Is my Baby’s Sleep Normal?

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You want the best for your baby. All mother’s do! But knowing and deciding between what is normal and what is best is not always easy. See, normal is not always what it seems. Normal is rarely glamorized. No one brags about normal. Normal is just….well normal. 

You’re tired and running on empty. You can’t even count the number of times you’ve been woken up this week.

Then you see it. A post by one of your Mommy friends. One of the lucky ones, blessed with a baby that sleeps through the night for a whopping 12 hours! 

In comes the self doubt. What am I doing wrong? What is she doing differently? Is there something wrong with me as a parent…or wrong with my baby?

Sound familiar!?

It doesn’t help that Moms LOOOOOOVE to brag about sleep, or that everyone loves to give advice about sleep. But did you know that people love to exaggerate too? (crazy but it’s true!)

But is your baby’s sleep normal? The short answer to this question is….probably. 

Here is the thing though. Sleep is complex, the world is big, and there is also a lot we don’t know (yet!).

But we can look to science, our history – and to our babies for some insight. 

What is Normal?

Let’s start by talking about normal. What IS normal anyways?

To illustrate, let’s take a quick step away from sleep and talk about statistics (stay with me…I promise to keep this fun and easy!)

In science there is something called a bell curve, which is commonly seen when researchers plot data from large groups of people. It helps us to understand averages. 

Within the bell curve, “most people’ will fall within 95% of each other. This 95% is generally thought of as “normal” or “average.”

Some people – the 2.5% on either end of the curve, will fall below or above that normal range. In general. 

The bell curve applies to alllllll sorts of things. Anything from height, to weight, or even letter grades in school. 

When we think about sleep this makes sense. Some babies are likely to experience more or less sleep than average, but most babies will likely sleep around the same amount in a 24 hour period – on average (still with me?). 

When we apply this knowledge to the sleep charts (below). In theory, “most” babies “should” sleep within that recommended amount. But a lot of babies will also fall within the “may be appropriate” range. 

One thing to keep in mind here, is that our own sleep is an average too. We don’t sleep the exact same amount of minutes or hours each night. We have good nights, and bad nights. Babies are no different!

So before you freak out that your baby slept poorly last night. Stop and think about the last few days. Or even the last week. How do they sleep on average?

Let’s take this one step further. See here is where it gets interesting…

We live in a world of billions of people! So the actual numbers of people sleeping outside the range of normal can be quite large. More like HUGE!  (what is 2.5% of 7.5 billion anyways? LOL)

Does it mean that there is something wrong for all of these people? Or that something is wrong with your baby’s sleep?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Again, sleep is complex – and VERY individualized

To know if your baby’s sleep is normal, we really need to look at OTHER factors outside of sleep duration recommendations. Things like your baby’s behaviour, the number of wakings, time spent awake, and how long it takes to fall asleep. 

Thankfully, a new study came out this year! The study was carried out by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and the University of Turkufirst and was the first study to look at these “other factors” and what they can tell us about “normal sleep” in infants. 

The results may surprise you!

Taking Time to Fall Asleep is Normal

We all dream of the child who drifts off to dreamland quickly and effortlessly. But did you know that it is entirely normal for a baby or child (or anyone at ANY age) to take some time to fall asleep!? I get that sometimes this can feel like an eternity, especially if your arms and back are burning from rocking, bouncing, or dancing your sweet angel to sleep. But you can release a whole lot of anger and frustration by reminding yourself that falling asleep takes time! 

 (Food for thought…How long does it take you to fall asleep?)

Night Wakings are Normal

In recent years, there have been a couple of large scale studies looking at night waking. What these studies tell us is that more than 80% of babies aged 6-18 months wake at least 1-3 times per night, and that as babies age the frequency of night wakings slooooowly decreases. 

EIGHTY PERCENT! Eighty % of babies wake up! 

That is a lot of sleepless babies! That sounds pretty “normal” to me (remember those statistics!)

How can something SO common, so normal, be wrong? Or harmful? 

Would you believe me if I said that it is normal AND healthy for babies to wake up at night!? 

What Science & History Can tell us:

We often hear adults say things like “oh to sleep like a baby again” My guess is that these people do not have kids!

Babies have been sleeping in short, fragmented chunks since long before the development of sleep coaches! I mean think about it for a minute, do you think that our ancestors stopped and returned to their cave, to allow their babies a long and consolidated nap in the dark while out gathering food and supplies for the day? I think this is highly unlikely. There was too much to do! They slept on the go, and when they could.

See, babies sleep vastly different from adults. They have shorter sleep cycles, and spend a lot of time in active sleep. This helps their brains to process all of the amazing learning they are doing, and helps to ensure they are waking to get all the nourishment they need to facilitate the insane amount of growth. PLUS, we know this lighter sleep is protective of SIDS! 

It is only in our modern times, where Mothers are expected to do it all, that we neeeeeeed (or want) our babies to sleep for long and deep stretches. But babies are not designed to sleep this way. Babies haven’t changed. We have!

Listen to YOUR Baby

I am not talking about actual words here, but more specifically what is your baby telling you through their behaviour? Are they generally happy? Do they seem to enjoy playful interaction? Or are they cranky? If they are cranky, how often does this occur? What helps? 

Often their behaviour is the best sign

If you are concerned, don’t forget to think outside the box. Not all sleep problems are sleep problems! Often crappy naps or nights, are just a symptom of something else. Perhaps a feeding or latch issue, or an allergy. Some babies have sensory sensitivities and so on. 

Always, always, always follow your gut. If you are concerned for your child reach out to someone that knows sleep. Your doctor can be a good place to start. 

What Can YOU Do?

Normal sleep does not have to be difficult! There are loads of things you can do to assist sleep, like establishing a healthy sleep routine! More importantly, Follow your child’s lead. Avoid relying too heavily on sleep durations, awake windows or nap guides. They are NOT one size fits all. 

Do what works! So often parents avoid or change routines out of a fear of starting bad habits. Try out different options. Babies needs and preferences change. And what works for one parent, might be different for another. 

And finally…..relax! When it comes to sleep, calmness is key. Do a check in. Are they settled? Are you? If sleep is not coming easily, and frustration is rising, it is usually best to take a break and try again later. 

For more tips, and to receive my Ultimate Guide to Bedtime Routines, click HERE

And remember, normal may not be glamorous or brag worthy. But normal is usually a-okay!

Sleep well,