Babies and sleeping through the night: tips from a baby sleep coach

Guest blogger: Myrthe Stapper

Most parents dream of it: a baby that sleeps through the night. Yet for most parents of young children, this is not the case. In this article certified child sleep coach Myrthe Stapper of the Dutch company Slaaptipsvoorbabys.nl explains more about the phenomenon of sleeping through the night and gives tips to help your child sleep through the night.

What does ‘sleeping through the night’ mean?

First, it is important to look at the definition of sleeping through the night. With ‘sleeping through the night’ I mean: when a baby sleeps on their own from the last night feed around 11:00 p.m. until around 6:00/07:00 a.m. without parental assistance. Contrary to what many people think, sleeping through the night does not mean that a baby never wakes up during the night. It is quite normal for a baby to wake up briefly between sleep cycles. Some babies then make some noises before falling back to sleep on their own.

How can you stimulate your baby to sleep through the night?

Whether and when your baby can sleep through the night depends on several factors. We know that most babies are physically able at 8 months. Here it is important that a baby gets enough nutrition during the day and that a baby sleeps neither too much nor too little during the day. So the right balance of nutrition and daytime sleep plays a big role. When you want your child to sleep through the night, it is also a must to make sure your child can fall asleep on his own. When a child cannot fall asleep on its own and is dependent on a breast or bottle, for example, it will need that every time to fall asleep again. It may then appear that a baby is hungry when in fact it is a way to fall asleep.

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How important is sleeping through the night?

How important is sleeping through the night? That question is difficult to answer. Perhaps the question “How important do you think it is?” is better. If you as a parent need and/or care about your sleep, chances are you care about your child sleeping through the night. We all know that sleep is important. Sleep is essential for physical and mental development. This is true for parents but certainly also for young children who are developing.

Some parents claim that sleepless nights are just part of the deal. I partially agree. When you become a parent, your life changes. It’s smart to create realistic expectations in advance that the nights will look different too, especially that first period when a baby still needs many night feeds. Yet I see on a daily basis that it is not necessary to not sleep for months at a time.

Sleeping through the night doesn’t exist

Did you know that sleeping through the night in the literal sense actually does not exist at all? Just like adults, babies sleep in sleep cycles. Such a sleep cycle lasts between 40 and 100 minutes, depending on the age of your baby and the time of day or night. After a sleep cycle, your baby may wake briefly. When a baby knows how to fall back asleep on his own, you often don’t even notice this waking. When a baby is dependent on a breast, bottle, pacifier or some other form of assistance, you may well wake up continuously and have to help your baby fall back to sleep. So, “sleeping” for hours at a time does not actually exist.

A few tips to help your child sleep through the night

  • Start creating a day/night rhythm around 6-8 weeks of age
  • Let your baby sleep enough during the day but make sure he or she is still tired enough for the evening and night. 
  • Make sure there are enough feedings during the day
  • Always let your child sleep in a dark room to stimulate the day/night rhythm and to stimulate the production of the sleep hormone.
  • Learn your child to fall asleep on their own

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