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.
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?
Baby's Sleep - A Different Ballgame
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. So whoever coined the term, “Sleep like a baby” was clearly misinformed.
This is where the essential element of sleep training comes into play, the program doesn’t teach your child to stay asleep, or spend more time in any one stage of the sleep cycle. What we do is teach your baby to fall asleep independently initially, and when they wake up.
That’s it! That really is the heart if what we’ll be doing together. We’ll be helping your baby to accept these wake-ups as a non-event. 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.
Why is This Important?
There are a few reasons why I feel it’s so important for parents to understand this. First of all, I want you to know that we’re not doing anything that actually influences or alters your baby’s natural sleep. We’re just giving them the skills to fall asleep independently after they wake up, which, as you probably know by now, they’re going to do multiple times a night.
Second, one of the biggest arguments you might hear 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.
All that we’ll be doing together is teaching your little one to stay calm and content when they do wake up, and giving them the ability to get back to sleep without any help from mom, a pacifier, or any other exterior source that might not be readily available in the middle of the night.
So if you’re wondering whether or not sleep training is going to put your child at an increased risk for SIDS, or if it will somehow alter their natural sleep patterns, or make them nocturnal, or damage them in any way, I can assure you with the full support of the American Academy of Pediatrics, that it will not. What it will do is keep them calm and assured when they wake up in the night, and help to ensure that they get the sleep they need to be happy and healthy.
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 straight through the night.
That, I would imagine, is something we call all get behind.
I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant who works with families to help them resolve their littles' sleep issues. As a mom of two littles herself, Katie has walked in the shoes of her clients and is passionate about helping them re-discover peaceful sleeps in their own homes.