
  • Keep your baby’s head and face uncovered - bedding should be tucked in with your baby’s feet at the end of the cot. It should only reach to their shoulders so it can’t cover their head.
  • Don't use loose bedding such as pillows or quilts, or put soft toys in the cot with the baby - these can move during sleep and cover your baby’s face. You can use baby sleeping bags instead of bedding if you prefer.
  • Keep your baby’s environment smoke free.

Help is at hand

Don’t hesitate to get help if nothing seems to stop your baby crying, or you would like to try the approaches mentioned above.

  • Your maternal and child health nurse or community early childhood centre can help you with any issues you have with your baby or young child.
  • If you would like to try controlled comforting, try these step-by-step instructions from the Raising Children Network website.
  • And don’t forget your baby’s grandparents or older, experienced mums that you know. They can be an invaluable source of information and support.

Further information

Women’s and Children’s Health Network

Raising Children Network


Babycenter. How much sleep does your baby need? [online] [Last updated Mar 2012; accessed 23 Jul 2014]. Available from:

Government of South Australia. Children, Youth and Women’s Health Services. Sleep – birth to 3 months. [online][Last updated Dec 2013; accessed 23 Jul 2014] Available from:

Government of South Australia. Children, Youth and Women’s Health Services. Sleep in early childhood. [online] [Last updated Apr 2014; accessed 24 Jul 2014] Available from:

Government of South Australia. Children, Youth and Women’s Health Services. Safe sleep for babies and toddlers. [online] [Last updated Apr 2014, accessed 24 Jul 2014] Available from:

Raising children network. Sleep. [online] [Accessed 24 Jul 2014]. Available from:

State Government of Victoria. Better Health Channel. Sleep and your baby. [online] [Last updated Jul 2013; accessed 23 Jul 2014]. Available from:

Last updated: 25 July 2014

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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