Researchers from McGill University are urging parents not to worry about their infants’ sleeping habits in the first six months of life.
Though many parents are eager to get their infants sleeping straight through the night, their recent study revealed that changes to sleeping patterns -- even nightly -- are common during infancy. The most important thing to keep in mind is that every child is different, and more traditional sleeping habits can take time to form.
“Although previous research has shown that infants start sleeping through the night at different stages of development, little is known about individual sleep patterns night after night,” said researcher Marie-Helene Pennestri.
Inconsistencies are common
The researchers followed the sleeping habits of 44 six-month old infants for two weeks. Mothers kept a record of their babies’ sleeping patterns for the duration of the study, and the main goal was to see if the infants could reach six or eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Ultimately, the researchers learned that each baby had their own habits, which were vulnerable to change on a nightly basis. The most common trend among the infants was inconsistency: more than 70 percent experienced drastically different sleeping patterns each night of the study.
Just one of the infants involved in the study slept for eight hours each of the 13 days, while more than half never hit the eight-hour mark. Similarly, three infants slept for six straight hours every night of the study, while more than 20 percent never achieved six uninterrupted hours.
“Parents are often exposed to a lot of contradictory information about infant sleep,” said Pennestri. “They shouldn’t worry if their baby doesn’t sleep through the night at a specific age because sleep patterns differ a lot in infancy.”
Co-sleeping may lead to more inconsistency
While a lot of factors can play into infants’ sleeping habits, the researchers found that mothers who breastfeed or co-sleep were more likely to have infants with inconsistent sleep each night. However, this could also be because mothers are more aware of their infants’ movements and disruptions, so the researchers plan to do more work in this area to better understand parents’ roles during the sleep process.
For now, the researchers hope that parents find some comfort in these findings, as it’s incredibly clear that changes in infants’ sleeping habits are more common than many people might think.
“One important piece of the puzzle is understanding parents’ perceptions and expectations of infant sleep,” Pennestri said. “In future research, we hope to explore what ‘sleeping through the night’ really means to them.”