Sleeping through the night (STN): is there such thing when you become a parent? Or is it just a fallacy?
..Well, yes, and no.
See.. The more kids you have, the lower your probability of STN; and as Muphys Law would have it, the nights all of your kids sleep through without a peep, you’ll be awake, wired and unable to sleep at 3am!
So what does it mean to sleep through the night? By definition, it means five hours of straight sleep! Yep… In this case, I am sure we are all getting more sleep throughs than we realise! However, these days, most parent’s expectations revolve around the holy grail of 7pm – 7am – which unfortunately, for the majority of kids (100% of the time), is not realistic.
The truth is, no baby or child (or adult for that matter) ever sleep through the night. Like adults, children cycle through sleep stages overnight (every 45-50 minutes). They transition through stages of light sleep (REM), to heavy/quiet sleep (non-REM) – and then a light sleep again before repeating this process several times (Babies spend much more time in light sleep, and this is one reason why catnapping is so common in the early months). When a child transitions into the lighter stage of sleep toward the end of the sleep cycle (usually after 30 mins), they will semi wake to check their surroundings. If no change in their environment or physiology alerts them to wake completely (e.g. temperature, light. noise, pain, movement), then they can (in most cases) transition into another sleep cycle. This is an inbuilt survival mechanism we all have from birth, and for very valid reasons.
It is no wonder then, why we experience so many sleeping difficulties due to habits such as co-sleeping (out of convenience) and rocking/feeding/patting to sleep among environmental factors (bedding, comfort, warmth, light, noise, stimulation), emotional wellbeing (positive sleep associations, addressing fears, debriefing at the end of the day, communication, attending to our children’s needs accordingly), poor nutrition (not enough milk or solids during the day, or off food due to teething or illness), and lack of routine – leaving our kids overtired and wired, or not tired enough. This can be a delicate balance sometimes, requiring weeks of tweaking, trial, and error.
In addition to the biological reasoning, the majority of babies aren’t physiologically capable of sleeping through until around 6 months plus; once solids have been well established and their need for feeding overnight is decreased. Also, around this age, daytime sleep patterns and day/night routine is better established. Until this age, there are also still many benefits to feeding overnight (especially breastfeeding). Evening and nighttime breastmilk is rich with sleep-inducing and brain-boosting substances; essential for establishing milk supply, developing your baby’s circadian rhythm, and promoting better quality of night time sleep for the long term. For a child to sleep through the night, they must be capable of night weaning, and every child will be different.
There are also many other variables. You’ll hear me talk about the 80/20 rule often. Well this also applies in my experience to sleeping through the night. If your child has the right sleep environment and an age appropriate routine in place, then they have an 80% chance of STN. So what’s the 20%?
– lllness and/or teething
– Developmental milestones
– Separation anxiety
– Bed wetting
– Nightmares/night terrors
– Life transitions: starting childcare, unswaddling, new sibling, moving house, holidays, toilet training, moving into a big kid bed
– Basic comfort (especially breastfed babies)
What are some other things affecting a child’s ability to sleep through the night?
– Inability to self settle (e.g. rocking/feeding/patting to sleep)
– How we (as parents) respond to overnight wakings (co-sleeping, feeding, picking up, rocking)
– Sleeping disorders such as sleep apnea
– Medical conditions, food allergies, eczema etc
– Formula vs breastfed
– If your baby was premature/is underweight
Even I’m not immune. Right now, with an eight week-old, my STN percentage personally is 0. Poor Jett’s cold has worsened, so I’m lucky to catch 45-60 min sleep at a time of night.
As for my other kids, Miss 4 sleeps like a log except for when she has croup, or is woken by heavy rain or a thunderstorm, which sends her running to my bed (STN ability approximately 90%). And Mr sensitive 2, can sleep very well when he’s not cutting his 2 yr old molars, or sick, or in the throws of separation anxiety (current STN ability of 70% ).
Your dedication to sleeping through the night is also dependent on your physical and emotional bandwidth. Some mothers are happy to comfort feed their babies well up to 12 months and over (taking a lot longer for them to sleep through), where other mums decide to adopt sleep training strategies to discourage night wakings from as early as four months.
Professionally I believe all children will sleep through in their own time, providing all the contributing factors (outlined above) have been addressed. Patience, love, compassion, strength and a (strong) sense of humour on our part also helps (although not always easy!). Know you’re not alone, and if you need some help establishing some healthy sleep habits – get in touch with me here
Until next time… With love,
Sophie & Jett xoxox