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How to help your child sleep through the night

Help your child to sleep through the night by developing good sleep practices.

Things that help:

  • have a good daytime routine. Being outdoors early in the day, regular mealtimes and keeping active helps, particularly for older babies, toddlers and young children
  • have a good bedtime routine from 3 months of age
  • have quiet and dark room for your child to sleep in
  • place your child to sleep in their own cot or bed
  • put them into bed when they are awake. If they wake up where they fell asleep, they are more likely to go to sleep again quickly
  • put babies aged 3 months and older into their cot drowsy but awake. Toddlers don't need to be drowsy going to bed
  • don't use distracting 'sleep props' like music, mobiles or light-up and electronic toys in or near the cot
  • consider using a night light - it can help your child if they wake and it's on. Use a yellow or red light and keep it out of their sight
  • consider phasing out parent sleep associations from 6 months if it's becoming a problem for you. For example, rocking to sleep and when they wake during the night. Continue to resettle and soothe them if they wake up crying
  • consider phasing out night feeds after your child is fully established on solid foods between 6 to 9 months. Children will get all the food and breast milk or formula milk they need during the day by then. Some parents may choose to continue breastfeed at night after then for other reasons such as comfort and closeness.

Children need a good night's sleep so they have energy for the next day. It is also good for their health and reduces their risk of obesity.

It also helps you to have some child-free time and sleep.

Babies take time to sleep through the night

Newborn babies won't be able to sleep through the night. Babies aged 3 to 6 months may sleep more at night time and have longer wake periods during the day.

They usually only start to sleep through the night when they are fully established on solid foods. You can begin to phase out night feeds then. They may need more food during the day to avoid night time hunger.

Some babies do sleep through the night from about 3 months but do not expect this.

Sleep associations

Sleep associations happen when your child learns to fall asleep with a certain object or activity. Your child can come to rely on these sleep associations.

Sleep associations usually develop between 6 and 12 months of age.

Comfort toys

They might bring a favourite toy or blanket with them as they settle to sleep. You can do this from 12 months old. Make sure the toy or blanket is clean and not a danger to them while they're sleeping.

Comfort toys like blankets or teddies allow your child to self-soothe. They are unlikely to disturb their sleep.

Learning to self-soothe can help your child to cope with more challenging situations as they grow.

Parent sleep associations

Some sleep associations involve parents. This could be needing to be rocked to sleep or having a parent in the room as they go asleep.

That means they'll always need you to do this to get to sleep initially. They will also need this when they wake up during the night.

Some parents may be happy to do this. Others may find the disruption to their sleep very difficult.

To avoid waking up during the night, your child needs to learn to fall asleep in their own cot or bed without a parent there.

The 'gradual retreat' approach can help if your child is 6 months or older. You will be helping your child to be comfortable falling asleep without a parent present.

Night feeds and sleep

Babies aged 3 to 6 months may still need to feed during the night. They may fall asleep during the feed.

If possible, try to avoid your baby falling asleep while feeding. This can lead to them associating or linking sleep with feeding. They may need a feed to go back to sleep if they wake during the night.

From about 6 months, you will begin introducing solid foods. Once your baby is fully established onto solid foods, they will get all the food they need during the day. Babies are usually fully established by 6 to 9 months of age.

Phasing out night feeds

You begin to phase out night feeds when your baby is fully established onto solid foods.

Your child may need more food during the day to avoid night time hunger.

Children who are in childcare may have their dinner at lunchtime and a small snack there around 4pm. Give your child a good supper before bedtime. For example, a supper of carbohydrates like bread, rice or cereals with milk.

How to gradually reduce and stop night feeds:

  • decrease the frequency and volume of feeds for bottle-fed babies
  • space out the timing of breastfeeding for breastfed babies

Talk to a public health nurse if you have questions about sleep and feeding. If you are breastfeeding, you can also contact the ‘Ask our breastfeeding expert’ service.

Dream feeds

A 'dream feed' is when a baby is fed while they are asleep. There are risks to consider, such as safety and overfeeding. There is no evidence that 'dream feeds' help babies to sleep through the night. There is a possibility it could interfere with your baby’s sleep cycle.

If you choose to ‘dream feed’, be careful that your baby does not choke on the milk. Don’t feed your baby while they’re lying on their back. Keep them in a semi-upright position with their head propped up. Make sure you stay awake until your baby is safely back in their cot or bed.

Giving a 'dream feed' might overfeed your baby. They may not need this additional feed.

Taking a bottle to bed

Don’t leave a bottle in your child’s cot or bed for them to drink during the night. This could be a choking risk.

Breastfeeding at night after solid foods

Some parents may choose to continue to breastfeed during the night after their baby is fully established on solid foods.

Reasons include:

  • comfort
  • security
  • warmth
  • closeness
  • familiarity

When to get help

Every child has different sleeping patterns.

Contact your public health nurse, GP or GP practice nurse if:

  • your baby or young child is not sleeping
  • their sleep pattern is disturbed
  • you are finding it difficult to cope

Related topics

Read advice on how to create a good bedtime routine

Find out how much sleep children need during the first 5 years

Read advice about what to do if your child wakes up during the night

page last reviewed: 30/04/2021
next review due: 30/04/2024