Independent Sleep

Independent Sleep

A baby achieves independent sleep when he/ she:

  • sleeps for 6-8 hours during the night
  • can settle back to sleep without calling out to a parent after waking in the night.

Around 60% of babies can do this by six months of age. Although there are no guarantees, research suggests that parents can do some simple things to assist even very young babies to become independent sleepers – when the babies are developmentally mature enough.

When To Start

Your newborn’s biological sleep clock is programmed so your baby wakes at night. This ensures she gets enough food in this time of incredible growth and development. So your newborn will need your attention during the night for feeding and settling for at least the first 3-4 months.

During this time, though, your baby’s sleep patterns and rhythms mature rapidly. You can take advantage of this period of rapid change by gradually introducing the approaches suggested here.

Emphasising the Difference Between Night and Day

Your baby doesn’t understand the difference between day and night. It’s quite common for babies to be wide-awake during the night – when you’re desperate for sleep – and then sleepy during the day. A newborn will sleep and wake around the clock. But you can help your child make the eventual adjustment to more sleep at night-time with the following strategies:

  • During the night, keep your baby’s room as dark and quiet as possible (babies don’t need total dark or quiet to sleep).
  • Use a dim light when you need to attend to your baby during the night – try not to turn on a bright overhead light.
  • At night, respond to your baby’s cries quickly, and settle or feed him as soon as you can. You might also want to give night feeds in his room – this will help keep these feeds brief, and make them different from daytime feeds.


Self-soothing is when your baby can calm down, relax and go to sleep again in her bed. Babies who can self-soothe have longer uninterrupted periods of sleep and longer total sleep times at night. Get into the habit of putting your baby to bed drowsy but awake in the first 3-4 months. This will help your baby develop sleep associations that don’t rely on you for comfort and settling in the middle of the night.

‘Sleep associations’ are the routines, habits and patterns that we connect with feeling sleepy. Sleep associations help us drift off to sleep. They also help us go back to sleep when we wake during the night. Your baby will learn to associate the cot (rather than you) with going to sleep. Therefore, when she no longer needs feeding during the night, she won’t need your help getting back to sleep after waking. So everyone gets to have uninterrupted night-time sleep!

If you routinely feed, cuddle, walk or rock your baby to sleep, you’re effectively doing the soothing for your baby. While you’re still in the habit of doing that, there’s no need for her to develop the ability to self-soothe. This is a problem only if you’re not happy to get up and settle your baby during the night.

Starting A Feed, Sleep and Play Routine

When it feels right for you, it can help to start doing things in a similar order each day – feed, play, sleep. A consistent routine like this will help your baby settle into a regular sleep pattern.

So when your baby wakes up, a routine might be to:

  • offer him a feed
  • change his nappy
  • take time for talk and play
  • put him back down for sleep.

Again, with a newborn, it pays to be flexible about feeding and sleep times – but it can still help to start to do things in a similar order.

Independent sleep is a worthwhile method that your baby will have to learn eventually. Gradually starting the process at an early stage will help make this transition easier later on. By training your baby in early development you not only help them, but a good night’s sleep for you is another bonus! Having a well-rested parent with a solid well-being is simply another advantage for your developing baby.