THE BLOG

This Is Why Your Baby Is Wide Awake In The Middle Of The Night

09/04/2017 20:42
Lauren Burke via Getty Images

It's one o'clock in the morning and your son, or daughter, is bouncing up and down on the bed, grinning and giggling at you. In their world it's playtime. No matter how hard you encourage them to sleep it's just not happening. An hour or two later they finally wind-down and drift off to sleep, before waking for the day shortly after.

Does any of this sound familiar? Middle of the night parties are all too common. If you're lucky you'll only experience them once or twice, if you're unlucky they will happen three or four times a week, or even more. So, what do you do to 1) get your child back to sleep again when it does happen and 2) stop it happening in the first place?

First, we need to understand why middle of the night partying happens. Development of new skills aside (can you imagine how cool it must be to suddenly find you can crawl, or walk, having been fairly immobile for months beforehand? Would you not want to practice?!), we have our own history and lifestyles to blame. Up until a couple of hundred years ago, the human norm was to sleep in two phases, commonly known as the 'first sleep' and 'second sleep'. This segmented sleep as it is known was divided by a period of alertness, commonly lasting for an hour or two. We would all go to sleep as darkness fell, usually around eight pm and sleep through until around one am. At one am we would wake and spend an hour or two working, eating and socialising before returning to bed at two or three am. We would then sleep until just after sunrise, usually at around six am. Do those timings sound familiar to anyone?

Segmented, or Polyphasic, sleep is a natural way for our species to sleep, as adults however we have learned to sleep in a way that is unnatural. We can thank our modern Westernised society and the invention of electricity for this largely. Our unnatural 'solid eight hour stretches' however are an evolutionary mismatch for the segmented sleep of our babies, who don't know that they live in modern twenty first century civilisation. Ironically it is us, as adults, that have a 'problem', not our children.

The answer to the end of the middle of the night parties therefore is teaching our children to sleep as unnaturally as us. How do we do this? Mostly we model. Our children will eventually pick up our modern sleeping patterns without us doing anything conscious to train them. Keeping nights dark and dull and our responses to them sleepy and a little less engaged than our daytime responses slowly teaches them to sleep like us. When your child wakes and wants to party at one am, you simply respond in a way that shows them "it's time to sleep now, not time to party". That means no getting up and playing with them for an hour, instead lay with them, give them lots of cuddles, have sleepy night feeds and softly repeat "it's time to sleep now" while pretending to go to sleep yourself. It's not a quick fix, but the more you model what you want to your child to do, consistently, the quicker they will mirror your sleeping habits.

If you would like to learn more about the realities infant sleep check out my Gentle Sleep Book. You can also join me on my Gentle Sleep Facebook page for advice and tips.

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