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The stages of sleep

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Being asked ‘does your baby sleep through the night’ is a commonly asked question for most parents. What does this actually mean though??

Quite simply, it depends on each individual child. It is completely normal for little ones to wake during the night (whether that’s for a feed or not linked to hunger at all). We all sleep in cycles (45-60 minutes for little ones, and on average 1 ½ hours for adults). In between these cycles we can wake up – fully or partially – before we roll into the next cycle of sleep. So, the idea of sleeping solidly for 12 hours is pretty unrealistic. Everyone comes to the edge of sleep numerous times in the night.

The difference between babies who sleep well and those who do not is, generally that the little ones who don’t sleep well need help to get back to sleep every time they come to the edge of sleep. This absolutely does not need to be your ‘normal’. We have written about the amazing benefits of good quality restorative sleep in a previous blog, so if frequent wakings are interfering with your little ones sleep, there are definitely steps you can take to help guide your them to a more consolidated and restorative sleep rhythm.

So, what is ‘normal’ in terms of night wakings?

  • Newborn (0-3 months): Although there are things you can do to pave the way for a little more sleep during this time, newborns feed regularly. Between 3-5 times during the night initially can be completely appropriate. Allowing your little one to practice falling asleep without doing something to them can really help avoid tricky sleep associations.
  • 3-6 months: This is around the age that babies start to consolidate their nighttime sleep. This usually happens in the early part of the night at first (between bedtime and 10pm) which is the deep, restorative sleep occurs. The much talked about 4-month sleep regression also appears at this point, resulting in the development of sleep cycles. It can be harder for little ones to link these sleep cycles in the later part of the night as sleep becomes lighter, and parents often get ‘stuck’ using techniques to help their little one get back to sleep (i.e. feeding, rocking etc). Depending on their feeding journey up to this point, some little ones still need between 1-2 feeds a night at this stage, however not every wake may be due to hunger once they have developed sleep cycles. Therefore, it’s important for them to develop independent sleep skills in order for them to go back to sleep when they aren’t hungry.
  • 6-9 months: At this stage, most little ones will have started solids. This often coincides with being able to drop down to 1, or perhaps no, night feeds. At this point it is as much about learning those self-settling skills as it is about nutritional intake. If a baby is waking regularly through the night and needing to be fed in order to get back to sleep, it may be that they are just struggling to link their sleep cycles together. However, if they are waking for a feed and then settling back down to sleep for 3-4 hours this may be what your baby needs from a nutritional point of view, especially if they are really interested in breakfast!
  • 10 months plus: As long as your little one is healthy and there are no concerns about their weight/development, then at this stage most babies can go through the night without a feed – provided they are getting all of their nutritional needs met during the day in terms of carbohydrates, protein and fats, along with their milk feeds (breast or formula). 

What does a baby’s night time sleep journey look like?

Below is a visual timeline of what the different stages of sleep look like and what it could mean if your little one wakes during each of them:

If your little one is experiencing any issues in terms of night waking, please do get in touch – we would love to help!

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