Now that we are both 4 years into this parenting thing and know so much more about sleep for infants and toddlers than we knew possible, we wanted to take some time to share with you 3 really important things we wish we knew when we started out with our first little newborns! We know that there is SO much information out there about sleep and it is easy to quickly feel overwhelmed. Part of our mission is to normalize sleep for parents while also providing support to make changes when things are a little bit too far from what is biologically normal.
The following are three things we wish we knew as parents in those early days, and we hope that reading these will help you to feel confident as a parent when it comes to sleep. Remember, you are the absolute best parent for your baby and they are beyond lucky to have you!
Sleep is not a marker for how well you are doing as a parent. Every child has unique sleep totals, patterns and needs. No two babies are the same when it comes to the first time they will sleep through till morning, fall asleep independently or stop needing you in the middle of the night.
The sleep industry tricks us into thinking that if we just do “such and such” our little ones will fall asleep with ease and not make a peep until morning. The issue we take with this is that this gives us the idea we have control over sleep and then when we can’t make it happen then we feel like we have somehow failed.
We promise, you haven’t. In our opinion, the things that matter when it comes to parenting is that your child feels safe and secure in their relationship with you, that they know you will love them unconditionally despite any emotion they throw your way and that you will always show up for them when they need you.
We think the focus should be on independence blossoming from inviting dependence first. It shouldn't be about how your little one sleeps, it should be about who you are to them, the relationship the two of you share and the connection that is making it possible to lead them as their parent.
2. We do NOT have control over our children’s sleep because it is a biological function
Sleep is not something that is within our conscious control. Read that again. It is NOT within our conscious control which means it is also not something we can teach (or “train”) our children to do!
As much as we can adjust the sleep environment to be conducive to sleep and watch for sleepy cues and get to know what works for our babies, there are two main biological factors that drive sleep.
Essentially, it comes down to circadian rhythms and homeostatic sleep pressure. These two factors are responsible for the process of falling asleep and staying asleep.
As our little ones learn, play and grow throughout the day sleep pressure builds up. The longer our little ones are awake the more that sleep pressure builds up and the more ready for the sleep they are. This is the reason we can’t dictate our children’s sleep based on a generic schedule. Trust that your baby (and their body) will know when to sleep - they may just need a little connection with the ones they love to fully surrender to it!
Circadian rhythms, the second biological factor that drives sleep can be described as our body’s internal clocks. These internal clocks are governed by day and night. As the sun rises, so does our body’s temperature and blood pressure. Just as when the sun goes down, so does our metabolism. Circadian rhythms respond to light and dark to produce melatonin which is the sleepy hormone.
At about 12-16 weeks babies will develop their own circadian rhythm and release melatonin. Exposing babies to natural light when they are awake and limiting artificial light at night can be helpful in supporting their internal clocks.
We can’t force sleep, and the more we try to, the more unattainable it becomes.
3. Sleeping through the night should not be the goal and just because it happens once does not mean it is going to happen every night
Babies are designed to wake at night, if they weren’t supposed to wake they wouldn’t. It is important to understand waking is a protective mechanism. We want babies to wake and call for us to have their needs met. They may wake because they are too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty or even just in search of connection (there is NOTHING wrong with this one by the way!).
Now we are familiar with that glorious feeling the first time you wake up to realize it is already morning and your little one didn’t wake. What we are unsure of, is how the obsession with meeting the goal of sleeping through the night became so intense. Just because it happens once, does not mean you have crossed some sort of finish line or about to be awarded some sort or trophy. Sleep is not linear, it just isn’t!
So yes, enjoy the time you get to stay in bed all night long while your little one snoozes from bedtime until morning, but know that it is totally and completely normal for patterns to shift, development to happen and interrupters (such as teething, illness, growth spurts ect.) to cause your little one to stop sleeping through the night again at any given time. Don’t worry, it will eventually happen again when they’re ready!
Sleeping through the night is not the goal, or at least we don’t think it should be, so let that go. Focus on instead meeting your child’s needs and supporting them through whatever may come!
Sarah & Elli