This can be a hard question to answer! It is important to keep your expectations realistic and understand that no one truly sleeps through the night uninterrupted. We all briefly wake up, reposition ourselves, or need to use the bathroom occasionally. What parents should aim for is predictable sleep patterns paired with your baby’s ability to connect their sleep cycles independently.
The Stages of Sleep
Let’s take a look at the sleep cycle to understand the stages of sleep. We (infants over 4 months old through adulthood) cycle through these four stages multiple times each night.
- Stage 1 – You are fully asleep but it is a light sleep. You are not fully aware of events occurring around you. Your body temperature lowers, breathing and heart rate begin to regulate and eye movement slows down and stops.
- Stage 2 – Your brain waves begin to slow down and there is minimal activity. This is a deeper sleep that it is hard to be woken up from. Your breathing continues to slow and your muscles relax. When you wake up in this stage, you most likely feel disoriented.
- Stage 3 – You continue to get into a deeper sleep during this stage with your breathing and heart rate getting to their lowest and your brain waves slow down even more. This stage is very difficult to awake from.
- Stage 4 – REM – You have reached the final stage of sleep when you enter REM. You begin to dream when you are in REM and your body paralyzes so that you act out your dreams. Your eyes move quickly under your eyelids, heart rate and blood pressure increases, and your breathing quickens as you take shallow breaths.
Babies will cycle through these stages every 30-45 minutes. In between each cycle, there is a brief window where people partially wake up. This is when self soothing comes in handy. Before babies know how to self soothe, they may wake up enough to cry for help to get back to sleep. Your goal should be to guide your little one towards being able to connect their sleep cycles with no external assistance.
Is Sleeping Through The Night A Developmental Milestone?
No, a developmental milestone is something that requires a child to be emotionally, physically, and cognitively developed to a certain point to be able to accomplish the desired task. Sleeping through is a skill that takes time and consistency. We see such a variety in age as to when little ones start to sleep through the night. It is developed in that it is a skill that requires training and consistent practice but it is not a milestone in that it happens during a specific age window.
Introducing A Plan
First and foremost, caregivers must work together to create a plan as to how and when they want to begin to teach their little one sleeping skills. Having a plan makes it easier, especially when you’re tired and can’t think straight, to know how to handle different situations. It is important to look at the big picture to make sure that you’re setting your little one up for sleep success. You want to make sure they are getting the nutrition they need, have a predictable bedtime routine, their environment is conducive to sleep, and an appropriate schedule in place. We are more than happy to help you evaluate what you are currently practicing to see what adjustments you may need!
You should be working towards your baby learning how to get themselves back to sleep rather than depending on you or other external influences to put them to sleep. You are playing a long game here so it is worth it to put in the time and effort up front! You should know that there will be push back and regression at times. That doesn’t mean that what you are doing isn’t working, as long as it is just a brief phase. You can always reach out for help to determine if you should stick with what you are doing or if you need to tweak anything!