What does ‘sleeping through the night’ really mean?
“How do I get my baby to sleep through the night?” This has got to be one of the most asked questions that I get. Before I jump into it, let’s look at what ‘sleeping through the night’ actually means. We often hear the term and think it means babies should sleep a full 10-12 hrs without waking up. But did you know that no one sleeps through the night? We all wake up multiple times throughout the night as we transition between sleep cycles but we just fall back asleep and usually don’t remember waking up. Instead we should look at ‘sleeping through the night’ as your baby sleeping through the night unassisted. Meaning they don’t need help from you to fall back asleep and can do it without crying. This applies to babies 4/4.5 months and older.
So what can you do to help your baby sleep on their own?
- Make sure baby is going down awake. Babies expect to remain in the position in which they fell asleep. So if your baby falls asleep breastfeeding or being rocked, then put down in their crib, the next time they wake up, they will realize they aren’t where they fell asleep and will fully wake up and start crying. They won’t go back to sleep until the initial situation is recreated. Imagine if you fell asleep in your bed but then woke up at 3am on the living room floor with no idea how you got there. I don’t know about you, but I probably wouldn’t just roll over and fall back asleep. I would get up, find my bed and then fall back asleep easily because it’s where I fell asleep initially. If I started out the night on the floor, then that would be a different story. Same theory applies to babies. You can still rock and feed baby as part of your bedtime routine but baby needs to go down awake. Same goes with any night feeds you are offering.
- Choose a sleep training method that you and your family are comfortable with and use that approach to deal with any night wakes. Soon your baby will pick up on the skill of doing it on their own.
- Make sure you have a solid bedtime routine in place. They are very important and signal to the body that it’s time for sleep. It can be a nice, calming transition between playtime and bedtime.
- Make baby’s room a calm, welcoming space. Make sure the room is dark and cool and conducive to sleep. Remove any distractions like crib entertainment and consider introducing a white noise machine that runs continuously throughout the night. This will create a familiar environment for baby.
- Make sure you have an age appropriate bedtime. An overtired baby will have a harder time settling to sleep and making those sleep transitions if they are overtired. An early bedtime is important and will go a long way to helping your baby sleep well.
- Make sure you adjust your expectations. It’s a process and these changes take time. Also make sure you take it easy on yourself. It’s not easy but with patience and consistency, you will see the results you want.
So while your baby might need a little encouragement to sleep on his own and there isn’t a quick fix, it is entirely possible for everyone to stay in their beds all night 😉