When Will My Baby Sleep Through The Night?
When I tell people that I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant, 9 times out of 10 the next question is, “When will my baby sleep through the night?” I wish I could say, “At six months” or something similarly concrete, but there are a lot of factors to consider before narrowing down a timeline.
The truth of the matter is this…
YOUR BABY WILL NEVER TRULY SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT
That’s right! They won’t sleep through the night when they’re toddlers, or when they’re teenagers, or when they’re grown-ups, because nobody ever does.
Infants over 4 months cycle through four stages of sleep, just like adults do.
Stage One is a stage we are all familiar with. It is the time when we can feel ourselves drifting off but would still firmly insist that we weren’t really asleep. In babies, this looks like drowsiness.
Stage Two is the first “true” sleep stage in that we would admit to others that we have fallen asleep. Successful power-nappers usually do not go deeper than this stage, otherwise they will wake up groggy!
Stage Three is the deeper, restorative part of the sleep cycle. It is that rich, delicious sleep that is needed for the body to repair cells, muscles, and energy stores. Spending significant time in this stage of sleep is important for growth and development.
Stage Four is also known as REM sleep and is the stage where the brain is consolidating information and storing memories. This is also the stage where most dreaming takes place.
We all cycle through these stages every 45-90 minutes or so and it is normal to have up to six sleep cycles per night. As we “come to the surface” of sleep (move from deeper into lighter sleep), we can either easily transition into the next sleep cycle or have a “true wake-up”. True wake-ups are more likely to happen when our surroundings are not the same as they were when we fell asleep in the first place. As adults, we have experienced these “micro-awakenings” thousands of times, so we just shake it off, roll over, and go back to sleep. Most of the time, the wake-up is so brief that we don’t even remember it the next day. But for babies who are used to being rocked, sung, bounced or nursed to sleep, waking up in the night requires external help to get back into that peaceful slumber.
So, when parents ask the question, “When will my baby sleep through the night?”, what they really want to know is, “When will my baby be able to get back to sleep on their own?”
This a much easier question to answer. Quite simply,
IT WILL HAPPEN WHEN THEY LEARN HOW.
When you teach your little one to go to sleep on their own, they’ll be able to employ that skill multiple times a night, every night, for the rest of their lives. Now, there’s more to it than just leaving your baby alone in their crib and letting them figure it out for themselves. Yes, that approach has worked for a lot of people, but it’s not one that everybody is comfortable using, and, in my opinion, it’s not the most gentle or effective way of teaching your baby great sleep skills.
The traditional “Cry-It-Out” approach is a lot like leaving your child in front of a piano with some sheet music and saying, “Figure it out.” Eventually, they just might, and you’ll have the Mozart of sleeping on your hands. But assuming your child isn’t gifted in the sleep department, (and I’m just assuming they’re not, since you’re reading this) they could probably benefit with some lessons. As with any skill we want to learn, practice is essential! There’s probably going to be a bit of crying as they figure it out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t encourage, comfort or reassure them.
What you shouldn’t do, however, is sit down at the piano and play it for them. Obviously, that doesn’t teach them anything. So, think about what you usually do to get your child to go to sleep in the evening or in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s giving them a pacifier, rocking them back to sleep, nursing them, or letting them sleep in your bed. These “sleep props” are the equivalent of playing the piano for your child to teach them how. You’re doing the work for them and your child is never truly learning.
When I work with families, I create a plan for a total sleep-makeover to help gently guide these tired kiddos towards independent sleep skills. Changing things up to help your child practice independent sleep skills will cause protest. They may be frustrated, they may get upset, but they’ll learn with a little time and practice.
Although I can’t give an exact date or age when your baby will go through the night without crying and demanding help to get back to sleep, I can tell you without hesitation that it will be much, much sooner if you stop doing it for them.
If you want some support and guidance around helping your child learn independent sleep skills, let’s talk. As for teaching your little one to play piano, you’re on your own with that one.
NOTE: There are different strategies to help your little one learn healthy, independent sleep habits based on your child’s age and developmental stage. To learn more about what you can do at specific time points to help your child gain these sleep skills, check out our sleep packages or book a free 15-minute call with me!