Kate Cohen is a Certified Children’s Sleep Consultant and a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants. She works with families around Hertfordshire and beyond to advise and help tackle all things sleep.
Why Your Baby Will Never Sleep Through the Night
That’s right, I said it. Your baby will never sleep straight through the night.
And neither will you, for that matter.
In fact, pretty much anyone who isn’t heavily sedated before going to bed can expect to wake up multiple times in the night.
This isn’t due to stress, caffeine, lack of exercise, or any other factors that can contribute to a lousy night’s sleep. It’s a normal, natural part of the human sleep cycle.
We’re all familiar with the various stages of sleep from our own experience. You might not be able to put a name to them, but you’ve certainly felt the difference between waking from a light sleep and a deep one.
Simply put, when we fall asleep, we spend a little while in a light stage of sleep and gradually progress into a deeper one. We stay there for a little while and then gradually re-emerge into the lighter stage, and when we do, there’s a good chance that we’ll wake up.
That all sounds great, right? You fall asleep at eleven or so, hit that deep stage by midnight, hang out there for six hours or so, and then start to come back to the surface around 6:00 or 7:00, gradually waking up refreshed and ready to face the day.
Except the whole process only takes about an hour and a half.
That’s right. From start to finish, going from light sleep to deep sleep and back again takes between 90 – 110 minutes.[i]
Luckily for us (and for those who have to interact with us) the process repeats itself pretty easily. Either we’ll wake up for a minute or two and fall right back to sleep, or we might not even really break the surface at all.
Ideally, this happens five or six times in a row. We get a restful, restorative snooze in the night, and we reap the benefits of it throughout the day.
But enough about us grown-ups. What about our little ones?
Infants, despite their increased need for sleep, have a much shorter sleep cycle than adults. On average, an infant goes from light sleep to deep sleep and back again in an astounding 50 minutes.[ii] So whoever coined the term, “Sleep like a baby” was clearly misinformed. In fact for newborns up until 3 months their cycle is even shorter at only 35 mins!
So for me the most important thing you can help your baby with is to teach them baby to fall asleep independently initially, and when they wake up so that they can take longer periods of continuous cycles of sleep.
That’s it! Well that’s not all of it, you’ll need to consider lots of other factors like nutritional needs and comfort and warmth which are vital for any age of child but for me it all starts with a good sleep habit of self-settling.
For newborns my aim is always to take the pressure off a bit, they are tiny and lovely little things that you want to hug and cuddle and you should! Slowly though as they grow older it’s important for me to try and encourage self-settling to get to good sleep habits by around 3-4 months. This isn’t sleep training by the way, it’s really only key to try and start on that journey very gently.
From 4 months older sleep issues can develop and it’s from then that it’s worth considering whether your baby is settling independently and if not, is this causing them to wake more than they should or more than you are prepared for? If you think that then it might be time to address how they fall asleep.
Once they’ve learned the skills they need to fall back to sleep on their own, they’ll wake up after a sleep cycle, their brain will signal them to go back to sleep, and that’s exactly what they’ll do.
That is unless they need to feed in the night. I’m not super keen on forcing a baby to sleep through the night until they have the right weight and good set up in the day, so as long as you know your baby is waking up for food rather than for comfort that’s fine. (if you need any guidance on this just get in touch!)
If you are considering doing a bit of sleep training or setting up some good habits, you’ll often hear of the biggest arguments from critics of sleep training is, “Babies are supposed to wake up at night!”
And that’s absolutely, 100 per cent correct. Babies, just like adults, are supposed to wake up at night. In fact, it would take some powerful sedatives to prevent it.
So although your little one is going to wake up numerous times a night, every night, they can quickly and easily learn the skills to get back to sleep on their own. It will only seem as though they’re sleeping for longer or even through the night.
If you are due to have a little one soon and you want to get into great sleep habits or you have a little one that you would like to sleep better, then I run workshops to help educate mums or mums to be on all things sleep and how to get into great habits whatever the age! My next workshop is in St Albans on the 10th March – you can find out details here.
I also work with families 1 on 1 to offer bespoke support on sleep issues with children aged between 0 – 6 yrs old. If you would like to know more about the work I do or to book a free 15 min call to discuss anything sleep related then have a look here www.sleeptimebaby.co.uk
[i] US National Library of Medicine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072506
[ii] US National Library of Medicine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439810/
For any postnatal midwifery advice, please see here