There seems to be one question that new parents are asked more than any other, "Is he/she a good baby?" What this actually means is "is he/she sleeping well? Or even through the night?" I always find this question a bit strange, as my child's sleep is not directly linked to their behaviour in any moral way. But the thing that I find most strange of all is our society's obsession that babies should be sleeping through the night within a few months of birth. I believe this to be an entirely unnatural expectation, as I will explain.
I remember feeling horrified my cousin told me that her twins had never slept through the night and I wondered how I would cope in this situation. I now have a one year old who has slept through the night once in his short life so far, who is still having a night feed at about 11pm each night and although he is going for longer stretches before waking up he is not a great sleeper. But rather than fantasising about never having a good nights sleep ever again (or for the next 10 years at least) I find that although a bit sleep deprived, I am not worried by this situation. There are a number of reasons why we wake up in the night - it can happen as we reach the end of a sleep cycle or even if we hear a noise, or wake from a dream. Waking in the night is part of our survival and makeup. If we are lucky enough to sleep through the night on a regular basis, then great, but most of us are not built that way. I can't remember the last time I slept through the night. It is a rare thing for me to sleep through; I usually wake up a couple of times a night at least. My husband on the other hand regularly slept through until our baby was born and the sleep disruption that comes with little babies. Everyone is different, but sleeping through does not seem to be normal for most adult humans, so why do we expect our tiny brand new humans to do the same?
I read two interesting articles about this recently, one from ITV news about a video that has been released by Swansea University regarding baby sleep, dispelling the myth that babies who eat solids will sleep for longer. The other can be found on the BBC website. Although it is a couple of years old it is still fascinating and describes how historically, humans appear to have had two sleeps during the night; the first beginning a couple of hours after dusk after the which they would wake up for a couple of hours and then followed by a second sleep. This phenomenon appears in literature and medical journals and appears to have only waned over the last couple of hundred years due to better street lighting and going out at night becoming more fashionable. So perhaps this further adds to the argument that as a species, although some of us may sleep through the night, not everyone days and we may not even be designed to do so.
So perhaps it is time to take the pressure off ourselves. When we are exhausted and just want a good nights sleep this can be hard and we can wonder if we are doing something wrong or whether we should try sleep training. So in these moments, let's try to remember that our baby is behaving in a way that is natural. As they get older, they will become better at self soothing so it won't be so bad when they do wake in the night. But in the meantime, it's ok for them to wake - it's something many adults do as well. They are just like us in many ways, only teenier.
You can find links to the articles mentioned above here:
The Eight Hour Sleep Myth by Stephanie Hegarty
Should babies really sleep through the night? by ITV News