Is your baby sleeping through the night?
Chances are you have read lots of information about sleep, how you can get your child to sleep, how you can get them to sleep longer, and you may have ended up more confused than when you started. There is much information out there regarding sleep, so much of it is contradictory and just confusing. Here I am going to share some truths and dispel a few sleep myths.
When should your child sleep through the night?
I’m sure everyone you have spoken to about sleep (and maybe a few people have just shared their opinions with you) has an age or stage when they think your child should be sleeping through the night. Perhaps it’s from a certain age, 12 weeks? 16 weeks? Maybe it’s when your child hits a certain weight 16 lbs? 20 lbs? Perhaps it’s when they begin crawling.
There is no set age or stage when we can expect children to sleep through the night; there’s nothing! There’s nothing medical or scientific stating when a child can sleep through the night. Some children can sleep through the night from 8 weeks of age, others maybe nearer to 8 months and both are fine. Sleeping through the night is a normal developmental stage, much like crawling or walking. Some children begin walking at 7 months old; others are nearer to 17 months old. Both are normal. We don’t send our children to see a physical therapist at 8 months of age because they aren’t walking, we know that they will reach this developmental milestone when they have mastered crawling, pulling up, cruising around the furniture, etc. and they will do it when they are ready. Of course, you can help and encourage them once they are seeing the signs of being ready and that may help them walk a little earlier, but they won’t be able to walk before they are ready.
It’s the same for sleep; there are many reasons a child will wake through the night. They may be hungry, thirsty, had a bad dream (babies start dreaming at 12 weeks of age), uncomfortable, need a quick hug, their temperament may make longer stretches of sleep harder for them. Of course, you can encourage your child to sleep for longer stretches, but they may continue to wake through the night and need some help.
Who sleeps through the night anyway?
This answer may surprise you no one sleeps through the night. Not one human being on this planet sleeps through the entire night. We wake between 2 and 6 times a night. Waking up isn’t an issue, getting back to sleep is more of a problem.
If your child can only get to sleep with some help, say being fed or rocked, when they naturally wake during the night they will need that same help to get them back down to sleep. If you could continue the support for the entire night, the chances are your child wouldn’t wake. As they came into a lighter sleep the help you are giving would lull them back into a deeper sleep (you may notice this with naps, maybe your child naps great in the carrier or stroller, and they can get a nice long nap. This happens as you lull them back into a deeper sleep when they naturally begin to wake and come into a lighter sleep.).
You can teach your child the skills to get themselves to sleep and back to sleep by doing some sleep training (more on this below), therefore when they don’t need any additional help, when they’re not hungry, or requiring a diaper change, etc. they will be able to get themselves back to sleep. Even though your child wakes, if you do not need to help them, it’s not classed as a night wake up.
Does sleep training mean leaving your child to cry alone?
No, not at all. Many sleep training techniques are more gentle and do not involve you having to leave your child alone to cry. Personally, I am not a massive fan of cry-it-out methods, they do not work for a lot of children (those who are more intense for example, more on that later) and they can cry for hours and hours. Luckily there are techniques where you can teach your child to fall asleep a little more independently (and therefore back to sleep) where you stay with them at all times, pick them up and soothe them whenever you need to, as well as soothing them however you need to. These techniques may involve some crying, but someone is always with your child giving them the help and support he or she need when he or she needs it.
Temperament plays a part in how your child sleeps.
Your child’s temperament will play a big part in how they sleep. Children who are more laid back and easy going have an easier time with sleep. Children who are more intense and spirited have a much harder time with sleep. There’s nothing wrong with them; they can have a harder time relaxing and unwinding as well as have quite the intensity when they are letting you know that they are unhappy.
Children who are more intense and spirited have much more success with gentle sleep training techniques, cry-it-out techniques can be a little too much for them as their cry is so intense.
You can get started with some gentle sleep training with laidback and easy going children from around 4 months of age (when using a gentle technique), children who are more intense and spirited have an easier time sleep training after 6 months of age.