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Month 11 Worry: How Much Sleep Do Active Babies Need?

There is something therapeutic about a sleeping baby. Holding her, snuggling, looking at that beautiful, vulnerable face. These moments seem to (and probably do) bring your blood pressure down dramatically. So why does nothing raise the parental blood pressure more than the disrupted and unpredictable baby sleep of infancy?

What’s the Issue?

Of all the parental concerns I discuss in the office on a daily basis, none exceed in number the questions I get about infant sleep. And to be honest, it was one of my main concerns as a parent, as well. Is he getting enough? Why is the pattern or sleep cycles now suddenly so different from a week ago? Why is everyone else’s baby sleeping better than ours?

Consider the Numbers

First, the norms:

  • The average 11-month-old needs between 13 and 14 hours of sleep per 24 hours.
  • Difficulty falling asleep (referred to as “sleep latency”) is common. Nearly 25 percent of one-year-olds need more than 30 minutes to fall asleep. And many one-year-olds can’t pass this time without crying, at least a little.
  • Sleep latency is also high maintenance. About 15 percent of one-year-olds need at least one return visit from their parents after being put to bed before they fall asleep for the first time.
  • Disrupted sleep is not just an infancy issue: 70 percent of kids go through at least one period of waking one or more times every night during their first five years.
  • You don’t have the only high maintenance sleeper! Nearly 30 percent of one-year-olds need at least one parental intervention during their entire night’s sleep.
  • “Ninety percent of one-year-olds sleep through the night,” say the experts. But sleeping “through the night” is defined by this “norm” as between the hours of midnight and 5AM. No parent I have ever met has ever defined “through the night” in this way!

Bottom line is, even if these numbers seem painful, perhaps it’s helpful to know you’re not the only one awake out there.

What Parents Should Know

Sleeping is commonly defined by averages, but few babies fit the norms exactly. My first baby (my best sleeper—so much for learning from the first one!) slept consistently through the night, defined by me as from the time we put him down (near our bedtime, around 10 or 11PM) to at least 5AM, at nine months of age. So when my neighbors’ kids were sleeping from 7PM to 7AM by one month of age, they were no more normal than my son. (Note I’m not discussing my other two children, whose sleep habits defied our firstborn’s pattern of “normalcy.”)

Sleeping is also a dynamic issue in childhood—that is, its patterns change consistently within single sessions, even. On a nightly basis, sleeping through the night may mean waking three or four times, rolling over, and independently putting yourself back to sleep. This is true for babies and adults alike. So sleeping through the night really means having the ability to go back to sleep without parental intervention. Most infants will go through a period of nightly waking, even if they are typically low-maintenance, wonderful sleepers. This may be after a vacation, during an illness, or near the holidays when schedules are off a bit.

Sleep is critical for attitude and disposition. And I’m not just talking about babies, now! It is hard enough to parent when you are well rested. Parenting when you are sleep deprived is nearly impossible. And quality sleep for your infant is important for proper growth and brain development. A disrupted sleep schedule can mean (at least) an unhappy child, but may also mean an unhealthy child. Kids who chronically don’t get enough rest are more susceptible to infection and prolonged recovery from infection.

What the Docs May Do

Your pediatrician is a great sounding board for sleep “norms.” Sleep should be a primary topic of conversation at all pediatric well-child visits from birth to adulthood. If it is not brought up by your pediatrician, don’t hesitate to discuss your sleep concerns as part of your child’s well visit.

Pediatricians will typically start to worry when infants are irritable, have signs of breathing obstruction (snoring, disrupted sleep breathing), or if your infant’s sleep pattern falls well outside the norms of his age group. Typically, the answer to most sleep disturbance issues in this age group is behavioral techniques:

  • Try these five expert sleep tactics.
  • Are you preventing your baby from sleeping through the night? Learn more, here.

More 11th Month Health Help

Even the most confident parent has concerns about her child’s health and wellness from time to time. Learn more about which medical issues are most common at each baby age, here. (If you have any pressing concerns or questions about your baby’s health, please check with her healthcare provider.)

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