“But the first steps to dealing with the fact that your young child doesn’t sleep through the night, or doesn’t want to sleep without you is to realize that:
- (1) Not sleeping through the night until they are 3 or 4 years of age is normal and healthy behavior for human infants.
- (2) Your children are not being difficult or manipulative, they are being normal and healthy, and behaving in ways that are appropriate for our species.
Once you understand these simple truths, it becomes much easier to deal with parenting your child at night. Once you give up the idea that you must have 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep at night, and view these nighttime interactions with your child as precious and fleeting, you get used to them very quickly.” ~Katherine Dettwyler, PH.D
Sleeping through the Night http://pathwaystofamilywellness.org/The-Outer-Womb/sleeping-through-the-night.html
This understanding helped my sanity immensely when my daughter was an infant and wobbler. I have had this gut feeling that forcing children to sleep alone was counter-intuitive. When I did it to our first-born son, I frequently felt torn. I thought how hard and confusing for him as his parents went to sleep together every night. I love cuddling with another soul at night, how could I deprived him of such a simple and wonderful comfort. I also think having separate rooms is a luxury that many civilizations have not afforded. He must feel alienated and alone. Every night, around 1 AM, he would bump through the dark hallways to climb a ladder to our bed and I allowed him to stay there. Then I worried if he would ever learn to sleep on his own.
When he was 3 yrs old, I learned that 85% of brain connections were made by age 3 and 45% of the connections that were not made are gone. This is huge and pretty much explains how most our society may only be operating on a half of our brain’s potential. Up to that point, I had considered myself well-educated on child development and parenting, and I was when you consider mainstream. I am glad that I have the thirst for knowledge and embrace my weaknesses. I learn something new every day and challenge my “wrong truths” (my son’s wording). Along with a greater of understanding of neuroscience, I also have a theory that forcing a child to sleep through the night may cause the brain to develop out of order and/or skip crucial and formative connections.
Hence, I accept that my daughter (nor I) will not be sleeping through the night till age 3 or 4.
My daughter did eventually sleep through the night. I literally went 3.5 years without a full night sleep, co-sleeping, no allowance for “cry it out” and frequent night nursing. I’ll be honest, I would (emotionally) lose it about every 3 weeks due to exhaustion then I’d review my research, read new studies and reflect on our wonderful relationship and the other leaps and bounds she had made. So I continued. I had very little support. I felt I couldn’t even tell many my experiences and theory as they would think I was crazy. Fortunately, my marriage is stellar so my husband believed in me and loved me through the extremely tiring days. Her progression of sleeping through the night was extremely gradual and even getting a full sleep cycle was sporadic. She still at infrequent times awakes in the middle of the night and stumbles to our bed for a bit of milk and wakes around 6 or 7 AM for some more milk. It didn’t happen overnight and looks more like the second “success” picture:
I believe everything exists on a continuum and there are many ways to reach the same endpoint (equifinality). So there are babies who can and will sleep through the night sooner than later and vice versa. There are many nurturing, respectful, and creative ways to get vital needs met. There are also many emotional, physical, environmental, and contextual variables that play into sleeping through the night too. My oldest son is a rock solid sleeper too. We actually welcomed him back full time into our family bed when he was 4 yrs old for many reasons. At age six, he was ready and motivated to have his own space where he has been ever since (well, about once a month he still asks for a family cuddle;-).
This is a reflection of my unique experience so take what fits with your lifestyle the best and leave the rest. Where ever you are on this erratic trajectory, keep in mind these moments are precious and will be over be for you know it.
To help you find a balance that works for you and your child, I highly recommend listening to this podcast: Attachment Parenting Versus The Science of Attachment, Clearing Up Misconceptions
Some online resources respond to nighttime wakings:
To deep breaths and baby steps, this soon will pass.