Your baby's sleep - expert dossier

Children's sleep requirements, by Marie-Josèphe Challamel, paediatrician and researcher.

What does "sleeping through the night" mean?

“Sleeping through the night means sleeping between midnight and 5 AM without wanting to eat or crying for mother. Babies are usually able to do this after 3 months on average, or after a maximum of 6 months.

Over the first few days, newborn babies only sleep for very short periods (3 to 4 hours), without any circadian rhythm. They quickly become aware of the transition from day to night, becoming more awake by day and sleeping more during the night. As their periods of slow-wave sleep become longer, they wake up less frequently. However, "sleeping through the night", does not exactly mean not waking up at all. With every cycle change, it is normal for babies to wake up and then fall asleep again a few minutes later. Similarly, newborn babies usually cry during agitated sleep, and then fall asleep again.”


Sleep requirements vary from one individual to another. How do you know how much sleep your child needs?

"Not all children need the same amount of sleep, and this can vary by up to 2 to 3 hours during the day. How much they need is dependent on their environment. Television in particular can lead to sleep loss – they'll go to bed later. To find out how much sleep your child needs – just watch him. If he has not had enough sleep, he will be ill-tempered, grumpy and agitated."


What recent sleep and chronobiology data is available?

"One of the main findings is that the passage from day to night – meaning from natural light to darkness – is a major time setter. This is particularly the case with newborn babies: if they are taken out on a regular basis between midday and 4 PM during the neonatal period, they'll fall asleep more quickly at night than babies who are at home all day. With older children, it becomes more important for them to wake up at the same time every morning."


For more information

Le Sommeil, le rêve et l’enfant (“Sleep, dreaming and children”), by Marie Thirion and Marie-Josèphe Challamel, published by Éditions Albin Michel, 2002.


Author's biography

Marie-Josèphe Challamel, is a former paediatrician who was previously a researcher at the INSERM (a French biomedical and public health research institution). She was head of the children's sleep unit at the Lyon-Sud hospital, and then at the Debrousse hospital, both in Lyon.



Comment on this article

Send by Email