“Can Your Baby REALLY Sleep Through the Night?”

“My baby sleeps through the night,” is surprisingly one of the most misunderstood phrases when it comes to children and sleep. The truth is that no one can sleep through the night without waking at some point. An infant’s sleep cycle is only 50-60 minutes long, and many times during a transition from one cycle into the next, there is a natural waking as the body comes to the surface of sleep. In fact, having two to five or sometimes more natural wakings through the night is very normal.

Whether or not a baby needs something from you during a natural waking is an entirely different story.  If the answer is yes, chances are the baby needs the parent to reproduce the bedtime scenario, which may look like rocking, breast, or bottle feeding to sleep. The reason for this is that the baby is dependent on you, the parent, in order to fall asleep.

The process of falling asleep is a learned behavior and not something babies naturally know how to do on their own. When it comes to behavior and sleep, parents directly influence sleeping habits for their children.

Parents can:

  • Create sleep problems
  • Prevent sleep problems
  • Correct any sleep problems that occur

At some point, every parent can find themselves in one of these scenarios.

Now what? You may be wondering how do I go about this? You mean, “sleep train?” Let me be super honest here: I am not a fan of the term sleep training. To me the term just sounds harsh, like something being done “to” a baby rather than something being done “for” a baby. Sleep is a requirement for healthy development and general well-being.  Maybe you are saying to yourself, “Alright, alright, I get it. I need to teach my child healthy sleeping habits,” but like many parents I have talked with, you have some general concerns about teaching your child how to self-soothe. For example,

“Can I feed my baby at night and also teach her healthy sleeping habits?”

Absolutely! The key here is not letting your baby fall asleep at the breast or bottle or rushing in to rock your child to sleep for pure comfort. For example, if you know your baby can wait eight hours after being laid down for bed, then do not offer a feed if your baby wakes up sooner. When it is time to feed, keep your baby awake through the feed and always lay your baby back down awake. Babies quickly learn that sleep is good and something they enjoy. The end result is that babies self-wean off of night-time feeds when they are ready rather than the parent having to pull the feed. Another common concern parents tend to have:

“My child HATES to sleep. Bedtime is a constant struggle and the fight seems never-ending!”

This scenario can be a very frustrating and confusing one when you know that your child is exhausted (and so are you) but simply will NOT go to sleep! Many times, this behavior is a clear sign that your child, in fact, does not dislike sleep but rather is trying to communicate that she is ready to have more control over how she gets to sleep. Maybe in the past, you have always rocked your child, breastfed, or bottle fed your child to sleep because it worked like a charm! A child who is resisting sleep is most likely looking for a change in routine and also trying to figure out how to get to sleep on her own. This is a great time to implement positive change to your child’s sleep habits because she is telling you that she is ready! So, “Can your baby REALLY sleep through the night?”  Let me say this, as a parent, there is hope that you will again enjoy an entire night in your comfy bed. The key to consolidated sleep or “sleeping through the night” is learning to self-soothe back to sleep from natural occurring wakings.  I hope these truths are refreshing, encouraging and life-giving! Sleep well, Nashville!

This article that I wrote was originally published in Pure Living Nashville Magazine

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