Everything You Know About Sleeping Through the Night Is Wrong

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One of the most common questions asked to a mom of an infant is, "Is she a good sleeper?" Often what they actually are asking is, "Does she sleep long periods of time?" as if a baby who wakes up more frequently has a problem.

Our culture is very egocentric, and it shows in our parenting, as a lot of guides and cultural conditioning suggest that success as a parent is the ability to have an uninterrupted night. However, not only does this set parents up for unnecessary stress, but it's not even biologically sound thinking.

If we only expected from our babies what they were naturally designed to do, we'd have a lot less sleep struggles.

For example, "sleeping through the night" is a phrase thrown around often, but do you know what it actually refers to? Five hours. That's it. Sleeping through the night means a five-hour stretch. Once. What is being determined isn't if you laid down after brushing your teeth and woke up to your alarm clock, but that your baby's body recognizes the difference between daytime sleep and nighttime sleep, and sleeps longer periods at night than they do in the day.

That's it.

While some babies will naturally begin sleeping longer periods of time at young ages, and will push off the need for food, that is the exception, not the rule.

Babies will sleep longer when they are biologically ready to do so. It is a developmental step like walking and talking, not something you can (or should) force, much like you can show your child the potty but expecting them to use it before their bladder is developed enough to hold urine is only setting up a battle that is impossible for either of you to win. In fact, when observed, it's discovered that even moms who swear their babies sleep through the night (by adult standards) are mistaken -- their baby still wakes up, they just don't know about it, and they didn't wake up any more or any less than babies whose mothers were aware of the nighttime awakenings.

One of my absolute favorite quotes about sleeping through the night:

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 to feed and cuddle -- keep in mind that many adults wake during the night, too. If our expectations for babies were not so different from our babies' expectations for themselves, much of this "problem" might disappear.

If a well-meaning family member or doctor tells you that your rocking or nursing to sleep needs to stop, consider that they don't live in your household. It is totally normal and acceptable for even a 1-year-old to wake up and need their parent to help them ease back to sleep. Normal! Our culture isn't supportive of that, though, but the reality is, our culture pretends that babies need to be sleeping, without intervention, for incredibly long periods of time, before they're actually ready to. And almost no one actually does it, especially without fights and crying, but they don't talk about it because they don't want to be seen as a lax parent.

Well people, take heart. As long as you promote healthy sleep patterns, everyone is well-rested, and you are respecting your baby's emotions and developmental abilities, how you put your baby to sleep and when they wake up really isn't an issue. It is absolutely okay to be nursing a 15-month-old during the night. It is okay to need to sing a little to a 9-month-old. Stop looking at books and people who tell you your baby must sleep, and look at your baby who tells you they're trying, but just need a little help from the person they love most, who comforts them best -- you.

Are you at all concerned about how long baby sleeps?


baby first year, baby health, baby sleep

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lovin... lovinangels

I love this. Thanks for writing it. We don't push. My fifteen month old sleeps in five hour stretches, and sometimes there is pressure to let her "self soothe." We all know what that means. I don't judge people that do that, but they judge me!

MTNes... MTNester1

MY baby doesn't  sleep through the night...but that's because HER baby doesn't.  And she's fine with that.  :)  (In case you didn't know, my baby is the author of this article.)

nonmember avatar nonmember

Awesome. Yet one more article on how parents need no sleep and how it's normal to raise a baby who doesn't either. Here is an actual fact: some babies sleep for small periods, some sleep for long periods of time. That is it.

rocks... rockstarmom2b

Honestly, when people ask me if my kids slept through the night I tell them that I HAVE NO IDEA. They are always snuggled up beside me so when they wake to nurse I generally don't realize and sleep right through it. I have NEVER had the sleep deprevation usually associated with early parenthood, because it makes me no nevermind how many times by babies wake during the night.

betha... bethany169

Not concerned at all, and it has paid off.  I've done everything that mainstream parents will tell you not to--nursed to sleep, co-slept, no CIO, and shortly after his second birthday, my toddler began sleeping through the night and falling asleep at naptime and bedtime on his own.  I'm actually a little sad--I miss the nighttime snuggles, but I'm excited to do it all over again when our new baby comes in April :)  I firmly believe that falling asleep and sleeping through the night are developmental stages, and kids will do it when they're ready, just like so many other things. 

Tayna Marie White

My children ages 3&4 still wake up during the night sometimes, and they need me to sing to them while going back to sleep.. I have never seen my children waking at night as a problem. I wake up sometimes, and toss and turn until I go back to sleep. So why would it be different for a child/toddler to wake for any reason at night? My 3 year old son woke up last night crying he was hungry. I fixed him a light snack with a cup of milk and moment after finishing it he was asleep again, and slept until 8:30 this morning. My daughter woke because of a bad dream and couldn't get back to sleep without me laying in bed with her. Infact I found her hiding under the desk with her pillow and blanket because she was scared about her dream, and needing to be protected. Parents should not expect there child to sleep through out the night. It does cause undesired stress, and can lead to more problems then a few hours of missed sleep. There for a while I thought my son was sleeping through the night, and later found I was wrong he would wake and cry out but go back to sleep on his own. It's a small line between sleeping and not sleeping throughout the night. On average the nights my children wake up it takes about 10 minutes to get them back to sleep..

TRW3 TRW3

I have a 3 y.o.  that still wakes at night multiple times... climbs in bed with us, moves to the couch, goes pee..everything. He was also the one to nurse MANY times a night until he was about 11 months old. I have a 1 year old that goes to sleep at 9 and is at least quiet in her room until about 10 the next morning. I have a 2.5 month old that goes to sleep at about 10 and stays asleep (or at least still and silent since he shares a bed with us) until 6-6:30 every morning. Then, he does a long 20 minute nursing session (of which I fall back asleep during) and falls back asleep until about 10. It is definitely an individual kid thing. 

Poste... PosterOfAGirl

**APPLAUSE** This so needed to be written, haha! I'm SO sick of people talking about, 'self-soothing'. Babies do not understand emotions and are not going to know how to self-soothe until they are MUCH older. Heck, I STILL need help falling asleep sometimes and my husband tickles my back, or rubs my shoulders, or holds me tight to help me sleep. Why on earth would it be wrong that my CHILD needs that? Hell, my 4 year old still needs to be snuggled and sung to, to go to sleep. Now I don't mind doing that, just not when she's screaming her head off because she doesn't WANT to go to sleep, that's a whole other story, haha.
I can't wait to snuggle my newborn in bed, it's such an awesome feeling. I will not worry as much with this one, I KNOW that babies aren't supposed to sleep through the night and I know this sleeping relationship with my next child is going to be a thousand times easier without those expectations put on her like I did with my older child.

Pishyah Pishyah

Yup, my 4yo still doesn't sleep through the night.  *I* still don't sleep through the night.  I remember often waking as a young child, older child, teenager, etc. 

madfoot madfoot

great story, thank you! i feel so guilty rocking my baby to sleep, but my ped says it's just a parenting style and I don't have ot feel bad about it. How about that!

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