Lauren Jenkins - Attached Sleep
When is it Biologically Normal for my Co-Sleeping Child to Sleep Through the Night?
This is both easy and difficult to answer because data doesn’t exist to tell us either way. But I’ll tell you what we do know.
First things first - we all wake through the night. Even us adults. We just don’t realize it most of the time because we have grown to know we are safe, can get ourselves water or to the bathroom at anytime, or just change position. Adult sleep cycles are reported to be between 90 minutes and 3 hours long, and cycle between light and deep stages of sleep. Our threshold for waking is much higher in light stages of sleep so whether we realize or not, even small noises can wake us then.
By the ages of 3-5, children have cycles lasting about 90 minutes. So technically they can wake a little after each of these cycles, however, at 3 we can at least see some ability to sleep longer stretches. We do know that WHERE your child sleeps doesn’t really seem to matter. Some children need to call out more and search for reassurance, water/breastfeeding; and these reasons seem to matter more than where they are. There is probably some common sense to believe that they don’t wake as often when bedsharing, as they wake to realize you are right there and can drift off back to sleep. Just like younger infants where we see that sometimes babies who sleep alone can be awake for longer after they cry out for Mum/Dad, get settled and back to sleep. This is also true for the parent who has to get out of bed to respond to the child. In contrast, co-sleeping allows a brief wake to nurse or cuddle and immediately fall back to sleep.
It is also important to note that if this is what your baby/toddler is doing - waking to nurse/cuddle and falls right back to sleep - then this is technically considered sleeping through the night. We might not be, but they are.
Another important reminder is that even for infants, sleeping through the night is considered to be 5 hours - NOT 12 like our social constructs would like you to believe.
But there are SO many factors that influence sleep, and that’s why we can’t tell you that by a certain age your child will sleep through the night in whatever arrangement you have for them. Infant, toddlers, and children are all very affected by their developmental milestones, and they are constantly evolving and growing which brings changes frequently to life and sleep. They are affected by the stimulation in their day, their sleep routine (do they not need to nap anymore?), their personalities, nutrition, outside time, and especially their connections to you. If wakes are very frequent; (such as hourly) and seem abnormal, are we also looking at other health factors contributing to the inability to have longer stretches.
I can tell you that my highly sensitive, high-needs child who seemed to never need sleep, didn’t “sleep through the night” next to me until she was 5. And by that, I mean I didn’t realize if she did wake up or she didn’t need me for any wakes. And before then from about age 3 on, she woke a few times a night regularly, but it was only to use the washroom, breastfeed, or ask to cuddle and she fell right back to sleep. Even now at 6, she gets up once usually through the night to make sure she can move closer to me.
So as you can see, there are many factors in answering this question, but each individual situation is vastly different as we are all affected by different things. What we do know is that 1). IT IS NORMAL FOR TODDLERS AND CHILDREN TO STILL HAVE NIGHT WAKES. WE DO TOO! 2). We can’t tell if wakes are any different between different sleep arrangements; and 3). Co-sleeping has been shown to give Mum higher total sleep times. So, keep them close if you can (and you enjoy that), to minimize wake times and drift back to dream land easily together :)