Nightly Sleep Phase

A child's sleep phase begins when he easily falls asleep at night and ends when he naturally wakes up in the morning.

If a child is on a good routine this phase is pretty easy to determine. Start with determining what time your child goes to bed. Make sure when determining this that you do not include any
time he is in bed and actually not sleeping, even if he is playing happily. Also, if you have to struggle to keep your child awake each night so that he goes to bed at his "correct bedtime" then most likely he either has an earlier sleep phase than you think/want or he needs some rearranging of naps. A child may also keep himself up past the time he would normally fall asleep if he is staying up for something-- waiting for house to calm down, waiting for parents to come back in his room etc. If the time varies each night then figure out what time he is pretty much always asleep by and make this his bedtime.

Next figure out what time he normally wakes up at in the morning. A child may wake up earlier than he normally would if he has something like nursing or cartoons waiting for him. So how do you determine if this is the case or if he is actually ready to get up for the day. Most likely if he is getting up for something he will probably be very drowsy and not fully wake up for a while. If you do not know when your child normally wakes up in the morning you may have to set your alarm a bit earlier than you think he wakes each morning for a few days and figure out that way.

Putting a child to bed during a time that is not during his sleep phase may result in him waking in the middle of the night for long stretches (if this is the case he will most likely be happy during this time if you let him play etc.), taking a long time to fall asleep at night, and/or waking very early in the morning. Obviously, trying something like sleep training would be very ineffective if you are not putting your child to sleep at night before his sleep phase begins because he will not be capable of falling asleep at this time no matter what.

Related posts:
Late Sleep Phase - Goes to bed too late AND wakes too late
Early Sleep Phase - Goes to bed too early AND wakes too early


  1. I am having a hard time figuring out the best way to set my DS's bedtime/bedtime routine. He is on a pretty good 3 hr eat/awake/sleep schedule during the day.

    Previously, I was bathing him between 9:30-10:30pm, then feeding him and putting him to sleep. He would wake once per night to eat. About a week ago, I started thinking that a 10:30/11pm bedtime was too late, so I have been bathing him after his 8 pm feeding and putting him to sleep (usually nursing a little around 9pm). Now he is waking up twice per night. I tried to do a dreamfeed around 11 or 12, but either he wouldn't wake up for it, or he would still wake twice per night. I would love to go back to waking once per night, but can't figure out how to get there!

    He's 8 weeks old and doesn't really cluster feed - if I feed him any less than 2.5hrs apart, he'll eat poorly. Any advice?

  2. It sounds like he was going to bed between 10:30 or 11 which is pretty late and he would probably do better with an earlier bedtime (aproximately 10-12 hours before he wakes in the morning which is usually around 7 for most babies), especially since he is reaching 8 weeks which is a time that bedtime often moves a bit earlier anyway. Of course, sometimes a later bedtime is needed for various reason and you'll have to decide what is best for you.

    How long as it been since you switched to an earlier bedtime. If you did a sudden switch, it might take several days for baby to get used to it and not wake during the night simply because he thinks he went to bed for a long nap rather than for bedtime. Also, he might be waking because of hunger since an earlier bedtime would mean that he is sleeping longer and would be more likely to need more feeds. That is why the dream feed is given. With the dream feed some babies will never do well with it and will end up either sleeping less after it or not sleeping any longer. Before you decide this is the case, you need to try it for several days because sometimes it takes babies a while to get used to. This was the case with my son. At first he didn't sleep any longer (in fact, he might have slept less than usual) but within a week or so he was sleeping longer with the df. If baby isn't taking the df I would either pump and give a bottle if possible if you are breats feeding and if you are bottle feeding, I would wake up baby more. Just be sure to have the end of the feeding relaxing so he'll go back to sleep easily.

    You also might want to try going back to your old bedtime and slowly moving things earlier (with or without a df).

  3. I am having trouble figuring out my 5 months old nap times and bedtime? Sometimes he will have sleep cues and sometimes he doesn't...I have tried to go by the clock, but my son is not a consistent timed napper. Some naps are good, and some not so good. :( H ehas a lot of tummy issues that we are getting him tested by the doctor for..he is on zantac for reflux that helps some...Sometimes when he fusses during the day I will think it's time for a nap, and it has been like an hour and 4o min. and get him ready for his nap, and then he spits up all over me, and then he is happy go lucky again!? I'm confused, I put him down anyway, and he takes about 20 minutes to fall asleep...( I have a viseo Monitor ) I'm glued to it! Not really sure? For some naps I will put him down when he gets fussy at 1 hour 40 min. or arouns this time, and he goes to sleep within 5 minutes?! It's like every time is a different waketime length. For bedtime latley i have noticed he has not went straight to sleep...tonight he took 30+ minutes to fall crying, just babbling, and rolling around! We are in the process of dropping his last nap, sometimes he needs it, and sometimes he does not. He has a problem with 45 minutes intruder since 3-4 weeks old, so we still struggle with that he needs it sometimes if he doesn't get all his napping in. B/C of the 45 minute intruder sometimes we don't have set times, more like a pattern/routine...i'm glad he can't tell time! He just knows what to expect! I have had a really hard time with this one! He is my 3rd son. My other 2 boys were angel babies, and BW was soo great, and they did wonderful on the program! This one has me working alot harder! I will also tell you he continually wakes in the 5am hour and I don't go in his room...he plays, and crys sometimes, I know he is NOT hungry, tried that! I have to take my 2 other children to school and pick them up so I have our schedule around them...I have to start my day between 7am, and that has been our waketime everyday since 4 weeks....and for the past month he has been doing this! I have tried nursing him and putting him right back to bed, PU/PD, CIO-I hated this, ecspecially when I know my other children have school..and husband in a pilot and has to get his sleep....but we did it anyways, and he just got madder, and madder! Was up for the whole 2 hours! Then was Overstimulated! I know this is long, but as you can se I need some help...I will appreciate any advice you have!~ thanks~ Jennifer

  4. Jennifer,

    As for the 45 minute intruder, it seems like you have done a lot of trouble shooting which hasn't helped so I would try and see if you can get your son to fall back to sleep when he wakes with any method possible (I know, I'm encourageing "accidental parenting" :). If he won't fall back to sleep then you might want to leave him in his bed for a certain amount of time (possibly until the next feed cycle) or you might want to just add in a bunch of extra naps into your day (maybe do an "eat/activity/nap/activity/nap/eat routine"). I know the extra naps would be hard with two older kids though. Just do what works best for your family and try not to worry about it too much. I know it is hard not to worry about it but forgetting about what is "supposed" to happen with naps and just going with the flow is really necessary sometimes when all that you do doesn't seem to be working.

    Hopefully getting the tummy issues solved will help naps but this may not be the case. At least you can know pain isn't the cause of your son's wakings which I think would be a comfort to me. It would also take some of the guess work out of whether you should go to your child bc he is in pain, or whether maybe he should be left for a few minutes to settle himself etc.

    I assume you have looked over the early morning awakenings post on my blog. If you have trouble shooted then helping him go back to sleep might be the only solution right now (assuming you have problem solved and nothing is working--remember to double check light at this time and maybe try "wake to sleep" for several days). This probably isn't the answer you were wanting but if you have problem solved everything there isn't tons more to do. He may just grow out of this phase. He might need a little help out of this stage at a later time, maybe once his stomach issues are fixed. I would try and choose a way of putting him back to sleep that will be the easiest habit to break. Breastfeeding back to sleep can be very difficult to break so I would lean more towards P.U./P.D. or rocking. You can phase these out a bit easier (e.g. just hold instead of rock, then just pick up and hold near crib, then just put your hand on your child's back etc). You might also want to sleep in your child's room one morning or wake up and look at your video monitor right before he wakes to see if you can figure out something that may be waking him.

  5. Jennifer continued (the post was too long)...

    For the sleep times, I would try and see if you can do the same amount of stimulation (visual and physical) at each time each day (since more or less may be causing him to get tired at a different time) and see if this helps you track when he is ready for a nap. Obviously this is harder to track when he takes short naps but over time you should see a trend. It seems like you are usually doing 1 hour 40 minutes. I would maybe keep doing this and if you notice at a certain nap time he gets fussy or takes a long time to fall asleep then I would adjust this wake time by a little bit and work from there. You might want to focus on one wake time at a time. He may be getting fussy sometimes and then suddenly gets happy bc he has a second wind...then again his tummy could have just been bothering him too. It's hard to tell and you just have to do the best you can and try not to beat yourself up about it. Easier said than done of course! My son fell asleep right after I put him to sleep for quite a while and then he started taking a bit of time to fall asleep before naps when he got older. He also would fall to sleep very quickly at some naps and not so quickly at others (not matter how I changed waketime). I have heard similar things from other people. A little variation isn't too uncommon. I think things will get a little more consistent once you get nap times set at certain times but this can be tricky when you don't have consistent nap lengths. As your son gets older it will get easier to do.

    Actually, taking 20 minutes to fall asleep isn't too bad at all. And 40 minutes before bed is a bit long, but not too bad. I think you are doing better than you think. When I feel frustrated with how things are going sleep wise (I'm a bit of a perfectionist and I sense a bit of this in you :) I try to remind myself that 1/2 the kids I know don't even take a single nap after 1 year of age and often only get like 9 hours of night time sleep. I may not be doing things perfectly but I am doing pretty good in comparison! Good luck! Let me know if I didn't answer one of your questions.

  6. Hi Rachel,

    I left a few comments under the "sleep props" post earlier and you gave me wonderful advice. My 10-week-old son's sleeping has improved and he has successfully learned to sleep through the night wakings when he is not hungry. He only wakes up to nurse now. So I am very happy about that.

    I saw something about the dream feed in a comment under this post so I have another question for you (I couldn't find a post that is exclusively about dream feeds). I tried to do the dream feed a few times back when my son was 1 month and it didn't help at all--he still woke up 2 or 3 hours later and it seemed to make his sleeping even worse since it disrupted his initial "long stretch" of sleep. So I haven't done a DF since then. He now goes to bed at 8 p.m. after nursing and wakes up twice to eat--at 1 (or 1:30) a.m. and 5 (or 5:30) a.m. Then he wakes up for the day at 7:30 a.m. He has been pretty consistent with these times. Twice he has slept through after the 1 a.m. feeding until 7 a.m. He has 5 feedings during the day (every 3 hours starting at 7:30 a.m.) in addition to the 2 night feedings.

    My question is: Should I try the dream feed again now that he is older? I am reluctant because it backfired last time. But you mentioned that it takes a few days for the baby to get used to it. Is it too late now at 10 weeks or do you think it will help? The reason I am considering the DF again is because it is still pretty tough to get up twice a night (I have a 2-year-old son as well). Also, he just doesn't seem to be improving in terms of lengthening his sleep. His longest stretch of sleep was 5 or 6 hours when he was 5 weeks old, and it hasn't gotten a bit longer since then.

    Ideally, I would love to feed him at 10 or 10:30 p.m. and only have to nurse him once more during the middle of the night. I never did a DF with my older son, but he naturally went to bed later (at 9 or 10 p.m. until he was 4 months) and consistently only woke once to nurse until he slept through the night.

    If I don't do the DF, my other option would be to try to wean him down to one feeding per night. Is that realistic, and would there be a good way to go about doing that?

    Thanks so much,

  7. I can't remember how old my son Joshua was at the time, but I introduced the df to him when he was at least a few weeks old, probably a bit older. At first he did worse, but after about 3-5 days he started to do really well. This situation isn't too uncommon for babies. At the same time, some never get the hang of it. I don't think 10 weeks is too late, especially if you are having to get up twice at night. If you were only getting up once then I would maybe consider not doing it since it might be more trouble than it is worth if your baby dropped that feed in a month or something. (I'll try to get a df post up relatively soon :)

    I think it is very realistic to have your son down to 1 feeding at night. As long as he is a healthy boy, he should be fine doing that. You mentioned he has skipped one of the feedings twice? Was this recently? I ask because something a little more time is all you need for things to happen. But some babies seem to need a little nudging. There are several ways to go about this (I am actually currently working on a post for this but it will take a bit more time to finish). I'm more of a middle ground person for sleep stuff, so I would probably either try to push one of the feeds to a later time (extend by 15 minutes or so every few days or more if he'll do it) by offering a pacifier, comforting baby, trying to get him to go back to sleep. Some people will do cio to do this two. But I usually try the more gentle approach first. Another common way to do this is to limit the time you feed baby. Feed for slightly less time every few nights. He may stop waking by himself when you are feeding very little, but if he still does wake then you can no longer feed him and try other way to get him to sleep past this time including ones I've already mentioned to you this post and previous one and also look over the night waking post for some idea.

    I'm so glad he is sleeping better for you! Hopefully you'll be getting more sleep soon!

  8. Thanks, Rachel! Since your reply, my son has slept from 8-ish p.m. to 2:30/3 a.m. on two of the nights. His next waking was 6:30/7 a.m., so he kind of cut out the second night feeding on his own! You were right, he just needed more time. So I guess I will just hold off on the dream feed and keep waiting for him to extend his night sleep. Thanks again for your advice and for this wonderful site. I really appreciate all the work you have put into it, esp with two young ones!

  9. Chantal,
    No problem. Glad he is sleeping longer for you! And with no extra work on your part!

  10. Hi Rachel,

    I just found your blog, and I'm really enjoying it. I've gathered some helpful information so far...thank you! I have also recommended you to some friends. My 3 month old is going through a finicky phase with her sleep patterns. Her naps are pretty short right now, and I'm trouble-shooting through the possibilities. Now she is starting to wake up early in the morning, though, and even woke around 2 to be fed the other night. She was on a fairly predictable (Babywise) routine, with 6 feeds a day, starting at 7:30, roughly every 3 hours, still doing a dreamfeed. She has been sleeping through the night for about 4 weeks now. My question is, if her last feed comes around 7 or 7:30, should she have waketime after that, should I make it shorter, or just attempt to put her to bed for her bedtime? Her previous nap isn't all that long anyway, and she is even starting to drop back to eating every 2 or 2.5 hours in the evening. I've been reading about earlier bedtimes, being overtired, dropping naps...just not sure at what age this should be happening. I can't remember from my first! Thanks for your time and any help you can provide!

  11. Lauren,
    If her naps are suddenly short and she is waking early in the morning, I wonder if the early waking has to do with over tiredness and you need an earlier bedtime to help make up for that.

    There are lots of growth spurts at this young age. So waking up suddenly at night to feed isn't too surprising. Some people will suggest trying to move the feed to the day, or in other words, increase how much you feed during the day to try to phase out that feed at night. Maybe she just had a night waking that goes along with her other sleep issues and she wanted a feed to fall back asleep or you assumed she needed a feed?

    I usually had a short nap followed by some wake time followed by the bedtime feed and straight to bed. But you don't have to do it that way. Do it however you want. What is easier to do. what do you two prefer? AS for bedtime, if her naps are bad, then you probably need it to be earlier. Just evaluate her wake time and her sleep cues to see when bedtime should be. ANd maybe keep a log to see what wake times help her to go to sleep more easily. As for the nap dropping, there are some posts about that in the index.

    Good luck.

  12. I have read so many of your blogs and the information has been very helpful, thank you.

    My problem is with my 7 month old and night wakings/early mornings. Bed time always starts at 7pm with a view to her being in bed between 7.30 and 7.45. From about 2 months we had day time nap issues with her regually only having 45 minute naps, 3 times a day. At this point she was sleeping until 7.30am to 7.45am every morning and i usually had to wake her. I tried everything to help her sleep better in the day and nothing worked, then suddenly at about 5 months it seemed to fix itself.

    Since then her night time has been affected, she regually will wake and just chat to herself, i would ignor her and she would go back to sleep after about an hour. This waking has now started from 5.30am to 6.30am. If i leave her if she wakes at 5.30 she usually goes back off but if its after 6am she just gets louder and louder. Picking her up to help her back to sleep makes her scream, rubbing her and patting her make no difference, the best thing i can do is nothing but i lay awake listening. She then is grumpy and its hard to get her through to her monring sleep at 10am. I have restricted her day time sleep to 2.5 hours a day in 2 naps but it doesnt seem to be helping and she is exhausted by the time bed time comes round. I wont do the morning thing until 7am, open her curtains and turn on the light, undo her sleeping bag etc. She doesnt want any food until 8am so i know she isnt hungry.

    She has silent reflux that is treated with Ranitidine and has been under control for 3 months now.

    I have just run out of ideas. Do you have any suggestions??


    1. Kristy,
      Some babies will wake and chat sometime in the night, often closer to the morning hours, and it has nothing to do with too much day time sleep. It is just some phase they go through. If she doesn't like you to interfere then I would just leave her. If she starts getting upset, you can have a plan in place of what you will do then (e.g. leave her until close to her normal wake up, or help soothe her back to sleep if it isn't close to normal wakeup--probably within 30 minutes)

      Try shifting her entire routine earlier and put her to bed earlier at night if she seems tired. Keeping her up longer will most likely lead to worse sleep at night. I would consider letting her sleep more during the day if she seems to need it--as I said, this waking isn't always related to too much sleep during the day and it sounds like it may not be since there has been no change in the night sleep with the shortening of the day sleep.

      you might want to try wake to sleep.

      Also check out the early morning waking post and night waking post if you haven't already


    2. Thank you so much for the advice. She woke early again this morning and i left her and she seemed to keep going quiet for long spells almost like she was drifting in and out of sleep. However, she is now very overtired and the short nap issue returned yesterday so i have one incredibly overtired baby girl.

      I am now also getting screams in her sleep. This isnt uncommon with her she has always been a noisy sleeper but they are much more frequent and lasting longer. It was very strange when she first started doing and it took a while to figure out she was actually alseep!! Which combined with your comments on her not sleeping well as she is overtired sort of makes sense. I will try earlier bed time for a few days and not wake her from her afternoon nap. We have to wake her in the morning otherwise she will only do 45 minutes in the afternoon.

      I have used wake to sleep with my first and pleased to report it worked very well. I may give it a try with this one once i get over the overtired issue!!

      I also think she is teething which compounds the problem!! All this in my first 5 weeks back at work, they do like to test us dont they !!!

      One last thing, a paci seems to help her settle during these shouting sessions. Am i likely to create a dependancy on it if i offer it to calm her through the night. She doesnt have it to fall alseep with.

      Many thanks for the advice again.


    3. Kristy,
      Getting over over tiredness can be tricky when you can't get your baby to sleep more for whatever reasons. Just do the best you can.

      The only consistency with children is defiantly inconsistency!

      She probably won't have an issue with the pacifier if she normally goes to sleep without it, especially if you just use it during this tough period with her sleep.


    4. Thanks again, your such a help x x

    5. No problem. Good luck with everything!


    6. Hi Rachel, loving your blog, it has been so helpful and a lifeline at times, I was wondering if you had any suggestions for a recent early riser.

      My little man just turned 5 months and we have been a good e/a/s for a few months, he had been sleeping through for a long time now after a 10.30 dream feed. Had some short nap issues which seem to have improved over the last month. A week ago when he started waking at 6am, previously I have always had to wake him at 7...the last two mornings it was even earlier. So far I have just left him to it as he is just chatting away and not crying but just wondering what it is?

      I am thinking possibly hunger as he seems to be taking more and my lb is not filling up so much, or maybe teeth as he is desperate to chew all the time, or I wondered if I should drop the df? I was just about to when this happened, his is usually asleep by 7.30 and never wakes for df, last night though he was sucking in his sleep when I went to do maybe he is hungry? Any tips are appreciated! I have had it so good for so long! Thanks Ellie parker

    7. Sheila,
      If he is waking in the morning and happy I would probably leave him. Getting him up may lead to him waking more. If he is playing happily I doubt he is waking because of hunger. see this post if you haven't already
      you could try wake to sleep to see if it helps
      Sucking in his sleep probably doesn't have to do with hunger. Babies just love to suck.
      Dropping the df may help but this may have nothing to do with things. An earlier bedtime may help. I doubt teething would cause him to wake at this time and no other. Try some of the suggestions. Keep in mind that it may simply be a phase. Oh, and after you have tried everything, consider that he is getting too much daytime sleep that is robbing his night sleep so maybe you can reduce it a little and see what happens.


  13. Hello, I have 13 week (adjusted age) old twins. I put them to bed at 7-7:30 and they are always asleep by 8. I don't do a dreamfeed because I found that it was disrupting their sleep and they still woke up at the same hour, i.e. 5AM. I would like our wake up time to be 7AM but my twins consistently wake up between 5 and 6 wanting to eat. How do I handle such wakings? Do I get them up to start the day(which I really don't want to and I don't think they do because they seem sleepy), do I wait until the wake time (which would mean that they have not eaten for the past 12 hours!) or do I feed them a little and then wake them up at 7? But what of they wake up at 6? They will not want to feed at 7 then? Please help and thank you in advance.

    1. Sylvia sobina,
      Look over this post.
      I'd try to give half a feed at 5/6 if they'll do it. A pacifier may help you do this.

      See if an earlier bedtime helps.

      If they are healthy, I think 12 hours is fine at this age. Just in case they start to wake later for you ;)

  14. My 13 week old daughter is waking every 2 to 3 hrs a night. She used to only wake at 1:30am and again at 5:30 am to eat. Now I feel like she is waking every two hours and is wanting to eat (waking and crying! to eat). Yesterday I tracked her feedings for the entire day. She took in a total of 30 oz which is quite a bit. She falls asleep on her own in her crib. I've also noticed that her last feeding around 4 or 5 am, she won't eat again for about 6 hours. Shouldn't she be doing this at night?! How can I adjust her schedule. We start our bedtime routine at 8. She's usually in bed by 8:30 (sometimes earlier if needed). Should I try the Pantley method?

  15. I have a near 2 year old (dec) that cries a lot during the night? does not wake a lot the time so we think he is dreaming and we have use the PU/PD option. he would cry (presume dreaming?) at least 3-4 times before 1am and then again at maybe 4/5am sometimes would have to use the PU/PD again and always again at 5.45/6am where at this point we bring him into our bed! where it will take bit of time for him to go back to sleep! dunno know is he cold when he wakes? is he dreaming or what? have good enough bed time routine, wearing fleecey pj's . We have small light in the room and have turned it off few nights but still the same so we leave it on. Both of us work full time so the sleep interruption is the worse. Also he has just come out of a string of illnesses last been chicken pox! so maybe in time he will come right again. But just wondering any tips for what we could do?

  16. Hello
    My son will be 8 weeks old on Tuesday (in 2 days) and we are having a very difficult time getting him to sleep well (for naps and night time sleep). I am trying my best to implement wake/eat/sleep routine every 2.5/3 hours but everything is still pretty inconsistent. Could you provide a sample routine to follow throughout the day with a 6:30/7 start of day including dreamfeeds? We have tried giving a dreamfeed and he will sleep great for up to 5, once even a 7 hour stretch and wakes up around 2/2:30 to eat and will go right back to sleep. Then he wakes up less than 3 hours later around 3/4 am hungry again and very irritable/cranky and will not go back to sleep. I am so sleep deprived as I am pumping during the night on top of this and am pretty much awake from the time he wakes until evening as I also have a 4 year old and am not able to nap during the day

    Thanks, Jenn

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