Why It’s OK That Your Child Is A Bad Sleeper

At a family party I recently met a colleague of a family member who had children a few years older than my own. We exchanged the usual pleasantries, and then her attention turned to my nine-month old who I had in a sling.

“Well aren’t you a beautiful little thing,” she cooed. I inwardly preened, even though deep down I know that people say this about nearly every baby they meet. “Does she sleep through the night?” the lady asked.

Is She Good?

crying baby do not want to sleep

This question comes up almost every time in conversation with a stranger about my baby. The other alternative is “Is she a good baby?” and every time I have to resist the urge to lie and say “Oh, yes, she sleeps 7pm until 7am every night,” because who wants to be seen as the one with the awkward child?

However, as a firm believer in honesty being the best policy, I laughed, pointed to my 4-year old son (who at this point had discovered the cupcake tower and was coated in a mixture of chocolate and marshmallow, whilst running around pretending to be a dinosaur) and said, “Well, she sleeps better than him, but no, not really. She went through a stage of sleeping through, but has since decided that being awake at 4am is a much better use of her time. Still, she is doing better than her brother, who in his short four years has probably slept through a grand total of about 17 times.”

This is not an exaggeration. If there was a prize for the worse sleeper, my son would be up on the podium.

“Oh, thank god,” the woman said. “I was beginning to think I was the only one.” She went on to explain that neither of her daughters, now five and seven, had ever been good sleepers, and that most nights were spent with at least one child hogging a significant proportion of her king size bed. We consoled each other for our terrible sleepers, and reminded ourselves that none of these children would be sharing our beds by the time they reached 18. Hopefully.

Have You Tried Letting Him Cry It Out?

Crying boy in bed does not want to go to sleep. Very upset child.

The woman’s relief at finding another struggling parent who was honest enough to admit to it reminded me of all the times I had been asked about my son’s sleeping habits and had come under pressure from well-meaning friends, family members, and health professionals to sort it out. Contradictory advice had been given repeatedly. I should let him cry it out. I should let him sleep in my bed every night. I should give him a dummy. I should take away the dummy. Have you tried giving him porridge before he goes to bed? Is he warm enough? Too warm? Scared of the dark? Too much light? The list goes on.

As far as my son is concerned, I have tried everything. I have spent a fortune on mobiles, sleeping bags and fancy teddy bears that make white noise. I have listened to him cry in his cot and I have held him close in our bed. I have given him a night-light and decorated his room with glow in the dark stars. He has a well-structured bedtime routine and I try and wear him out each day. Despite all of this, he will still wake up at various points during the night and shout from his room until we go in to him.

“There must be something else you can try,” I get told. There isn’t. I have read all the books, the Internet forums, begged, pleaded and cried myself. For a long time, I felt like the woman at the party. That I was the only one who had a child who didn’t conform to the 7pm – 7am schedule.

The Myth Of Sleeping Through The Night

Photo of loving family of four lying on white bed in morning

It turns out I’m not the only one with a child who never sleeps through the night. Research carried out by Netmums showed that around one third of parents admit to lying about their children’s sleeping habits to other people in order to avoid appearing as a “bad parent.” This is hardly surprising if parents are facing the same sort of pressure that I have experienced.

What is more, the idea that every child should sleep 12 hours solidly every night is laughable. For adults, sleep comes in cycles. We go from light sleep to deep sleep back to light sleep again several times during the night with periods of wakefulness. The same is true for children. It is also true that one size does not fit all, and whilst your sister-in-law might claim that your niece slept for twelve hours each and every night from six weeks old (and she is probably lying), that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with your child who only sleeps ten hours a night with some waking. Just like kids, we all have different eating habits, different body shapes, and different tastes in music, we all have different ways of sleeping. Some people want to wake up early, others want to stay up late and sleep in. And some, like my son, want to wake up at 2am and have a cuddle.

My son isn’t tired during the day. In fact, he’s a whirlwind of unbound energy but that’s a whole other article. So, I know he’s getting enough sleep. My daughter isn’t fussy during the day; in fact, she is a very happy baby, so I know she is getting enough sleep, as well. Really, the only people in the house who aren’t getting enough sleep are myself and my husband, but that’s ok, because we have a good coffee maker and we can take shifts if necessary. So, the next time someone asks if my baby is “good” or if she “sleeps through the night”, I’m going to respond with the words “she is just a normal baby”. Because that is what she is. She isn’t a bad baby, or a crap sleeper. She is just normal. And, normal is OK.