It’s the age-old question asked by well-meaning friends and family members to nearly every single new parent…
“Are they sleeping through the night?”
This question has the best intentions but often leaves parents feeling the worst. It causes them to doubt and worry. They often turn to Google, Pinterest, and Mommy Groups on Facebook to ask…”What is wrong with my baby??” and are met with, “Nothing! No one sleeps through the night!” While this may make them feel a bit better for the moment, they’re still behind on sleep and waking frequently with a crying baby.
Your baby waking multiple times a night may be common but common doesn’t necessarily mean normal.
Sleep Deprivation and Response Times
It’s well known in the medical community that lack of sleep impairs cognitive function. Studies have been done where subjects are deprived of sleep and then asked to take a test. The results are shocking. Critical reasoning, logical reasoning, simple reaction times, and decision making (among other things) were all impaired. While you may not be operating heavy machinery on a daily basis (or maybe you are!) you still need these vital skills in order to function every single day. Even parents who stay home need to make decisions using reasoning for their babies.
Sleep Deprivation and Emotional Wellness
New parents lose on average 44 days worth of sleep in their baby’s first year of life. This ends up being about 5 hours a night for an entire year. This huge deficit in sleep can be a huge element in your emotional wellbeing. It’s been documented regularly that lack of sleep can be a contributing factor for Mood and Anxiety Disorders among parents. In addition, research has emerged that lack of sleep lends itself to overly emotional reactions. The part of the brain that responds to things emotionally (the amygdala) and the part that controls it fire in such a way that everything seems important, leaving tired humans unable to ignore things that normally wouldn’t upset them (like a crying baby or a dirty house).
While there are very few things we can do to get brand new babies sleeping more (they need to eat!), older babies have often been conditioned to wake out of habit. While you have a newborn, you can get more sleep by pumping or bottle feeding and allowing your partner, a family member, or a Postpartum Doula help take over feeding baby at night, making sure you nap during the day, and having baby sleep in a bassinet in your room so they are closer.
Older babies, however, are typically ready to sleep through the night by 12 weeks of age. Once your baby is ready to sleep through the night, helping them learn to sleep independently is one of the best things you can do for both them and yourself. Think of it this way: when you’re waking on average every 3 hours you’re not getting sleep, you’re napping. Losing that much sleep lends itself to mental illnesses and emotional distress as well as a whole host of other health issues. Humans need sleep! Enough with the Martyrdom Parenthood...you need sleep too! It may be common for babies to develop poor sleep habits but that doesn’t mean it’s something that should be considered normal.
Your baby needs rested parents. Get the rest you need, help your baby learn to sleep independently, and be the best parent you can be.