baby sleeping

How to get your baby sleeping through the night 

February 4, 2022

Getting a baby on an overnight sleep schedule can seem like an impossible dream. But it can be achieved in three days. And you can start tonight. The only obstacle is you.

David Buchholz
David Buchholz

If your baby is happy, healthy, and thriving—and more than 90% of babies are—your baby can learn to sleep through the night in three days, says pediatrician David Buchholz, MD, senior founding medical director of primary care at Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Yes, sleep training does require listening to some crying. But every day that training is postponed, the more difficult it is to get babies on schedule because of “object permanence.” When babies begin to understand that objects exist even when they cannot be seen or heard, they understand parents may be nearby and test ways to get them back in sight.

It’s much easier to teach a baby to sleep through the night before they develop object permanence, says Buchholz. The ideal age is 4 months, when a baby is physically capable of sleeping through the night because they have enough fat stored (i.e., they don’t need to eat) and have not yet developed object permanence, a milestone typically achieved between age 4 and 7 months.

Some babies, especially the plushier ones, may be naturally better sleepers and make it through the night without training. Others may regress when object permanence develops and disrupts an overnight habit. So whether your baby has already slept through the night, here’s a guide:

Baby Skills: How to Start (or Reinforce) Sleeping Through the Night

Criteria: Child must be at least 4 months old

  1. Keep baby awake while nursing before bed.
  2. Set bedtime (7 or 8 p.m.) and bedtime routine.
  3. Put baby in bed awake, on their back, without props (anything they depend on to self-soothe, so they don’t look for it if it falls out of their mouth or crib).
  4. Ignore fussing. Leave the room before they fall asleep.
  5. Do not go back in. No feeding. Stay out until about 6 a.m.
  6. Smile. You survived!   
  7. Repeat. The second night will be half as hard as the first.
  8. Repeat.

You did it!

awake baby, lying on back, in a crib

Ignore

  • Fussing or giggles
  • The “I’m bored” cry
  • The “I want you” cry

Babies must learn to self-soothe to aid their psychological development. They wake up but will fall back to sleep when they don’t need anything, says Buchholz. If you stay out of the room you reinforce this good, normal behavior.

Trust yourself

You know your baby’s “Something bad actually happened” cry. Do not go in that room for anything else, not even the “I’m hungry” cry, unless it’s after 5 a.m. (or 10 hours).

Your home’s sleep space

Space is vital to good sleep. Parents who share a baby’s room or corner because they’re working from home may impede their baby’s good sleep pattern. Schedule accordingly. It may be best to move workspaces during baby’s sleep hours.

References

More information 

David Buchholz, MD, is a general pediatrician and the senior founding medical director for primary care at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. He also is assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.