top of page

The Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule

Updated: Apr 14

One of the most common questions I get asked is “how much sleep does my baby need?” Or a related question, such as “My baby will only sleep 13 hours a day, how do I get her to sleep for 15 hours?”


The truth is, there is so much information out there about baby sleep and a lot of it is questionable.


Earlier, I googled “how much sleep does a 7-month-old need?” 


One of the first hits, a well known US-based sleep trainer who shall remain unnamed suggests a schedule involving 11-12 hours at night and 2.5-3 hours in the daytime for a total of 13.5-15 hours. A bit further down, another source suggests 14-15 hours per day and they stress that naps should not be less than 60-90 minutes each, along with some pretty specific wake window suggestions.


Then, I clicked into images and found endless infographs with schedules that, again, mostly add up to somewhere between 13.5 and 16 hours per day.


Some mention that the schedule is just a “suggestion.” I find it curious, though, that they all seem to “suggest” schedules that equal an amount that fall in the top half of the National Sleep Foundation’s “recommended” range. None (or perhaps very few, my research was not exhaustive) offer example schedules that represent babies across the entire typical range.


The National Sleep Foundation recommends 4 – 11-month old babies sleep between 12 and 15 hours per day, also acknowledging between as few as 10 and up to 18 hours “may be appropriate.” 


These popularly shared schedules may be excluding around half of all babies, most of which still fall within the recommended range for their age.


Sleep needs are normally distributed, meaning the highest number of babies cluster around the mean (for a 7-month-old, this is around 13.5 hours), and then it tapers off either side as you get further away from the average.


This means, statistically speaking, more than half (around 52%) of all babies 4 – 11 months old likely need an amount of sleep not captured by these proposed schedules, I.e., less than 13.5, or more than 16. Importantly, the vast majority (around 48% of the 52%) of those excluded will still fall within the recommended range.


Umm…that is a lot of parents feeling like they are falling short even though there is no indication their baby has a sleep problem. Not in terms of their total sleep, anyway.


I am not trying to be nitpicky - I think it is important to shine a light on this discrepancy between the evidence and the readily available and followed sleep advice, because it has serious consequences for parent and infant mental health


It amounts to a lot of you standing next to a cot shushing your baby in a dark room for hours while they cry or, worse, LAUGH at you. 


It amounts to a lot of you feeling like a failure of a parent because your baby can’t sleep for 12 hours at night. Even though only a minority of babies need that much and research shows 9-11 hours, with waking, is more realistic.


Maybe you do have a 7-month-old baby who does/did need 15 hours of sleep a day. They absolutely do exist. But I am willing to bet there is still something about their sleep that would not align with these suggested schedules and the broader sleep training advice that almost invariably underpins and is sold alongside them. Maybe your baby doesn’t do “drowsy but awake” (most babies don’t) or maybe they need a bedtime later than 7pm (also very common).


However much your baby sleeps, you probably haven’t escaped the unrealistic expectations and “should’s.” You have probably still been made to question if there is a problem with your baby’s sleep, in one way or another. 


In the interests of being balanced, there were some more realistic search results that came up. Some of the results on the first page of google, such as Pregnancy, Birth, and Baby (funded by the Government Department of Health) and Kids Health (not for profit organisation) presented ranges more aligned with the evidence for each age group.


That was where the celebrating ended though, because even these were still perpetuating unrealistic expectations in other ways. Such as, stressing the importance of baby being able to put themselves to sleep and discouraging supporting or feeding to sleep (insert eye roll emoji here).


Sleep training culture runs deep. There is no getting around that. Babies who sleep for long stretches independently are “good” babies because they are convenient babies. 


Babies who need a below average amount of sleep, need support to sleep, and/or wake to feed or for comfort have a “sleep problem.” Framing these as problems in need of a solution is rather convenient for the sleep training industry because that is, checks notes, essentially all babies. 


The infant and toddler sleep industry is unregulated and not all operating in it are created equal. So, how can you be more discerning when it comes to accessing infant sleep information or support, especially if you want to be responsive and feel sleep training isn’t the path for you?


I might be biased (be wary of anyone who says they have no bias at all), but I suggest to look for sources that:

  • Educate you about developmentally normal infant sleep and feeding behaviours, including waking and needing support.

  • Empower you to identify what may genuinely be a problem with your baby’s sleep versus what is a problem for you as a parent. Both are valid reasons to seek support or to make a change, but it is important this is assessed and differentiated so the right course of action can be chosen.

  • Have a multidisciplinary approach when referring to “the evidence” about infant sleep and development. This includes the fields of sleep, biology, psychology, anthropology, lactation, neuroscience, and others. 

  • Centre you as the expert on your baby. No one knows your baby like you do and any support and information you access should value and reinforce this.

  • Considers individual situations and needs. There is no one size fits all strategy or schedule and infant sleep advice and support should reflect that. 


I would advise being cautious of sources that:

  • Pathologise normal infant and toddler sleep and feeding behaviours and prescribe behavioural interventions that limit support to “fix” the problem.

  • Do not consider or downplay underlying reasons for sleep disruption and/or do not take your concerns seriously before prescribing behavioural interventions that limit support to “fix” the problem.

  • Encourage you to do something that feels wrong. You are the expert. If it feels wrong, it probably is.

  • Share evidence that is limited to only or primarily studies aimed at establishing the effects of behavioural sleep interventions. An incredible amount of nuance about infant sleep, development, feeding, attachment, and more is missing when one narrow area of research is all that’s considered.

  • Impose arbitrary schedules for sleep and/or feeding. Your baby is not a robot. The research is clear; different babies have different sleep and support needs. The right feeding pattern depends on and evolves due to a range of factors including method of feeding, breastmilk storage capacity, baby’s age, preferences, and so on.

  • Make bold claims about sleep outcomes, like promising their program get your baby “sleeping through the night.”

  • “Baits and switches” on you. Paying for one thing, usually, “gentle” or “no tears” sleep training, only to be told to limit or withdraw responding is a common occurrence. It may happen straight away or when initial, more responsive techniques “don’t work.” Either way, it is an unethical practice that is widespread.



As with all I do, I hope what I've shared will help you feel more confident as a parent and the expert on your baby, and navigating the Wild Wild West of Big Baby Sleep.


I strive to provide as much free and high-quality evidence-based content as possible. I also offer products and services for more in depth education or support to optimise your and your baby’s sleep and well-being in a responsive and attuned way.

Jess, Founder Infant Sleep Scientist

Comments


bottom of page