When my baby only sleeps 3 hours at a time

The amount of guilt we feel if our baby doesn’t automatically sleep through the night!  If your baby sleeps 3 hours at a time, there are plenty of parents exactly like you.  Here’s what to do:

Getting a baby to sleep through the night is stressful for most parents. You don't have to use cry it out. There are many other sleep training methods to help your baby sleep more than 3 hours at a time. Here are tips from one of the top sleep consultants in the U.S.

I laid my 10-month-old son down in his crib and tiptoed out of the room.  After nursing him for the past 30 minutes, he finally fell asleep.

As I went back to my room and laid down in my bed, panic surged in.

I only have 3 hours until he wakes up.  I need to fall asleep fast.

Like always, at 11pm his scream pierced my dark bedroom.

I went over, scooped him up and brought him back to our bed.  He nursed himself back to sleep and I didn’t move him for the rest of the night.

We co-slept with my son for the first two years of his life because we didn’t see any other way.

Are you at your wit’s end right now?

My husband and I tried to get him to sleep longer on his own.  We tried cry-it-out only to have Erik scream for 2 full hours before we called it a bust.

Our daughter slept through the night at 6 months, why was our son so very difficult?

If you are having the same issue, trust me, you are not alone.  Babies only sleeping 3 hours a night are incredibly common.

Why do babies sleep only 3 hours at a time?

Hannah Peterson of Dream Baby Sleep Consulting says that babies – like adults -have a natural sleep rhythm.  All people wake up several times a night.  The difference between us and a 6-month old is that we know how to put ourselves back to sleep.

Babies still need to learn this skill.

Think about it this way: when we hold our kids and rock them to sleep and then place them in the crib…

3 hours later they wake up and


There’s no rocking motion.

No gentle soothing.

Our little ones freak out.   They have no idea how to put themselves back to sleep.

Our job then becomes to teach them to fall asleep on their own.

But how?  First, take care of a few essentials:

For your convenience, I’ve included a few affiliate links to products that I recommend in this post.  You pay nothing extra for purchasing through these links, however, I may receive a small commission.

Put them down before they are overtired

Hannah says that if babies are waking up within the first 4 hours of sleep, they are going to sleep overtired.

The best way to remedy this is to start the bedtime routine about 30 minutes to an hour earlier.

Make sure the room is dark

Babies (really, everybody) need a room with very little light.

In the winter, putting our kids to sleep in a dark room is easy.

However, during summer, the light may seep in during the late evening hours.  If this is the case, invest in blackout curtains for the window to completely block any sun.

A good test, Hannah suggests, is to see if you can read a book with the natural light present in your baby’s room.  If you can, there is too much light and it could effect your child’s sleep.

Put on some white noise

There are actually two types of white noises – high & hissy and loud and droning.

According to Dr. Harvey Karp, parents intuitively make the right white noise to sooth their babies to sleep. “They start by making a loud, hissy shhhh sound and then gradually lower the pitch and volume as their little one relaxes into sleep.”

Furthermore, continuous sounds, like the sound of a hair dryer or raindrops are much more effective than sounds like heartbeats or ocean noises.

Even the sound of a humidifier – like we use – can work.

When used consistently, babies learn to associate the white noise with relaxation of sleep and will lull themselves into that relaxed state faster.

Leave the room when baby is still awake

You’ve heard of cry it out.

Perhaps you’ve tried it, like I did, and hated it.

Your child screamed for hours and you felt so guilty.  All you wanted to do was hold and comfort him.

Some of your friends may tell you that cry it out worked for them after one night.  Why in the world isn’t it working for you and what are you doing wrong?

You aren’t doing anything wrong.

Know that every child is different and every parent is different.

There are actually several sleep training methods available.  Hannah helps her clients through the ones that fit best for their child and parenting style.

According to The Baby Sleep Site, here are five methods you can try:

Fade to sleep method – This is also known as the no-cry approach.  You keep doing exactly what you are doing, such as rocking or nursing, but do less and less of it each night.

Pick-up-put-down – Requires a lot of patience on your part.  Every time your baby fusses, you pick her up. When she’s calm. you put her down.  (I can see how this might be exhausting.)

The chair method – You go through your usual bedtime routine, but instead of calming your baby if he fusses, you sit in a chair near his crib.  You’re sitting there to reassure your child that you haven’t left.  Every night, you move the chair farther and farther away.

The check-and-console method – This is where you time your visits to your child’s room.  Start first at 5-minute intervals.  After you put baby in her crib, go back and check on her every five minutes.  Instead of picking her up, console her by rubbing or patting her back and then leaving.  Continue increasing your check intervals every night.

Cry it out – Exactly as it sounds.  No checking.  The theory is that your baby will learn how to put him or herself to sleep.  Some parents say this works phenomenally and only takes one hard night

How do I know if its working?

If you don’t see any results within 3-5 days in whichever method you choose, Hannah says you should move onto another way because there is some other issue that is effecting baby sleep.

These can be:

  • Your child is actually hungry and may need more protein before bedtime,
  • or your child is overtired and needs to be put to sleep earlier.

Whichever way you choose to put your baby to sleep, know that if you feel good about it, its the right one for your family.

For me, I was OK with my son sleeping with us for that long because I wasn’t working at the time and I honestly looked forward to the nighttime cuddles.

If I had a job that I needed to wake at 6am for, it would have been a much different story.

If your child is waking up every 3 hours, check the amount of light in her room, run a white noise machine and experiment with putting her down to sleep earlier.  Take care to lay her in her crib before she is totally asleep and use one of the sleep training methods to teach how to coax herself to sleep.

Once she knows how to put herself to sleep, you’ll be sleeping more soundly too, Mama.

JoAnn Crohn

CEO/Founder at No Guilt Mom
JoAnn Crohn, M. Ed is a parenting educator and life coach who helps moms feel confident in raising empowered, self-sufficient kid while pursuing their own goals & passions.

She’s an accomplished writer, author, podcast host of the No Guilt Mom podcast, and speaker who appears in national media. Work with her personally in Balance VIP

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