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When should an infant sleep through the night? Sooner than you think

October 24, 2010

The joy of a new baby starts wearing a tad thin when the little bundle is still waking three or four times a night at 9 months of age. In fact, your infant may be toying with you. A new study shows that infants have the ability to sleep "through the night" by 3 months of age.

Most textbooks, and pediatricians, will tell parents that infants should sleep through the night by 12 months of age. The new study investigated whether infants really could sleep through the night. It explored three different criteria for sleeping through the night: midnight to 5 a.m.; for eight hours; or for the eight hours from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. (the pattern that most likely matches the family pattern of sleep). The researchers asked parents of infants to keep sleep diaries for six days each month for a year. The infants were also monitored by a time-lapse video recorder.

Surprise! Infants are capable of sleeping through the night by 3 months of age regardless of which of the three criterion was used to define sleeping through the night. Although it was harder for infants to meet the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. goal by 3 months of age, many could do so.  

In an e-mail, the lead author of the paper acknowledged that the researchers did not collect data on whether the infants were breast-fed or bottle-fed. Typically, breast-fed infants wake up more at night for feedings compared with bottle-fed infants.

Nevertheless, the authors of the paper, from New Zealand, say this proves that the little devils, er, infants, can be taught to sleep through the night using the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. target by 4 months of age. After the infant is 1 month old, parents should begin planning, and working with the pediatrician, on getting the infant to sleep through the night, they say. They note, however, that research is needed on just what factors influence sleep patterns.

The study was published Sunday in the journal Pediatrics.

-- Shari Roan / Los Angeles Times

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