Yes, you read it correctly. Not only will your baby never sleep through the night, but neither will you.
All humans, from their first night on earth to their last, actually wake up multiple times a night! These wakings are part of our natural human sleep cycle and happen even when there's no caffeine or stress.
I'm sure you've noticed times when you've been in a "deep sleep" and times when you felt like you were mildly awake already when you heard your baby or the garbage truck. Not all sleep is the same.
Sleep is Cyclical
When we fall asleep, we begin in a stage of light sleep, move into a deeper sleep and then slowly re-emerge into the lighter stage again. Each time we move back into that lighter stage, there's a chance we'll wake up.
What might surprise you is that this process happens several times during the night. Each cycle can take as little as 90-110 minutes.i We don't spend most of our night in a long stretch of deep sleep.
Luckily, this process is pretty seamless. While we may wake for a moment or two, we normally fall right back to sleep. This is when you might cover up or move your pillow. Many times, we never really break the surface and don't remember waking at all.
When all goes well, we cruise through these sleep cycles five or six times, wake refreshed and ready for the day.
So now that we know about grown-ups, let's talk about the little people in our lives.
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. ii
Depending on your child's age, you might have noticed the plague of waking every hour or maybe every 45 minutes. If this is happening in your home, your baby is simply waking after each sleep cycle.
So, What’s The Answer?
There's no magic wand to help your child lengthen their sleep cycle. In fact, we don't aim to lengthen it at all! A child who "sleeps well" doesn't have longer sleep cycles, but instead has developed healthy sleep strategies. Teaching children to fall sleep independently actually teaches them how to fall back to sleep with ease. That's where the magic happens!
You see, when a baby is held to sleep and then wakes in a crib, it can be alarming for them. Where am I? Where is mom? What's going on? For some babies, there’s a fight or flight reaction.
On the other hand, if a baby falls asleep independently, over time, their brains simply signal them to go back to sleep. There's no middle of the night upset.
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 teaching independent sleep does nothing that actually influences or alters your baby's natural sleep. You'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 percent correct. Babies, just like adults, are supposed to wake up at night. In fact, it would take some powerful sedatives to prevent it.
My methods help little ones 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. iii
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 can all get behind.
i US National Library of Medicine - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072506/
ii US National Library of Medicine - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3439810/
iii American Academy of Pediatrics - https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/Infant-Sleep-Training-is-Effective-and-Safe-Study-Finds.aspx
Suddenly awake multiple times at night? Finally understand what the word "regression" means as it relates to sleep?
You hoped it wouldn't hit your house.
As a sleep consultant, I have found that the word regression pops up in nearly every imaginable circumstance. If a baby has been sleeping well for a week or months and suddenly hits a hiccup, it receives the "R" label. Some believe there's a regression at eight months or a year.
I have some news for you: the dreaded four-month regression is absolutely REAL, and it's PERMANENT.
But why? And what exactly is going on? I know you're probably sleep deprived right now, so I'll try to keep this simple.
Sleep isn't exactly on or off, but instead has many stages that we call the "sleep cycle." We move through this cycle several times a night.
Stage 1: You can feel yourself drifting off, but do not feel like you're asleep. You may look asleep to others but may quickly respond with "I wasn't asleep" when someone wakes you.
Stage 2: Considered "true sleep," this stage is where people will agree that they were asleep. This is also the "power nap" stage that gives energy without the groggy feeling of a long nap.
Stage 3: This stage is deep and regenerative and known as "slow wave" sleep. The body repairs and rejuvenates the immune system, muscles tissue, energy stores, and begins growth and development.
Stage 4: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Our brains begin to consolidate information and memories during this stage. It's also when we dream.
After Stage 4, we wake or come close to waking. We then cycle back through the stages again. The process of waking at the end is where the issues arise and begin the "regression."
Newborns vs. 3 and 4-month olds
Newborn babies only have two stages of sleep; stage 3 and stage 4 (REM), and they spend about half their sleep in each stage. At around the third or fourth month, babies add in the first two sleep stages, both of which are lighter sleep. They'll follow this cycle of including all four stages for the rest of their lives.
More Light Sleep
When Stages 1 and 2 are added into a sleep cycle, the total amount of light sleep is increased. REM, which is light sleep is reduced by half to make room for the even lighter Stages 1 and 2. Now, with even more time spent in light sleep, there's more of a chance that baby's going to wake up.
Now, waking is not the issue. It's natural to wake up and we do it even as adults.
Why Adults Handle it Better
As an adult, we are aware of more truths than our child. We know our surroundings, that it's nighttime, that we don't have to wake up yet, and that we can go back to sleep. This happens so quickly that we often don't even remember waking during the night.
Why a 4-Month Old Struggles
A four-month old baby, of course, lacks these critical thinking skills. To a four-month-old baby who fell asleep in her mother's arms, the reasoning could go much more to the tune of, "OK, what's going on? Where's that familiar face, my pacifier or food, and mommy's voice singing to me? Where's Mommy?!"
I can completely understand why a baby would begin to freak out, which stimulates the fight-or-flight response. At this point, there's not chance a baby isn't going back to sleep without assurance that everything is just fine and probably a little snuggling.
Why Rocking to Sleep Suddenly Rocks the Peace
Another factor in this four month fiasco, I find, is that up until this point, parents have helped their baby fall asleep. Whether a parent has used a pacifier, simply rocked or breastfed, or used some similar technique, the baby has been distracted and relaxed to go to sleep. By the four month mark, a parent is tired and their arms may need a small break. Not happening.
A baby is now spending more time in light sleep, and therefore has a higher probability of waking up. For an already tired parent, there is now an even bigger issue. What was once helping your baby fall asleep has now created a sleep association that upon waking, causes crying and an adrenaline rush. When this starts happening every hour, it seems like more than a nightmare. Night after night of constant waking now means parents are in a near-zombie state, even during the daytime.
It is NOT a Regression.
You may be surprised to find that all of these sleepless nights are actually caused by a "progression." A regression is defined as a "reversion to an earlier mental or behavioral level," and that's certainly not what's happening here! We want our children to acquire this new level of sleep.
But What Can I Do? I'm Desperate!
So, onto the big question. What can a parent do to help a little one adjust?
Are there true regressions?
Yes! There are definitely times that your child will have poor sleep phases. Illness, travel, and cutting teeth are just a few reasons to have several bad nights in a row. When babies begin to crawl, walk, or even have a major jump in talking, they may have more night wake-ups as they are eager to practice these fun skills. But, the most difficult change, at four months, is a one-time deal.
Parents who take the opportunity to teach their baby the skill to string sleep cycles together with independence certainly to not rob themselves or their child of snuggles and emotional attachment. A refreshed parent and child both have more to give! By giving them a gift they'll enjoy for the rest of their lives, they are also giving quality rest so that their time awake is more enjoyable.
Of course, some children will adjust like a fish to water. Others will be more resistant. Significant changes are hard on adults, so we should expect it to be at least a little challenging for a tiny baby. Whether you are approaching the four month mark, are in the middle of it, or are way past it and STILL struggling, I can assure you that your child CAN learn to sleep through cycles with ease. Like anything in life, we must be given the proper tools and the opportunity to learn.
If you are ready to help your child sleep his or her best at night, but just aren’t sure how, I’m here for you!
Initial consultations are always free. That may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. I’ve been in your shoes! Let’s chat. You and your baby need sleep.
The winter months are now gone.
Maybe you watched Marie Kondo and simplified and organized everything. Maybe just the thought of it exhausted you. Or maybe, you’re like me, and did your own version here and there and your New Year’s resolution has been modified a teeny tiny bit.
Motherhood brings so many different seasons. Often, those seasons aren’t correlated with Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall and they most definitely do not always align with the seasons of the people who surround you.
This time last year, I had a 2.5 year old and a 4 month old. I remember hearing Papa Smurf on the television mentioning in a sigh that he had no idea what he was doing. If ever I could relate to someone on T.V., that was THE moment.
Christmas had come and gone, preschool had started again, and I had in my mind that my days would be organized in a perfect order with a certain time for X, Y, and Z. Boy was I wrong!
My mornings were often filled with overwhelm and not knowing what to focus on. I’m a person who likes to be able to check a box and feel like I’ve accomplished something tangible in a day. There were so many boxes left unchecked. My husband would respond to my frustration with “Is everyone alive?” and sincerely offer encouragement. I’d have a little cry and move on.
But, deep down, it wasn’t enough for me to just keep my head above water.
One morning while all was quiet, one at preschool and another napping, I was hurriedly cleaning the kitchen and listening to a podcast for some company older than two years.
Thankfully my duties didn’t have me too distracted and I heard exactly what I needed as if September McCarthy, the God Centered Mom’s guest speaker, was speaking directly to me. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was essentially something along the lines of letting things go during certain seasons.
For me, it was a season I then described as a beautiful, but chaotic circus. The wheels started turning, but I was still stubborn. That message wasn’t for me! I had things to do!
The next podcast, which I now can’t find for the life of me, went on to mention Psalm 46:10 and encouraged moms to simply “be still” in the moments. I immediately teared up, which led to an awfully ugly cry. You know the type that will keep you out of the public for at least an hour?
Yeah, it was bad.
Why did I need someone who didn’t even know me to tell me that it was okay if all the “things” didn’t get done? Why did it take TWO total strangers? Because I needed more than family to tell me it was okay. Because I wanted to say I accomplished something during the day.
Because I’m a box checker and often let society define success for me.
Why do I share this with you?
Because it changed me, and it taught me that to BE STILL wasn’t the same thing as being lazy! I didn’t have to stand out, be the perfect Pinterest mom, or have a Martha Stewart worthy kitchen. My kids need the best version of ME, and sometimes, that involves sitting down for a while.
There are many days that I still need a reminder. I try to slow down and be even more mindful to sit in the floor and play. I let the laundry wait a little too long.
I absolutely delight in the smiles on my babies’ faces! I’m 100% positive that if someone I didn’t even know hadn’t told me to simply let things go, be still, and that “busy” doesn’t equal success, I would have missed many a smile.
Hearing that podcast gave me permission to let caring for my kids be enough. It reminded me that truly caring for your kids involves being very, very present in their lives.
Over the last year I’ve accepted the fact that our home won’t be a showcase of perfection, but more importantly, I’ve learned to see it as a place with life, laughter, experiences, and love.
The best part? I’m a better mama because of it!
The toys, the messes, the plates from breakfast that are still there hours later…it’s okay now. Well, if I’m being honest, it still bugs me to no end, but I’ve come a LONNNNG way.
I know that the tiny little dings in our coffee table came from a little fella loving a new hammer and a mama who didn’t see it coming. A year ago, I would see those as imperfections and a table that is messed up. Thankfully, so thankfully, my perspective has changed.
Now, if you read this and think “Boy doesn’t she think she has it all together,” that couldn’t be further from the truth. I snap at times I shouldn’t. I was the mama with the kid having a public meltdown over not getting a new toy TWICE in the last month. My kids know Mickey and Minnie much better than I’d like. My daughter is one of the pickiest eaters on the planet. I question myself ALL. THE. TIME.
But I have a suspicion that I’m not the only mama that could benefit from slowing down and letting a few things go. “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” Well said, John Trainer, well said.
The Lord does take care of us when we are trusting enough to do what he calls us to do.
And, mama, if it’s your season to focus on taking care of your baby, you do it and don’t look back. Sit down, hug, play, chase, dance, tickle and giggle.
And equally important, love yourself. Take care of yourself. You’ve got one heck of an amazing job to do.
Let YOUR heart define the check boxes, not society.
If you long to be more present with your child, but lack of sleep is taking its toll on you, let’s talk. There’s no shame in getting help for your child. Sleep is important for everyone and it certainly helps us enjoy the greatest moments and have more patience in the more trying ones.
Schedule a FREE 15-minute call with me today!
Sweet Home Sleep Solutions
If you are reading this in the wee hours of the morning and feeling like you are on your last leg, I know how you feel! We love our children, but so desperately need rest, too. I can truly say that I know what it’s like to have tried everything possible and still be up at night... Learn more about how I can help.