Baby sleep tips and topics:
A guide for the science-minded parent
© 2008-2014 Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., all rights reserved
New parents often hear conflicting advice about sleep. Which baby sleep tips are based on scientific evidence? In these pages, you'll find information based on the
latest research in sleep physiology, pediatrics, and anthropology.
For instance, you'll find an evidence-based baby sleep chart, and a critical look at
baby sleep requirements. Parents should be wary of one-size-fits
all recommendations. When it comes to total sleep duration, babies vary a
great deal. One healthy newborn might sleep as little as 9 hours
a day. Another might sleep as much as 20 hours. By the age of 12
months, the differences are less extreme, but still substantial: Healthy
babies range between 10 and 16 hours (Galland et al 2012).
Here you'll also find articles about sleep patterns in
and older babies, including information about sleep cycles, circadian rhythms, cross-cultural sleep practices, and more.
In addition, there are articles on
the science of SIDS,
SIDS prevention strategies,
safety of bed sharing,
as well as
If you're looking for information about sleep in older children, see my evidence-based guide to
family sleep topics.
Like other offerings at ParentingScience.com, these articles include
full scientific references--so you can evaluate the evidence for
yourself, and make an informed decision about what is best for you and
More detailed information about these articles is provided below.
How babies sleep: A survival guide for tired parents
Looking to improve your family’s sleep life? An excellent first step is to get familiar with the science of baby sleep.
you understand how, why, and when babies sleep, it will be easier for
you to decide on the best sleep strategies for your family. And—while
it’s a cliché—I think it’s true for most people that understanding
brings peace of mind.
If you have a new baby, check out my article on
It explains why newborn sleep seems out-of-sync with the 24-hour day,
and offers baby sleep tips for helping your newborn develop her own
It also reviews baby sleep cycles, which are
key for understanding why newborns are so easily aroused from sleep. The
article includes baby sleep tips for avoiding unnecessary night
awakenings and tips for improving your own sleep during the newborn
In addition, you should check out my article
baby sleep patterns.
There you will find information on reducing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
After the newborn period
If your baby is already over 4 weeks old, you might prefer to skip ahead to my article on
baby sleep patterns.
This article explains how baby circadian rhythms and sleep cycles mature
over time, and reviews the environmental risk factors for SIDS. It
covers how parenting styles, developmental milestones and medical
conditions that can affect baby sleep. And the article also reviews two
ideas promoted by many Western medical professionals—that babies should
“sleep through the night" and that babies should learn to “self-soothe."
Are these achievements necessary—or even realistic? The evidence
suggests they may not be.
How many hours of sleep does your baby need?
To my surprise, I’ve learned that there isn’t any straightforward,
scientific answer to this question. Those authoritative-looking sleep
charts you see everywhere are based on scientific guesswork, and they do
a poor job of conveying how much variation there is among individuals.
To learn more about estimating your baby’s sleep needs, see my articles
baby sleep requirements
the signs of sleep deprivation.
Tips for identifying and treating sleep problems
Some babies suffer from medical conditions that disturb their sleep.
If your baby seems to be having trouble falling asleep—or staying
asleep—it is prudent to have him checked for one of these medical
conditions. For more details, see this article on the
organic causes of baby sleep disturbances.
However, Western sleep researchers report that most ongoing baby sleep
problems are not caused by underlying medical conditions. Instead, they
are caused by environmental factors—-and these are factors you have the
power to change.
“troubleshooting" article, I review science-based baby sleep tips for the most common causes of infant sleep problems.
I also discuss the controversy about leaving babies alone to "cry it
out," and review what sleep training programs may be safe and
appropriate for babies under the age of 12 months.
But does your
baby really have a sleep problem? Perhaps everything is going reasonably
well, except that you are worried that your baby is sleeping too
little--or too much. If this is your concern, check out my article on
baby sleep requirements.
Baby sleep solutions
For more baby sleep tips, see this review of infant sleep aids. In addition, see my article on
infant sleep training.
It reviews two scientifically-tested sleep training programs appropriate for babies over 6 months old.
References: Baby sleep tips
Galland BC, Taylor BJ, elder DE, and Herbison P. 2012.
Normal sleep patterns in infants and children: A systematic review of
observational studies. Sleep Medicine Reviews 16: 213-222.
Wooding AR, Boyd J, and Geddis DP. 1990. Sleep patterns of
New Zealand infants during the first 12 months of life. Journal of Pediatrics
and Child Health 26: 85-88.
Content last modified 2/14