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What It Means to Sleep through the Night

Did you know that no human sleeps all the way through the night? Yes, you read that correct – no human will sleep straight through the night without waking. Our bodies are designed to cycle through different stages of sleep and between each cycle we briefly wake before beginning the next cycle. We just usually don’t remember the wakings. This happens to every person and your child is no exception. Let’s take a look at why this happens and what sleeping through the night truly means!

The Sleep Cycle

One sleep cycle is made up of 4 stages of sleep, ranging from a light sleep, deep sleep, back to light sleep and ending with a brief waking. Adults typically complete one cycle in about 90 minutes while children complete one cycle in about 40 – 60 minutes.

Let’s break it down:

Stage 1: is very light sleep. This is like when you are starting to fall asleep while watching TV, but you don't quite realize you are asleep... we've all been there!

Stage 2: Now the body going deeper into sleep as the heartbeat slows, temperature decreases, and your muscles relax.

Stage 3: At this point, the body has entered a very deep sleep. At this stage, the body is now completely relaxed and it is very hard to wake up.

Stage 4: This is known as “active sleep.” It’s a lighter sleep, but the brain is actively processing and learning from activities of the day. For your child, this phase is very important for brain development because this is when their brain processes information from their day and creates new connections. Your child is constantly learning – everything is new to them and their brain needs this time to process!

Finally, the 4 stages are followed by a partial waking right before transitioning into a new sleep cycle. The purpose of partial wakings is to readjust the body and check the environment. If the brain registers a change the environment (for your child: Mom or Dad is no longer present), then it will wake completely.

What does sleeping through the night truly mean?

The body is designed to wake through the night, so wakes are going to happen. The difference, however, between a child with independent sleep skills and a child without, is that independent sleepers will be able to link the sleep cycle and return to sleep with little to no disruption. A child who lacks independent sleep skills is more likely to be unable to link sleep cycles because their brain is going to be looking for the same help that was present when they initially fell asleep.

Even after you have sleep trained, it does not mean you will never hear a peep out of your child through the night. We are raising humans, not robots. You may still see sleep disruptions when your schedule gets off or after a vacation or when your child is teething or after a sickness. The important thing to remember is that you child already has the foundation for healthy sleep, so you do not need to start from scratch. You may need to remind them of their sleep expectations by implementing a shortened version of your original sleep training method, but you will not need to re-sleep train.

If your independent sleeper is suddenly waking through the night or early in the morning, instead of changing your response, first do this:

1. Go through this checklist: check their environment, room temperature, ask yourself “has their schedule been off?” and check your responses (have you changed anything?)

2. Simply remind them of the sleep expectations

If you have never had an independent sleeper and are ready to get sleep, I would love to connect with you! At Guiding Star Sleep, I love to connect with families by listening to your struggles, equipping you with a PLAN, and encouraging you to persevere through the hard times because just on the other side is beautiful, restful, restorative sleep for everyone.


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