If you’re expecting a baby, we can almost guarantee you’ve heard the following: “sleep now because soon enough you won’t sleep at all!” And chances are, you find this piece of unsolicited advice both scary and…well, not that helpful.
But here’s something that is helpful: Advice from Kelly Murray, Chicago-based sleep consultant, who was kind enough to answer all our most burning questions about infant sleep. Here’s what she had to say!
Monica + Andy: What exactly does it mean for an infant to sleep through the night? Is there a certain stretch of time when the baby must remain sleeping?
Kelly Murray: “I hate to be the one to break it to [you], but technically, [your] baby will never actually sleep through an entire night [Editor’s note: Keep reading, it gets better!] but then again, neither will [you]. You see, most people don’t even realize this, but we all wake up briefly, multiple times a night, as part of our natural human sleep cycle. [Adults sleep in 90-minute cycles and wake up briefly between each — this happens so quickly, we don’t even remember it come morning.]
Babies follow the same exact pattern, only their sleep cycles are only about 50 minutes per cycle. They experience the same brief wake-up but the good news is, as long as they have learned how to put themselves back to sleep independently and do not require night feedings, they should be able to fall back to sleep peacefully without parental intervention. Believe it or not, babies can and usually do sleep for a total of 10 to 12 hours. For parents whose babies are waking multiple times a night, I know this sounds entirely too good to be true but it really isn’t, I promise!”
M+A: Generally speaking, when should parents expect their children to sleep until morning?
KM: “I wish I could give parents a magic number as I know it’s helpful to have a benchmark, but like many other milestones in a baby’s first year, the specific time for finally sleeping through the night can vary. What I tell parents is that it will happen when the baby is able to fall asleep on its own without the use of an external prop, such as feeding or rocking. Once babies develop this ability, they will get themselves back to sleep peacefully after completing a sleep cycle.”
M+A: What are some milestones babies hit before sleeping through the night?
KM: “A huge milestone for parents that helps immensely with getting a full night’s sleep is once baby gains enough weight to no longer require those middle of the night feedings. Once they are the appropriate weight, usually around 12-15 pounds, they should be able to string together sleep cycles without assistance for 10 to 12 hours straight. Typically babies will need at least one middle-of-the-night feeding until they are at least 12 to 16 weeks old. However, some babies need to continue to feed in the middle of the night until they are much older. It is best for parents to consult their pediatricians to determine when their baby is the appropriate weight to drop night feedings.”
M+A: Is it true that some babies are simply better sleepers than others?
KM: “While it’s definitely true that some lucky parents have the rare ‘unicorn’ babies who quickly learn to fall asleep independently without much fuss or prompting, many more parents find themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum, with babies attached to a sleep prop. This can make it difficult for them to fall back to sleep in the middle-of-the-night. These babies may continue to struggle with sleep until they are given the chance to learn to put themselves to sleep without any props.”
M+A: Is there anything a parent can do to minimize this?
KM: “[My preferred method is an] eat, play, sleep routine [for example: Mom would feed the baby about 10 minutes after waking up. After the feeding, they would play for a bit. Once it is time for sleep, they would be put into their bassinet awake]. [This is] to ensure that their baby is not associating eating and sleeping. A feeding sleep prop is the hardest to break, as you can’t eliminate feeding from their routine for obvious reasons. In addition, they should aim to put their baby in their crib awake as opposed to asleep. That way, they can fall asleep on their own.”
M+A: What are some mistakes you see parents making when it comes to infant sleep?
KM: “The biggest mistake I see is allowing their baby to become overtired. When this happens, babies, like adults, will produce the stimulating hormones cortisol and adrenaline, to fight fatigue. These hormones make it more difficult for people of any age, but most especially for babies, to fall (and stay) asleep. This is why I tell parents to really study their babies and get to learn their babies’ personal signs of becoming tired. There is a small window of time where the baby will go down and actually fall asleep, but if you’re busy and you miss the sleepy stare or rubbing the eyes, (you’ll start noticing the signs soon enough) it’ll be a bigger struggle to put baby to sleep.”
About the expert: Kelly Murray is a certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and the owner of Kelly Murray Sleep Consulting. She specializes in helping sleep-deprived families in Chicago and worldwide obtain the restful sleep they so desperately need. Her approach is gentle, nonjudgmental and customized to fit the child’s temperament and mom and dad’s parenting style. To learn more or book a free 15-Minute Sleep Evaluation, visit www.kellymurraysleep.com.
Any specific questions about your infant’s sleeping patterns? Be sure to contact your pediatrician — he or she can likely weigh in or point you to a sleep expert if necessary.