is he sleeping through the night? (part two)

March 3, 2010

so here's where we left off yesterday:
why is this the first question everyone asks?
since when did we expect babies to sleep through the night?
is that even a realistic goal?

{brush up on sleep series part one here, if you missed it.}

babies sleeping through the night.  at this point it has reached a mythical status.  some people strike it rich and some people... don't.  but everyone MUST KNOW.  as a culture we've developed this idea that for babies, tiny infants, the ultimate goal is for them to sleep through the night.  but WHY? is it because it's more convenient for parents? because that's what adults do?  in every other aspect of their lives it is abundantly clear that babies are not adults.  so why, when it comes to sleep, do we suddenly expect them to flop up on board the good ship sleep-a-lot?, a fabulous breastfeeding resource, has this to say and i don't think i can put it any better:
It's so common for mothers to worry when their babies don't sleep through the night. After all, everyone knows they're "supposed to." Some doctors recommend nighttime weaning and "cry it out" methods if your baby is not sleeping through the night by 6 months or even earlier. Even when the mom herself has no problems with baby nursing at night, she still worries that this is a problem, since American society seem to consider it one. There are books all over the bookstores with advice on solving so-called "sleep problems.

Probably one of the main reasons that night-waking babies are such a big issue is that parents don't have realistic expectations of the sleep patterns of babies. We are bombarded with magazine articles and books that perpetuate the myth that babies should not have nighttime needs. Babies were designed to wake up often at night ... If our expectations for babies were not so different from our babies' expectations for themselves, much of this "problem" might disappear. 

but what if science told us that night waking in children was normal, scientifically based, and even beneficial?

Sadler S. Sleep:what is normal at six months?
Prof Care Mother Child 1994 Aug-Sep;4(6):166-7.
In this study, part of the Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood (ALSPAC),
researchers surveyed the parents of 640 babies. Some of the results: 
Only 16% slept through the night at six months old -- 84% were not sleeping through the night at 6 months

night waking, despite the stereotypes and rumors we hear all around us is normal for a large portion of children, even in to the early toddler years.  annoying for parents? sure.  but designed to work that way with very specific biological purposes:
... Consider the developmental principle that babies sleep the way they do -- or don't -- for a vital reason, it may be easier to understand baby's nighttime needs.  Night waking has survival benefits. In the first few months, babies' needs are the highest, but their ability to communicate their needs is the lowest.

Night waking has developmental benefits. Sleep researchers believe that babies sleep "smarter" than adults do. They theorize that light sleep helps the brain develop because the brain doesn't rest during REM sleep. In fact, blood flow to the brain nearly doubles during REM sleep. (This increased blood flow is particularly evident in the area of the brain that automatically controls breathing.)  It is possible that during this stage of rapid brain growth (babies' brains grow to nearly seventy percent of adult volume during the first two years) the brain needs to continue functioning during sleep in order to develop. It is interesting to note that premature babies spend even more of their sleep time (approximately 90 percent) in REM sleep, perhaps to accelerate their brain growth. As you can see, the period of life when humans sleep the most and the brain is developing the most rapidly is also the time when they have the most active sleep.

In the case of infant sleep, research suggests that active sleep protects babies. Suppose your baby sleeps like an adult, meaning predominantly deep sleep. Sounds wonderful! For you, perhaps, but not for baby.  It appears that babies come wired with sleep patterns that enable them to awaken in response to circumstances that threaten their well being. Research supports, that frequent stages of active (REM) sleep serve the best physiologic interest of babies during the early months, when their well being is most threatened.

(on the risks of SIDS and night time waking)
I believe that training babies to sleep too deeply, too long, too soon, while convenient to parents, is not in a baby's best biological interest. Sleep- training done before their cardiopulmonary control mechanisms are mature enough to handle prolonged deep sleep could be risky. Training a baby to fall asleep and stay asleep alone in his own room in his own crib may be the "modern" way, but for some infants sleeping lighter and for shorter stretches may be the safer way.

night waking is frustrating for adults who are used to getting hours of deep sleep at a time.  but contrary to our cultural belief baby's inability to "sleep through the night" is both normal and serving valuable biological needs.  active sleep (meaning waking often and sleeping lightly) was designed for infants to have the resources to keep on breathing.  which, you know, i'm kind of on board with.  just a little. babies aren't meant to fall asleep for eight to ten hours.  it's only out of selfish desperation that we cling to sleep solutions and gimmicks and not actually what's best for the baby– that is about what's best for the parent.

{and an excellent note my sister-in-law and i were just discussing as she helped me edit this- there is a big difference between what the medical community calls 'sleeping through the night' and how parents interpret that.  medically it generally refers 5-6 hours of sleep, not the adult-sized 8-10.  and interesting aside to the fray, here.)

if you are one of those lucky parents whose baby sleeps well, HUZZAH! that's what is so hard about sleep issues and why advice is so unwelcomed.  because every single kid is different.  they need different things and different routines and you just have to figure it out one by one.  they'll all sleep through the night eventually, we just take different paths and timetables to get there.  you can tell all your friends about the method that worked for you until you turn blue in the face but nothing works universally for every child or every family.

would i love to sleep uninterrupted for ten hours? HELLZ YESH.  but when i read information like this it makes me rethink my desire to hurry, hurry! sleep for a long time!  jude is just doing what he is programmed to do, what his brain's safeguards tell him to do.  when he has reached a better level of sleep maturity he'll -BAM!- sleep through.  but until then, this is actually serving a purpose.

it helps if i tell myself that, several. times. a night.




Absolutely! Babies little bodies know what they need. Trying to fight that biological know how can cause all manner of other issues. Being a parent is HARD. People just need to realize there is no cookie cutter for babies just like there isn't for adults.


Great information...totally needed to hear this right now. We're (I'm...haha) getting about 2-3 hours of sleep at a time throughout the night, which can be pretty frustrating. What's even more frustrating to me though, are the people telling me to "Skip a feeding so that he doesn't get used to eating every time he wakes up" or to "Put him on a strict schedule and ignore him until he falls back asleep"...yeah, he's a MONTH OLD. Are you crazy?

I don't know, call ME crazy but I'd much rather be a walking zombie with a baby that's ALIVE during the day than a well rested mom without...


BTW, I just got this e-mail in my funny!

"Re: Yay!

I was looking at the pics of baby Henry today, is is absolutely precious!!! :) HAS HE BEEN SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT or does he wake up a lot for feeding?

Miss you!!!
Love S"


I'm so with you on this. I just stumbled across a really disturbing message board the other day where a subject line with 244 responses was "Help! Six days old and not sleeping!"

SIX DAYS OLD! And the advice this woman got was terrifying. She was told to give her baby cereal (YES! At 6 days old!), to "flip him," to let him CIO, to not let him sleep during the day and to give him formula at night.

It's also interesting to note that the only reason she gave for her distress was that her husband was about to return to work after a 2-week leave and he needed his sleep.

Honestly, the thread made me want to throw up. The Puritans really did a horrible number on the way we look at biology: babies, sex, our bodies. That's, I believe, the point we hung up all common sense when it came to ourselves, when Puritanical religion and control entered our everyday lives.

Very well written post!

Ky (Two Pretzels)

I remember reading that, "sleeping through the night" for babies was 5-6 hours.

I had no idea.

I thought that Lila was a big sleep failure because she wasn't sleeping 8-10 hours...

I'm telling you, from the second Lila entered the world, she's had her own schedule. In all honesty, we just follow it. We haven't done much, "sleep training." (HATE that phrase.) That stuff


Can I count Athena as sleeping through the night at 5-6 hours... cuz that's all she'll do and she's over 2 1/2.

She likes a drink in the middle of the night. So do I. Who am I to say no... especially when she's yelling it in my face.


This kind of leads into the benefits of co-sleeping. There are theories that say that because the mom is right next to the baby that they wake up to eat more often and waking up keeps them breathing and prevents SIDS. Of course there are other things with co-sleeping that help prevent SIDS, but waking often is a big part of it.


The number of times I have been asked that question - from about 3 months onwards. It's either people whose kids DID sleep well, and they want to feel superior, or their kids didn't sleep well and they hope to find some sleepless buddies. Don't worry, it will soon become "Has he any teeth?" "Is he crawling?" "Is he sitting?" blah blah blah


This is an excellent, well-researched post. Awesome job!

Ky (Two Pretzels)

(I've really been thinking about this post and have been trying to remember what I've asked people who've had babies before I've had one. And, I think I've always asked, "Are you getting any sleep?" That qualifies as ok, right? I mean, I'm not expecting their newborn to sleep... I'm just expressing concern for their well-being.

Yes. I am STILL thinking about this. Obsess much, kylee?)

the grumbles

lactating girl- yes! and in fact when I was researching this I was reading through your co-sleeping safety post. good stuff!

Ky- see, but you're THINKING about it, still. that makes you 100% different than those people. I can guarantee you that they didn't think twice about it.

Amber, The Unlikely Mama

I remember posting an article about how adults rarely "sleep through the night". I had linked it on FB when Alexa was just a few months old and people were still giving me a hard time about her sleep issues.

I mean, I certainly wake up a few times a night, but I'm older and wiser, LOL, so I'm able to go back to bed on my own. Alexa, not so much.

Funnily enough a friend of mine who had kids that DID sleep through early on thought I was taking a dig at her and calling her a liar. YOU.CAN.NEVER.WIN!!!

Adventures In Babywearing

You are already lightyears ahead of where I was with my first babies! This is excellent NATURAL information. They do usually end up sleeping thru the night when they get older. For me, it's always been somewhere between age 2-3 if I'm no longer nursing.


Anne Dye

Thanks for posting this, says the mom a 22 month old that really needed to hear it!

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...