Are Babies Supposed to Sleep Through the Night?

Christine Brown

Christine Brown

“Are babies supposed to sleep through the night?”

I have come across this question many times. Usually, it is presented as a reason why we shouldn’t sleep train. So let’s break it down…

Literally, no one sleeps through the night.

Average Night For A Baby

All human bodies wake many times during the night, usually at the end of a sleep cycle. For babies, sleep cycles are about 45-50 minutes and lengthen as we get older. An adult sleep cycle is 90-120 minutes.

These wakings are called partial arousals and have protective qualities. We check our surroundings, maybe adjust our pillow or our positioning, and drift right back to sleep. If you’re skilled at falling back asleep and nothing seems out of the ordinary, then you probably don’t even remember waking up! But if something is out of place, or missing, you’ll wake up fully in order to fix the issue.

How Does This Affect Babies & Children?

When babies and children do not know how to fall asleep independently, when they experience partial arousal, they struggle to fall back asleep on their own. This is because the conditions that were present when they last fell asleep – commonly parental presence, the pacifier, movement – are no longer there. They’ll call out for help, and often fall back asleep once these conditions are re-introduced.

Babies & children who know how to fall asleep independently simply wake, check their environment and find nothing amiss, feel safe, and fall back asleep. They’ve got the skills to be a healthy, independent sleeper.

My Baby Doesn’t Know How to Sleep Through the Night. What Are My Options?

For some families, this truly isn’t a problem. If it isn’t a problem, it isn’t a problem! You may not mind responding. You may have found a way to get your child back to sleep quickly and minimize this disruption.

For others, the bedtime battles, night wakings and short naps are intolerable. It may look like:

  • Bedtime is measured in hours, not minutes
  • You’ve tried a million different things to get your baby back to sleep and nothing seems to work
  • You’re falling asleep holding your baby and waking with no recollection of how they got there
  • Bed sharing wasn’t your plan, but here you are desperate for sleep, despite having your baby in bed *not* feeling safe or getting quality sleep
  • Bedtime and the night wakings fill you with a sense of dread
  • You are holding your child for all naps and would really love to be able to put them down, but can’t
  • You are exhausted, irritable, short-tempered and not feeling like the parent/person you want to be

If this is you and your child is older than 4 months, it may be time to sleep train.

This doesn’t mean you have to let your baby “cry it out”! There are many methods available, including methods with a lot of parental presence all the way to limited parental presence.

Keep in mind that there will be tears no matter which method you choose. Children don’t love change and will protest the changes. But that doesn’t mean you can’t support your child through the change by using a method that will work best for your child based on their temperament and is aligned with your parenting philosophies.

What if Your Child Knows How to Put Themselves to Sleep, but Still isn’t Sleeping Through the Night?

Sometimes, when a baby or child is already an independent sleeper, they still struggle with falling back asleep. This is often due to other factors, such as:

  • Sleep environment challenges
  • Lack of an optimal bedtime routine
  • Your child is overtired from the lack of an age-appropriate schedule. Overtired bodies have a harder time falling and staying asleep, due to stimulating stress hormones designed to keep them awake when they miss the window for optimal sleep.

Try to figure this out, when you feel like you are doing everything right can be extra frustrating. Our team can help you pinpoint exactly what’s going on, if you need help troubleshooting.

Once My Child Can Sleep Independently, Will My Child Not Call for Me When They Need Me?

Maybe you’ve been on the Mommy blogs or Facebook Mom groups and heard that sleep training causes learned helplessness and that you are ignoring your baby’s needs by sleep training.

Sleep training doesn’t condition our babies to not signal for us. It means they don’t need to signal for help to fall back asleep, they have the skills they need to be able to fall back asleep themselves.

Any parent who has sleep trained will tell you that sleep training does NOT train away wakeups entirely. If your child truly needs you for hunger, a bellyache, bad dream, or pain, they will call out for you! And since you know you have a healthy, independent sleep foundation established and these awakenings are out of the ordinary, you can now feel confident that they need your assistance and comfort and respond accordingly.

I can personally attest to this. We sleep trained my son when he was 4 months old and he is now 2. We’ve had a handful of nights where he’s struggled to fall asleep and needed some comfort. He’s woken in the middle of the night with teething pain, a bad dream, an upset tummy, or he’s been startled awake by a nasty thunderstorm. These nights are not the norm, and we respond and provide the comfort and reassurance he needs.

We are also careful to assess the situation and avoid creating any new habits we don’t want to maintain, but it’s rare that these situations happen multiple nights in a row anyway.

You absolutely can sleep train and be a responsive, loving parent who comforts your child when they need you.

Not sure what this would look like, or want support while you figure it out? Maybe you’ve even tried but it just isn’t coming together as you’d hoped. The Bella Luna team is here for you! Schedule a free “get to know you” chat and we’ll talk about how to make independent sleep happen for your family.

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