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  • What Is 'Normal' in Baby Sleep? The Research vs. a Baby Sleep Coach's Experience

    What is considered “normal” in baby sleep can be vast and confusing to many moms.
    by Gabrielle Weil .
What Is 'Normal' in Baby Sleep? The Research vs. a Baby Sleep Coach's Experience
PHOTO BY iStock
  • I am known for specializing in sleep lessons for babies during the first two years of a child’s life. After having worked closely with families with babies between the ages of 4 months to 2 years, I have noticed how different the feedback is between what my babies display in terms of sleep and what is written about in hundreds of online guides and books.

    What is considered “normal” in baby sleep can be vast and confusing to many moms. A review of observational studies by Galland et al. of the University of Durham, UK, in 2012 compiles data from 34 studies and looks at what is considered typical sleep durations up to age 1.

    Looking at the data of that review, what jumps out to me is the younger the baby, the more they sleep. However, there appears to be such variation within each age group as well as within each study done.

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    Babies from birth up to 2 months slept an average of 15 to 16 hours, but some went on as much as 22 hours or as little as eight hours of sleep in 24 hours. In a 1-year-old, the average is somewhere around 13 hours of sleep but can go up to 16+ or as low as nine hours.

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    How much sleep your baby needs

    This kind of information is where I believe parents can be led astray by searching for a textbook answer to a baby body’s needs. These figures are meant to serve as rough guidelines only as every baby has completely different family influences that can affect their ability to relax (or not) enough to welcome sleep. Those are very subjective as well, where each baby’s personality, as well as limitations, is not necessarily taken into account.

    Here is what I notice with the babies I have helped, long term and compared to the available guidelines online and in the hundreds of books.

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    0-4 MONTHS

    I categorize this age of 0 to 4 months as the fourth trimester where babies dictate when they need to sleep. The chart can be a useful guideline to understand your baby: 14-17 hours of sleep on average from 0-4 months in 24 hours.

    However, I recommend you log your baby’s sleep time to see his pattern emerge. It is how you can prepare when your baby wants to change his sleep schedule, which will shift around his fourth month.

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    4-9 MONTHS

    Based on my coaching style and experience over the past four years, what I notice happening here is a lot more stable than the changeable guidelines found online. 

    Twelve to 15 hours of baby sleep are considered average in 24 hours. But there is a myriad of schedule suggestions for these ages, and one of many variants of what is available online looks like this:

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    • 4-6 months: nighttime sleep 9-10 hours + 4 naps / 4-5 hours in a day
    • 6-9 months: nighttime sleep 10 – 11 hours + 3 naps / 3-4 hours in a day

    As a baby sleep coach, what I consistently achieve with parents looks more like this:

    • 4-6 months: nighttime sleep 11-12 hours + 2-3 naps / 3–4 hours in a day
    • 6-9 months: nighttime sleep 11-12 hours + 2 naps / 2.5 – 3.5 hours in a day

    These schedules I have observed allow for much more consistency and predictability for the entire family — everyone gets lots of night sleep, balanced daytime sleeps together with consistent, regular bedtimes at night as well. The overall sleep quotas also tend to always be on the higher end. There is the occasional family that hits the slightly lower end of the total sleep hours but as long as the child’s temperament is generally cheerful and they are sleeping well at night with no apparent hyperactivity at bedtime then these babies simply need a bit less sleep.

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    9-18 MONTHS

    These months generally tend to bring with them quite a bit of confusion. If your little one has already been taught sleep skills and knows how to fall asleep on his own, this is a period where you will notice that your baby seems to have forgotten how to do it. Instead of forgetfulness, I prefer to say your baby is simply far more interested in their body’s new talents and prefer to practice those at nap times (and maybe even night time) instead!

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    I get the most inquiries from parents who have a baby within the 8-10 month transition periods of development. It’s just when your baby’s sleep schedule seems to go smoothly that it all takes a turn for the worse suddenly.

    The truth is knowledge on how to fall asleep doesn’t go away with time. Once your baby has been taught how to sleep using an adult as help, including an adult sleeping in the room with them, this is the only way they know how to go to sleep — and feel secure.

    So when separation anxiety starts to appear (usually somewhere from 9th month onwards), it can escalate to all sorts of existing sleep needs that have been introduced by parents.

    There is then another moment around the 12-13th month where many parents mistakenly opt to drop that morning nap. This is a myth, in my opinion, because toddlers need that morning nap until they are ready to drop it from 15 months onwards.

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    Dropping the morning nap at the appropriate moment also creates some changes in your toddler’s sleep architecture. It’s vital to remain in line with a toddler’s minimum sleep needs at these ages to avoid tantrums, fussiness, whining, or refusal to cooperate, which are all signs of overtiredness.

    Sleep needs from the chart shared previously goes from 12-14 hours (9-12 months) and the recommended averages for the 9-18 months is 10-11 hours of nighttime sleep + 1-2 naps of a total of two to three hours daytime sleep. 

    What I consistently see, however, is 11-12 hours night sleep as the average with one nap from 16-18 months with a total of two hours as the average in that daytime sleep. Before dropping that morning nap, however, babies in my care still average the same hours of sleep when they are 6-9 months old as previously mentioned. Until they drop their morning nap, they do not change their sleep architecture much. And parents share with me their babies are the chattiest, most social and lively babies they know. That tells me these babies are getting what they need in terms of sleep.

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    Gabrielle Weil is the Philippines’ pioneer and no. 1 baby sleep coach since 2015. After training with two UK-based baby sleep trainers using various sleep training methods, she began her sleep coaching practice based in Makati. She has a 95% success rate in helping families reconnect through sleep and is currently completing a UC San Diego Psychology course on the Science of Parenting. Her baby sleep coaching services are done on a one-on-one basis. She is also the only Baby Language™ instructor in the Philippines, who holds regular workshops for parents about to give birth or with newborn babies from 0-3 months of age. For more information on these workshops and her sleep coaching services, visit her on Instagram @babysleep.ph or Facebook @BabySleepPH.Philippines

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