No, basbies and toddlers don’t need to sleep through the night, and if they are waking frequently, that is probably a good thing for their development. (Yup!)
The detailed answer:
First of all, we need to ask what “sleeping through the night” actually means. This phrase refers to babies sleeping through at least one feed, and usually refers to babies sleeping from around 10pm until 6am.
Whilst for many of us finally reaching that point when there is no 3am feed is cause for celebration, most of us wouldn’t really consider this to be sleeping through the night. As we know, having to tend to a baby who is unsettled in the evenings can sometimes be just as draining – or even more so – than waking in the middle of the night, and the same applies to a baby waking early in the morning when we would still like an hour or so in bed.
But when people quote research about babies sleeping through the night, it is referring to a 7-8 hour window, which is really important to hold in mind when we are feeling at our wit’s end.
When babies are in the womb, they take on the circadian rhythms of the mother as melatonin is passed to their bodies via the placenta. After they are born it takes a while for their bodies to figure this out on their own, and it will take three to four months before they even start to develop a concept of day and night, starting to have longer periods of sleep during the night.
Babies have a much shorter sleep cycle than we do and therefore cycle into a lighter sleep every twenty five minutes or so. Obviously this means there is the potential that something will disturb them and they may wake this often, which, as we know, can feel painfully frequent.
We’re sorry to have to tell you that even once their sleep cycles start to lengthen (although they won’t match adult circadian rhythms until about the age of four), it is still quite normal for most toddlers to wake in the night until at least the age of two.
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