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If you want to make parenthood truly lousy then hold in mind an expectation that your baby should sleep through the night. Or your toddler. Or your pre-schooler. Marry unmet expectations with sleep deprivation and you have a potent dose of guilt, failure and worse still, resentment.
So why won’t your baby sleep through the night and why does everyone who says their baby does feel compelled to share that lie! Given our extreme social preoccupation with weather and ‘good’ babies here’s some clarity on the sleep-fuzzy issue of child sleep:
1. Your child’s sleep cycles
Babies and adults are designed to sleep differently! Babies’ sleep cycles (moving from light sleep to deep sleep, then REM) last about 45 minutes and it’s common for them to wake between cycles. Adults’ cycles are approximately 90 minutes and they are more likely to transition from one cycle to another without having any awareness of waking. When babies do this we usually believe the baby has learned to self-soothe which is a misnomer for ‘sleep-cycle transition’.
The light sleep period in a sleep cycle has a useful evolutionary benefit – it’s opportunity for the baby to raise the alarm if they become aware of;
- A change in temperature or light
- Hunger or thirst
- The lack of a comforting physical presence
- Discomfort such as a wet nappy
- Compromise to their safety (their airway for example)
This healthy inbuilt safety system protects the child against SIDS/cot death. Parents can create a comfortable environment but some babies are wired to be alert in this way and others less so.
2. Your child’s biological rhythms
Your baby has no concept of night and day for the first four months of life. You can’t change their chemistry so don’t use precious energy trying! The human homeostatic sleep drive starts early in the day and propels us towards sleep at night (and makes us sleepy in the afternoon!). This homeostatic sleep drive is a biological process which counteracts the circadian alerting system which works to keep us awake.