When Will My Baby Sleep Through The Night?

by | Sep 6, 2018

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.

But that doesn’t mean your dream of an 11-12 hour night is shattered. In fact, once you understand exactly HOW we sleep, you are one step closer to this becoming your reality.

Baby sleep cycles

Infants over 4 months cycle through four stages of sleep, just like adults do:

1. 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.

2. 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!

3. 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.

4. 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. 

Babies cycle through these stages every 45-60 minutes or so and it is normal to have over 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.

Sleep is a skill

When you teach your little one to fall asleep on their own, they’ll be able to employ that skill multiple times a night, every night, for the rest of their lives. They will recall exactly what they needed to do at bedtime to get themselves to sleep, and do it again and again to connect sleep cycles all night long.

Now, the question becomes, HOW do you teach your baby the skill of sleep.

How to teach sleep

Sleep is a complex puzzle with many different factors that contribute to solving sleep struggles. While many people believe that sleep teaching is just about the “method” you use (CIO, Ferber, etc.) this could not be farther from the truth. You can follow sleep training methods to a T, but unless you have accounted for other pieces of the sleep puzzle (things like appropriate schedule, helpful routine, nutrition, environment, temperament, etc.) you may be left even more confused and frustrated.

Addressing sleep teaching in an intentional and comprehensive way is like giving your little one piano lessons vs. just sitting them down in front of some sheet music and expecting them to become the next Mozart. As with any skill, practice is essential! There’s probably going to be a bit of protest as they figure it out (hey, change is hard!) but that doesn’t mean you can’t support, comfort, and cheer them on throughout the process. 

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 at bedtime or in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s giving them a pacifier, rocking them back to sleep, nursing them, or letting them join you in bed. These are “sleep props” and are the equivalent of playing the piano for your child instead of teaching them how to play on their own. While this may be easier in the moment, ultimately you’re doing the work for them and your child is never truly learning.

Ready to Sleep Through The Night Again?

When I work with families, I create a plan for a total sleep-makeover to help intentionally and comprehensively teach the skill of sleep. Changing things up to help your child practice independent sleep skills will cause protest. They may be frustrated, they may get upset, they may let you know that they prefer the “old way,” but with a little time and practice, they’ll learn the skill of sleep just like they learn other skills and then you’ll have the Mozart of sleeping on your hands!

So while I can’t give you a concrete answer as to when your little one will start sleeping through the night, I can tell you without hesitation that it will be much, much sooner if you teach them the skill of sleep.

There are different strategies to help your little one learn healthy, independent sleep habits based on your child’s age and developmental stage and your family’s comfort level. 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 discovery call with me! I would love to help make your dreams come true (literally!)

If you’re exhausted, totally overwhelmed by your child’s sleep habits, or looking for answers to the sleep questions that keep you up at night (literally), then you’ve come to the right place. I’m Jamie, founder of Oh Baby Consulting, and my goal is to help your family get the sleep you need to not just survive, but thrive!