There Isn't a Golden Age When Your Baby Should Sleep Through the Night

My Toddler Has Never Once Slept Through The Night

Standing toddler boy crying in the crib
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One of the most Googled parental questions (by far) is “when will my baby sleep through the night?” — or, more accurately, “how can I get my baby to sleep through the night?” And while the reason for this inquiry is obvious, because newborns are exhausting and sleep deprivation is (more or less) a bitch, the answer is less straightforward. Scratch that: The answer is dubious. Why? Because while every child will sleep through the night eventually, there is no golden age. My 21-month-old still wakes every evening. Yes, really.

The good news is most children are unlike my son. According to Healthline, most children sleep through the night by or around their sixth month of age. But it is important to note this number is an average. Children can fall anywhere on the sleep spectrum.

“Most children sleep through the night once they know how to fall asleep for themselves,” Sierra Dante — a pediatric sleep consultant — tells Scary Mommy. “This can be at two months of age or at 12 years of age,” Dante explains. “There is no right answer. There is no ‘right’ age.” What’s more, the idea that children sleep through the night is something of a misnomer.

“Sleeping through the night is an ambiguous term that means different things to different people,” Jaimie Zaki — an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant — explains. “Contrary to popular belief, for infants and small children this typically is defined as one four to five hour stretch of sleep, and then frequent wakings every two to three hours.” In short, it doesn’t mean your baby or child will sleep from 7:00pm to 7:00am.

Of course, that doesn’t make me feel any better. I mean, I’m still exhausted and searching (somewhat helplessly) for answers. See also: I’ve wasted many hours trying to help my son get to sleep. I’ve also spoken with his doctor to assure there is nothing wrong with him, which there isn’t. He is perfectly healthy. Most “sleepless” children are.

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“While many children will ebb and flow through periods of sleeping longer and periods of less sleep — mainly in conjunction with growth spurts, developmental changes, teething, etc. — other children may just wake on a regular basis,” Zaki tells Scary Mommy. It is “normal.” Their baseline. Numerous other factors also affect newborn, infant, and toddler sleep. Breastfed babies, for example, tend to wake more frequently than formula-fed babies. Separation anxiety may also become a factor, particularly around nine months and/or a year, and some children experience night terrors. I believe this is the case with my son, who wakes in a delirium, screaming and crying at the top of his lungs.

That said, in some cases, medical conditions may be at work. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome can cause sleep disturbances. GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, can cause discomfort — and frequent night wakings — and other conditions can pop up. If you are worried about your child’s sleep habits, you should consult a sleep training specialist and/or speak with your child’s pediatrician.

The good news is that there are things you can do to support positive sleep habits

“Infants and toddlers sleep best with a consistent and predictable sleep schedule that takes into account the recommended ‘awake windows,’” Hilliary Giglio — a psychologist, social worker, and certified pediatric sleep specialist — tells Scary Mommy. “A baby or child who is over tired or under tired will have a harder time falling asleep.”

Make and follow a sleep schedule. Keep a routine: i.e. every night, you should bathe your baby, dress them, feed them, brush their teeth, and read a story before tucking them in. Do the same thing every evening before putting them to bed. Remain consistent in your messaging. If they wake, support them in going back to bed in whatever method you decide. The point isn’t what you do; it is that you are steadfast and persistent, and set the environment. Babies, toddlers, and young children sleep best in darkened rooms with no noise and/or white noise. 

Unfortunately, in some cases (like mine) even the best efforts go unrewarded. Your child may still fight sleep, and while this can be very frustrating, it is normal. There is nothing wrong with you or your child. It also will not last forever. All children — and I mean all children — settle eventually. At some point, your babe will sleep through the night. So don’t beat yourself up if your little one still wakes. Don’t feel guilty. There is nothing you are doing wrong. Some kids are just late bloomers when it comes to sleep. And most of all, don’t worry. Barring medical concerns, everything will be okay.