Numerous sleep books as well as celebrity parenting gurus (Jessica Alba – who knew?) propose that your baby can and should be sleeping 12 hours at night. Which suggests if your baby isn’t sleeping 12 hours at night, you’re doing it wrong. Or possibly your baby is broken. Maybe both?
This leads to a regular stream of emails from people who are frustrated by their inability to conquer the mystical mountain of the 12 hour night. They include a myriad of details including their 40 minute pre-bed soothing wind down routine, use of white noise, swaddling, put baby down awake, militant adherence to routine, schedules, block out blinds, positive sleep associations, and yet despite all their great work, they can’t get their baby to sleep longer than 11 hours a night.
And so I share with them my magical technique to master the art of the 12 hour night. But more on that later…
How Much Night Sleep Does Your Child Need?
Where did the goal of “12 hours” come from? Presumably these books are based on scads of credible science suggesting that 12 hours is a medically mandated and realistically achievable goal.
The truth is “how much sleep” is still a subject of great debate.
The Sleep in America Poll says kids are sleeping ~10 hours at night by the their first birthday. It also says that over 1/3 of kids aren’t getting enough sleep. Ferber also suggests kids need ~10 hours by their first birthday. Wiessbluth says 1 year old babies should be sleeping between 10-13 hours of sleep at night, with the average falling around 11.5 hours. The amount of sleep kids get varies widely by country (New Zealand wins – go Kiwis!). Or there is the Pediatrics Study that tells us that for the past 200 years, pediatric sleep experts have failed to agree on how much sleep our kids need but that regardless of what amount is suggested, kids get on average, 37 minutes less sleep than the experts recommended number.
So don’t feel bad. You’re failing just like your great-great-great grandmother failed. So we’re all multi-generational sleep parenting failures. Woo hoo!
Successful Night Sleep Duration
So if the experts, authors, and pediatric sleep researches can’t agree on a number, how are you supposed to know what to do?
When I started Troublesome Tots, I was baby sleep “book smart” – I read a lot and wrote about it. Three years and many millions of babies later, I learn more from my readers than I do from the books. Plus readers stories are way more fun than sleep books. And while this doesn’t qualify as “statistical research” it’s a pretty solid base to draw conclusions from.
Thus I’ve concluded that 11 hours of night sleep is a great goal. Some lucky parents will have babies who sleep 12 or even 13 hours at night (hopefully these parents routinely buy lottery tickets as clearly the fates are with them). Some kiddos will resolutely sleep 10 hours at night, and not a minute more, even if their parents are doing ALL the right things. But ~11 hours is the gold standard. Typically this is, 7:30 PM – 6:30 AM. Or somewhere thereabouts.
The Magic Answer to the 12 Hour Night
Thus my magic answer is to accept that the 12 hour night may not be attainable for you. Not because of any flaw in you, your sleep plan, or your baby. If your baby is a newborn all bets are off because they’re a newborn. If your baby is over ~3-4 months in age and is sleeping somewhere in the ballpark of 11 hours of night, you’re doing great. If you “dream of a night 11 hours long” as an unachievable fantasy akin to dating Tom Hiddleston then probably your baby isn’t getting quite enough sleep. What to do about it really depends on how old they are. Generally the answer falls near the trifecta of have an early bedtime, put baby down awake, and hope for the best.
But you’ll get there. I have faith in you.
Does anybody else have any thoughts about how long their baby sleeps at night? Any lucky 13-hour babies out there? Does Jessica Alba care to weigh in?