Medically speaking, sleeping through the night, for an infant, is defined as 5-6 hours of sleep without a meal.

Twinfant Tuesday: What Exactly Is “Sleeping Through the Night”?

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Categories Sleep, Twinfant Tuesday

Sleeping through the night. A fallacy?

Sleeping Through the Night: A Common Question

“Is your baby sleeping through the night?”

It’s such a common question. We ask it of new parents all the time. It’s a question I hear myself asking constantly. Here’s the bigger question. What do we mean when we ask it?

“Is your baby sleeping through the night?”

It’s a comfortable alternative to the question I really want to ask: “What’s your baby like? Who is he or she?” I find that first-time parents of singletons don’t know how to answer that question, since they lack a personality comparison to describe their child against. It was easy for me to see that J was an independent baby, in comparison to M. It was obvious that M was a chatterbox, in contrast to J.

But I digress.

I kept hearing myself ask new parents whether their baby is sleeping through the night. When I’d get an affirmative answer, I’d congratulate the new parent on his or her achievement. When a parent said, “No,” I’d try to comfort them by telling them that my girls didn’t sleep through the night until they were a year old, but we survived and besides, their baby would sleep though the night much sooner than mine because everyone’s baby is bigger for their age than mine.

Sleeping Through the Night: Do We Mean the Same Thing?

Then it occurred to me. I have no idea if we mean the same thing when we say, “sleep through the night.” Are we talking 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep on the part of the baby? 8? 6? Does a nursing session without actually waking baby count as an interruption? How about a diaper change? What about night terrors?

Medically speaking, sleeping through the night, for an infant, is defined as 5-6 hours of sleep without a meal.

New parents want to know when this magical through-the-night sleep will come. By failing to define my terms, am I setting my friends up for an impossible goal by even asking the question?

Sleeping Through the Night: What I Thought

I defined sleeping through the night as being able to skip one of both babies’ 3-hourly feedings, enabling me to sleep for a solid 5-6 hours without needing to feed, soothe, or change a baby.

My daughters, probably because of their extremely small size, weren’t able to do this until they were well over a year old. Our pediatrician told us that part of the issue was that their stomachs would simply not be large enough to contain enough nutrition to sustain them for 6 hours, the reserves in the body fat inadequate. The recognition that there was a physiological reason for my sleeplessness was a great comfort.

Although I was still married when my daughters were tiny, their dad was in Iraq, so I was responsible for every. single. middle-of-the-night feeding… before leaving for work at 6:15 am. I was a zombie.

Mercedes is in the same boat. At 17 months, her little ones are asleep by 7:15 pm, awake at 10, midnight, and sometime again between 12-5. They’re up for the day around 8. RebeccaD wrote, “For the first year, if we got 4 hours we felt like we won the lottery. On the other side of age one, they are sleeping 11.5-12 hours nightly with only occasional interruptions. It will happen!”

We’re in the minority. Most moms are getting more than 3-hour spurts of sleep within the first half of their children’s first year.

Sleeping Through the Night: Variation in Definitions

I took my question of defining this through-the-night thing to the MoMs of HDYDI.

MandyE and DoryDoyle, like me, defined sleeping through the night as dropping the middle of the night feeding or feedings. Mytwintopia wrote that she, “felt better about [her] life when [she] found out that for [her] pediatrician STTN was 6 hours.” Maritherrien had heard the same thing.

LDSKatelyn was also told that 6 hours was the magic number, but for her, it’s 8 hours. Her twins slept 12 hours through the night around 7 months old. Her singleton son wakes up once a night, every night from about 6 months old. It’s half-way through his long stretch of sleep. She suspects it’s a habit rather than a need to eat.

RebeccaD‘s pediatrician defined it as the first 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep and considered the next 4 hours the first nap of the day. However, it didn’t feel like “sleeping through the night” to her until it her kids were sleeping a full 12 hours, without any intervening feedings or diaper changes.

Liggy, our most experienced mom with 3 older singletons preceding her twins, has always considered sleeping through the night to be 6 to 8 hours. Her twins were sleeping 8 to 10 hours a night at 6 months, eating every 2 hours or so during the day.

For , sleeping through the night will be a 12-hour block of sleep.

Mercedes‘ definition was my favourite: “The mythical capabilities of twin unicorns on a bed of cotton-candy clouds while the mother basks in the sticky sweet nectar of peace and quiet.” And Jen Wood, with her 5-year-olds, said, “I’ll know it when I see it.”

MandyE’s definition changed over time. Her first definition of “sleeping through the night” was about 7 hours, her daughters sleeping 10:30 pm – 5:30 am.  Eventually, she dropped the 10:30 feeding and delayed out the morning feeding. 11 hours of sleep became the norm when her girls were about 6 months old.

Despite the claim in an article on the La Leche League site that 5 hours is the “medical definition” of sleeping through the night, I was unable to find anything definitive using the American Academy of Pediatrics website search. The La Leche League piece doesn’t cite references, so I’ll have to stick with what we MoMs came up with. 6-12 hours without needing a feeding seems to be our consensus. That’s a 100% variation.

As with most matters of parenting, listen to your kids and don’t worry about the averages. Whose kid is average, anyway?

How have you defined “sleeping through the night.” When did your kids do it?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun. She also blogs at and Multicultural Mothering.

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Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 10-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. They live in the Austin, TX suburbs, where Sadia works full time in information technology. She contributes to a number of parenting websites and magazines and also runs The Mommy Blogging Guide, where she answers mommy bloggers' technical questions.

7 thoughts on “Twinfant Tuesday: What Exactly Is “Sleeping Through the Night”?”

  1. Ugh! I hate this question and end up feeling so guilty and insecure about our sleeping arrangements that I generally lie and say yes when asked. See, we cosleep w/our 9 mo old b/g twins and have done so since week 1. We had initially planned to sidecar a crib for the babies, but they looked so lost and lonely in that big space that I quickly scooped them into my arms and have slept that way ever since. Just inches from my breast, they wake all hours of the night to nurse. My DS has never been a good sleeper and has always had trouble transitioning from light sleep to deep sleep. We’ve found we need to rock or nurse him after the first half hour of sleep if we want him to sleep longer. Until the last month, he rarely took naps for longer than 45 mins at daycare. And while I understand the general idea behind sleep-training, there’s something about it that has always rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps it’s knowing that I’ll get even less sleep then I do now trying to “train” my DS to sleep on his own. I should mention that he sleeps like a champ when he’s curled up beside me except for needing to nurse every 3 hrs or so. And as long as I’m up, sister would like a snack too! I don’t see them all day, so this extra bonding time is nice. And while my sleep does suffer, it’s not as bad as if I had to run down the hall everytime they woke. But lately, I’ve begun to worry that they won’t be able to sleep on their own after I wean them. And everytime I’m asked about their sleep habits, I’m riddled with self-doubt as to whether our unconventional approach is what’s best for our family. Some days are better than others, but DST has really done a number on all of our schedules, so I’m really feeling it today.

    1. Leila, thanks so much for commenting! You’re doing what your babies need! I’m a big believer that you CAN’T spoil a baby. You’re setting your little ones for a lifetime of feeling secure, loved and safe. And those of us who work outside the home just need to cut corners to fit it all in, often even more than SAHMs. I, for one, think you’re doing what’s right for your littles. And I can assure you that they’ll sleep without you just fine when it’s time to go to college!

  2. Great articles!
    My girls are 4 months old and they are sleeping from 6:30pm-1:30am and the next feed is between 4-5am and the day starts at 7am!
    I will not say they sleep through the night otherwise my day will start at 1:30am!!!! But I’m happy with that for the moment because it’s way better than every 2 hours!! :)
    I am looking forward for the 12 hours sleep!!

  3. We’re at five months with our b/b twins and they generally sleep about 11-12 hrs/night without needing a feed– though that doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t have wake ups from time to time. They seem to sleep for a good solid (aka deep sleep) 7 hours from about 7pm-2am, and then get a little more restless from 2am-7am, though they don’t usually wake up crying to be fed during that time. Sometimes they will wake up between 6-7am, but lie in their cribs babbling, so I don’t rush in to feed them right away. We did bedsharing for the first 3 months so we would all wake up at the same time to feed, and eventually that time just stretched out until we were going from about 9:30-6:30 without feeding (though I was getting up to pump in the middle of the night). After 3 mo we’ve made an effort to get them to sleep in their cribs and they seem to have adapted pretty well. Now that I’ve dropped my middle of the night pump, I feel l like it’s much easier to get 6-7 hours of sleep myself.

  4. This is a fantastic compilation! It underscores there’s no “right” answer. We’re all doing the best for our families, and every baby / every family is different.

    One thing is for certain…to any mamas in the midst of the journey…you will get there! And you’ll feel like a rock star once you start getting some consistent sleep. Hang in there!!!

  5. We didn’t consider it “sleeping through the night” until both babies were sleeping from 7pm-5:45am. Our pediatrician had twins, and GETS it, thank God. Her advice was, by 6 mo to stop feeding them in the middle of the night. (Of course, this only works if your babies are big enough yet, and eating enough during daytime hours.) At 5.5 mo we stopped feeding them in the middle of the night, but didn’t let them “cry it out.” We agreed that we could do ANYTHING but feed them between 7pm-6am. It was a rough few days where none of the four of us really slept. But within a few days they got it and have been sleeping that 10-11 hr stretch since then. They’re almost 8 months now.

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