21/08/2014 13:54 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

What Does 'Sleeping Through The Night' Really Mean?

What does 'sleeping through the night' really mean?PA

Halloween is the one time of year when my face tends to fit in with everyone else's. The painful truth is, though, that for the remaining 364 days of the year I continue to sport sunken, hollow eyes, an ashen complexion, and a stiff, shuffling walk thanks to a back crippled by continual lifting of a child.

I've not chosen to look like this, of course. It's not my fault. I'll tell you whose fault it is: my son's. I've absolutely no problem in pointing a tired finger at him and muttering to myself ''re the reason people always think I'm ill', before daydreaming about my bed.

When my 18 month-old son is awake, he's a treasure, all cheeky smiles and playful antics. When he's asleep...well. Truth is, I wouldn't be able to tell you what he is like when he's asleep, because he never sleeps. Ever. At least, it doesn't feel like it.

And I'll tell you what makes it worse: smug parents sidling up to you in the playground, and saying 'Ooh, you look awful. Is Noah not sleeping? That's a shame. Little (insert name here) sleeps like a – well, a baby!' And, with that, they skip away, with a cackle that splinters your ears as you nod off whilst still standing up.


'My baby sleeps through'. The four words that strike a big green stake of jealousy into the heart of any parent who's ever had the misfortune of watching late night TV at stupid o'clock in the morning whilst trying to calm a screaming child.


But what does 'sleeping through' actually mean?

The truth is, it means different things at different ages. Child sleep experts (who probably don't fall asleep during a department meeting – true story) have come up with average lengths of unbroken sleep that a parent can expect from their baby.

If you have a newborn, you can probably expect 3-5 hours of unbroken sleep a night – the technical definition of 'sleeping through'. The reason is simple: babies need food, especially when they're being breastfed. The low fat and protein content of breast milk combined with the small size of your baby's stomach – about the size of a hazelnut – means that they will wake often.

Before you had children, your night-time slumbering would have consisted of a number of cycles between heavy and light sleep. Newborn babies have twice as many periods of light sleep as adults, meaning that they are more likely to wake often. The periods of unbroken sleep you can expect understandably rises as your child grows: from 5-8 hours at around three months old to 8-12 hours at six months of age. After six months old, you can expect (or at least hope for) a 12-hour unbroken sleep.

And so, although you may be up two or three times in the night soothing a wailing baby, you might still be able to brag that technically they sleep through the night. Technically. Although the fact that you look like you're about to vomit belies the fact that 'technically' doesn't always mean 'happily'.

These 'sleeping through' times are averages, of course, and so you may get the odd lucky parent whose two-week old baby sleeps for several hours at a time. But for every lucky parent, there are those who are up every few hours to see to their child, especially when teething begins or illness strikes.

Unfortunately, a dram of whiskey is no longer allowed, despite grandparents swearing by it.

What worked for you? Share your advice below.
Do you know that lonely despair of sleepless nights when every other parents seem so smug?