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April 26, 2012

Sleeping through the night?

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 5:00 pm

Neal has asked me to query the blogosphere many times over the last year or so to find out the answer to a question that we thought would be self-evident:

What does it mean when a child “sleeps through the night”?

When a parent says that a child sleeps through the night, does it mean:

  1. they literally don’t wake up at all
  2. they wake up, but don’t make much noise
  3. they wake up, make noise/cry, but put themselves back to sleep on their own
  4. they wake up and make a fuss, but the parents never go in to them

And if it’s options 2, 3, or 4, but they only do it once a week, would most people consider them as sleeping through the night?  Twice a week?  Three times a week?

Do you think there’s a general consensus on this?  Or if not, what’s your definition of “sleeping through the night”?  And do your kids do it?



  1. I don’t know but it is slightly terrifying that you have a two year old and are asking the same question that I ask myself four times a night. With a 6 week old. o_o

    Comment by kei02003 — April 26, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

  2. I think there really is not a general consensus on this. Beth was sleeping 12 hours through the night; we didn’t hear a peep from her from 7:30 pm to 7:30 am. I told a friend this and she said that her daughter slept 12 hours at night too, and she only got up once during that time for food. I didn’t think that was sleeping through the night, but my friend did. I would not consider that *I* would have slept through the whole night myself if I’d gotten up at 3 and had a snack (or had reflux, or whatever). I really can’t complain; sleep problems were usually not my kids’ problems (thankfully; although Beth spoiled us by sleeping 8 hours consistently on from 3 1/2 weeks, so it felt like it took Russell for.e.ver til he did at 4 1/2 months). I would probably say if they’re only waking up a couple times a week doing option 2 (and by not much noise, I’m guessing that you hear them sniffling around or wiggling, but they’re not crying) or option 3, you could consider them sleeping through the night. Option 4 is like full on crying, right? If they wake you up doing it, you’re not sleeping through the night, so my opinion is that they aren’t either.

    Comment by Sabrina — April 26, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

  3. I consider it sleeping through the night if I (the parent) get 6 hours uninterrupted. If the babe wakes up and it doesn’t wake me up, it counts. I’m a heavy sleeper.

    Also, if the child wakes me no earlier than 5:30 a.m. If you’re up at four, you’re up in the night.

    I am lenient on sick children. My babe might wake me up 3 nights in a row and I’d still say they “slept through the night” if they were sick and usually did let me get my hours.

    By your numbers, I guess 1 or 2 or 3. And if they are nightly waking up and putting themselves back to sleep, only ONCE, then I’d say “sleeps through the night.” But if they wake up multiple times and fuss then go back to sleep, no.

    Levi often cries out/stirs for a minute about 2 hours after he’s gone to bed. He puts himself back to sleep and I definitely count it.

    Comment by Alysa — April 26, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

  4. I think doctors define it as a infant sleeping 5-6 hours in a stretch, assuming that when they wake up, it is to be fed. I considered K to be sleeping through the night when, 3 nights after she was weaned at 14.5 months, she went to bed at 7:00, fell asleep promptly, and did not wake us up until 6 or 7 in the morning. Before that, I was always up at least once a night to feed her when she woke up crying. A few caveats: when she is sick or teething, she has woken up at night for comfort at times, but since these are temporary factors and her sleep schedule resumed once the illness and teething ended, we still counted her as sleeping through the night. Also, when I am up in the night (even before I had a newborn—I am not the best sleeper) I have learned that she does wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and plays/talks quietly—or maybe she’s just sleep talking (we’ve seen her do it before). But we never hear it from our room when we’re asleep, so I don’t count that. And, every once in a while, maybe once or twice a month, she will wake up crying from a bad dream or from some random thing, and we will go in to comfort her briefly to help her get back to sleep. But we know that if we didn’t get up, she would eventually go back to sleep on her own. I think 1-3 work, particularly if for #3 the parents aren’t wakened by the noise or crying. 4 COULD count, if it’s not disturbing the parents’ sleep, I think. In my mind, “sleeping through the night” generally equates to not typically needing parental intervention or demanding parental attention (by being loud enough to wake sleeping parents) for probably a 7-8 hour period (although young kids generally need 10-12 hours of sleep at night) from about 9 till about 5. If my child were consistently waking me up at night 2-3 times a week, even if I didn’t go in, I would consider my child to not be consistently sleeping through the night. So yes, K has slept through the night (except at times of illness or teething or the random bad dream) since she was 14.5 months old, and believe me, I am grateful for it!

    Comment by v. blanchard — April 27, 2012 @ 12:26 am

  5. To me, when they are babies, I think sleeping through the night means sleeping at least 6 hours straight without waking up at all. At the age Christian and Addison are, I think sleeping through the night means 8 hours+ without waking up at all. Christian, at some point, was doing that. Now, not so much. He wakes up almost every single night around 3am crying. Kate never did this. I have no idea how to fix it — so when you figure it out please let me know!!

    Comment by acmorrill — April 27, 2012 @ 5:54 am

    • –Sleeping 8 hrs without waking up happened rarely at our house, and only when said child was going through a growth spurt. (Not often!)
      –Kevin thinks this is a semantics issue: if you are able to get the rest you need, the child sleeps through the night, he says. [!!!–He left & went to “work,” which is not as physically exhausting.]
      –Ban those baby monitors, too, he thinks. How can anyone sleep listening to them all night? [I know, a different generation, but he has a point. Houses may be larger today than our starter homes back then w/ baby in the next room/same wall.] We did check on them before retiring at night.
      –Alysa’s first 3 sentences matched our experience: 4 a.m. is still night. Sleeping from 11 pm-5 a.m. is definitely sleeping through the night.
      Child may even stir, whimper, wake up during that time, but if he puts himself back to sleep until 5 a.m., he has slept through the night–this is a 2-yr-old.
      –Once child can toddle into parents’ room at 5 a.m., have them lay quietly on floor w/ blanket until it’s time to rise. Helps when there are siblings: they play together elsewhere, NOT in parents’ rm.

      There is NO one answer.

      Comment by Lorie Call — April 28, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

  6. To me it means that I put my baby to in his crib, close the door, he might talk or cry a little before he nods off to sleep and then I don’t hear him till the morning and the sun is obviously up (not like 5 am, more like 7am) and he’s ready to get up. I suppose it’s possible to have periods of wakefulness but I just don’t hear him if he does and they don’t disturb him enough to cry or talk. But I guess the easiest answer is that I consider my son sleeping through the night as long as my sleep isn’t interrupted by him!

    Comment by Christina — April 28, 2012 @ 7:00 pm

  7. sleeping through the night means me getting sufficient rest to be energized–that could be 12 hrs for her and 8 for me–if I’m awoken during the night by my sleeping angel then that is definitely not sleeping through the night.

    Comment by carissa — May 4, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

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