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6 months and older - Helping your child get back to sleep

Babies sleep more at night than during the day from about 6 months.

It is common for babies and toddlers to wake briefly between sleep cycles during the night.

Having a good daytime and bedtime routine can help. There are some techniques such as gradual retreat that can help your child get used to falling asleep on their own. Every child is different, so only do what you feel comfortable with and what you think will suit your child.

If your child wakes up crying

Wait a minute before checking on your child if they wake and cry. They may fall back to sleep.

If they do not go back to sleep:

  1. Hold them in your arms and talk softly - this can settle and soothe them.
  2. Put your child back to sleep in their own bed.
  3. When they have settled, leave them alone.

If they wake and cry again, repeat the steps.

To help your baby learn that night time is for sleeping:

  • avoid night feeds if they are fully weaned
  • try not to play with them when they wake
  • avoid bringing them to your bed

Helping your child to fall back asleep themselves

There are ways to help your child learn to fall back asleep by themselves.


  • place your child to sleep in their own cot

  • avoid physical props in or near the cot - these include musical or light-up toys and toys hung from the ceiling

  • avoid sleep associations - for example, rubbing their back or rocking

  • consider the gradual retreat approach

Gradual retreat approach

The gradual retreat approach may help your child get used to falling asleep without you in the room.

This is a gradual way of changing your child’s sleep pattern. It may take a few weeks to work.

The aim is to support your child as they learn to self-soothe to sleep.

Gradual retreat

This gently teaches your child to fall asleep on their own while you are in the room.

  1. Put your child into the cot or bed while they are awake and sit on a chair next to them.
  2. Place your hand on your child's back if they are used to physical contact while they fall asleep.
  3. Leave your hand on their back for the first few nights before gradually removing it before they fall asleep.
  4. Stay sitting there until your child falls asleep.
  5. When your child can fall asleep this way every night, sit farther away every 3 to 4 nights until you are no longer in the room.

Some parents find it easier to pretend they are asleep in a chair.

How to leave the room

Gradually move away from your child's cot or bed and out of the room. The goal is for your child to fall asleep without you in the room.

Be consistent

A consistent bedtime routine is good for your child. Be consistent too in how you respond when your child wakes during the night.

The first few nights are likely to be very challenging. Often the third or fourth night is worse than the first night. But within a week or so, you will begin to see an improvement.

Praise them the next day

Praise your child in the morning for having stayed in their own bed during the night. Be specific, for example, “you are so good for staying in your bed”.

Why children age 6 months and older wake during the night

Children age 6 months and older may wake during the night when they are moving between sleep cycles.

The first two sleep cycles last about 3 to 4 hours and are mostly deep sleep.

Your child may wake up briefly between sleep cycles. They may open their eyes. This is normal.

They will usually fall back asleep quickly if:

  • they wake up in the same place where they fell asleep
  • everything in the room is the same

If something is missing

Some babies may stay awake if something is missing. For example, music, mobile or physical contact from a parent.

For some parents, this might not be a problem. It may be difficult for other parents because it disturbs their sleep.

Music, a mobile or physical contact with a parent as a child is falling asleep may create a sleep association. Sleep associations usually develop when your baby is between ages 6 and 12 months.

The gradual retreat approach can help to phase out a sleep association.

Night feeds and when to phase them out

If your child is sick or in pain

Your child may wake up during the night because they are ill or teething. Do not work on getting your child to sleep on their own when they are unwell. Start again when they are better.

How to help your child to sleep through the night

Bedtime routines for babies and young children

Page last reviewed: 19 February 2024
Next review due: 19 February 2027

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.