The Big Sleep Experiment – Part Two

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a sleep experiment I had conducted on Alfie (don’t worry, no babies were harmed in the process of this experiment!). I wanted to see if he had any kind of sleeping habits, as the nights soon all blur into one, and I couldn’t tell if he was waking twice a night or 10 times a night! I found it interesting to see that although he was still waking up, he did pretty much have a set routine of certain times to wake, and would be up for mostly no longer than 5 minutes. Interestingly, he was ill halfway through the experiment, so I was able to show how illness can have a big effect on sleep! You can a read of my full experiment here.

Snuggling up to have a little snooze
Snuggling up to have a little snooze

As a part two of my experiment, I wanted to see how other babies sleep compared to Alfie. Sometimes I would feel like every other person’s baby except mine slept through, so I was interested to find out if this was indeed the case!

Now, I’d like to point out that I’m no scientist, or expert on sleep. There is no amazing expertise behind this “study”, I am simply a first time mum asking other mums how their baby’s sleep. I asked mums from various parenting groups I am part of on facebook, as well as a few friends. I probably didn’t “study” enough children to get a real scientific view, but it gives an idea as to how sleep can vary from child to child, and what different aspects can affect a child’s sleep.

I gathered answers from 31 mums, and asked the following questions:

Is your baby sleeping through?      

If yes, what age did they start sleeping through and how long do they sleep for?

If no, how many times do they wake up and how do you settle them?

Are you breastfeeding, formula feeding or combi-feeding?          

What age did you start weaning?

Did weaning affect your baby’s sleep?    

What age did your baby start moving (crawling or walking)?  

Did this affect their sleep?    

This is what I found:

The children in the study were aged from 12 weeks to 4 years old.  31 children were studied.  This included two sets of twins and three sets of siblings.

68% of the children in the study were sleeping through at the time the questions were answered.

Of those that were sleeping through, the average age they started to sleep through was 4 months.

On average, the children sleeping through were sleeping from anything between 7 and 13 hours, although average amount of sleep was 10 hours solid.

This means that 32% of the babies weren’t sleeping through when their mum’s answered the questions.  The average amount of wake ups for these babies was 3.  The most common way to settle them back to sleep was to feed them, although sometimes just a cuddle or giving back the dummy/teddy was all that was needed.

The youngest baby who slept through was 3 months old.  The oldest child who didn’t sleep through was 23 months.

So, you can see from the above questions, babies sleep patterns vary wildly from baby to baby.  There are often lots of “myths” or advice given for ways to help your baby sleep through.  I included a number of questions that I thought would help dispel some of these myths and show that they don’t necessarily help with sleep.

It is often thought that your method of giving milk to your baby will affect the way they sleep, primarily that formula fed babies sleep through, and breastfed babies don’t.  This is often because formula milk tends to be heavier on a baby’s stomach so fills them up for longer, whereas breastmilk is easier to digest, so the baby’s stomach is emptier more quickly, and therefore they wake for more milk.  As a breastfeeding mum, I have often been advised to give a bottle of formula before bed to help Alfie sleep for longer, and I often see it given as advise on forums I am on.  However, it is not a given that formula will make a baby sleep through.

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32% of the mum’s questioned were exclusively breastfeeding and out of these, 40% of the babies slept through, which is quite a high number!  55% of the mum’s questioned were formula feeding and 13% were combi-feeding.  Of these babies, 20% didn’t sleep through.

From these statistics, it might seem that a formula fed baby is more likely to sleep through.  But it isn’t a guarantee, just like it isn’t a guarantee that a breastfed baby won’t sleep through.

Next, I had a look at the weaning stage.  Again, you will often hear people advise that once a baby is on solid food, their baby will start sleeping better at night. The average age of weaning amongst these babies was 6 months.

67% said that weaning didn’t affect sleep at all, and 26% said their baby slept better once they had started weaning.  2 people said weaning made their baby sleep worse!  So this suggests that weaning doesn’t have much affect on sleep.

Weaning may or may not help sleep
Weaning may or may not help sleep – ironically his bib says I like to party all night!!

Similarly, it is often thought that once a baby starts moving, they will be exhausted and therefore start sleeping for longer.  Out of the mums I spoke to, the average age of crawling or walking (ie some kind of movement) was 8 months.  35% of mums said that this affected their baby’s sleep and helped them sleep for longer, but on the whole, babies being on the move didn’t seem to affect their sleep.  In our case, since Alfie has started crawling, his sleep has been worse and he’s been going to bed much later because he’s too excited about his new skill to go to sleep!

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So, you can clearly see that every child is different.  Some sleep through, some don’t.  Some people cope well with the sleep deprivation, but unfortunately some don’t.  I’m not saying that it’s easy having a child that wakes frequently, because it isn’t.  I’ve always found it difficult to nap during the day, so I’m very lucky that I seem to have gotten used to the night feeds, and generally they don’t bother me.  As you can see from my previous post, on the whole Alfie wakes two or three times for around 5 minutes – I have got a pretty good routine in that I can get up, feed him, and be back to bed asleep within a few minutes, so it doesn’t interrupt my sleep too much.  Of course we do get nights where I have to sit with him for two hours because he thinks it’s playtime, but you just deal with it. Occasionally I get days when all I want to do is sleep, and I have to ask my husband to help me and let me rest, but we’re a parenting team, so he’s happy to do this.

Having said all that, things might need to change when I go back to work.  I’ll be working five days a week, and will be out of the house for nearly 11 hours a day.  I will be doing a busy job, so I really do need my sleep.  In preparation for this, I have bought “The Gentle Sleep” book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith.  It is a book that has been recommended on a lot of gentle parenting sites I am on, and lots of people swear by it.  I have yet to get round to reading it properly, but the great thing about it, is that it is split into sections, so I can just read the age appropriate section if I don’t have time to read the whole book.  I hope to have a read of it soon, so I can start to implement some changes and see if I can gently encourage Alfie to sleep for a bit longer at night.  Once I’ve tried a few techniques, I’ll do an updated post to see how things have changed.

I hope this post has done a little to reassure any new mums out there that their baby’s sleep pattern is normal – and by that I mean there is no normal, you just have to follow your baby’s lead, and do what you need to do to cope with the situation you are in.  Whilst it is good to listen to other people’s advice, especially those who have been in the same situation as you, it doesn’t mean you have to take it.  And if the constant questioning of how your baby sleeps DOES bother you – just lie!  Tell them what they want to hear, and then you don’t need to deal with the questions if it is something that stresses you out.  I know that what I do works for me and Alfie, so I will continue to do that for as long as it suits us.

Happy sleeping (or not…) 🙂

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21 thoughts on “The Big Sleep Experiment – Part Two

  1. Thank you so much for posting this – I’ve been getting myself so wound up about getting Josh to sleep through – but as you say every child is different and I to am a breastfeeding Mum and need to remind myself this has a huge amount to do with it. xx #fartglitter

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    1. I’m glad this has reassured you a little – it can be difficult when all you hear is of others people’s babies sleeping through from birth and every conversation starting with “so is he sleeping through yet?’ can be a little disheartening! But he’ll get there in his own time. Thanks for popping by x

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  2. Morning, I’m coming to you from #fartglitter today, but I’ve been really looking forward to reading this! It’s so interesting. And as to formula feeding vs. Breastfeeding, I was formula fed from 3 weeks old, and yet my mum maintains that I didn’t sleep through until I was 7 years old!! 😳 Yet my formula-fed-from-the-get-go brother slept through from 3 weeks! So as you say, all completely different, including siblings. Well done for highlighting this xxx

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    1. I was trying to make myself feel better and show that not all ff babies sleep through and not all bf babies wake up – didn’t quite go to plan but I hope I did show that basically babies are unpredictable and it really doesn’t matter what you do, they’ll still do whatever they want! Xx

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  3. This is so interesting, I couldn’t begin to count how many times I Googled sleep in A’s first year and became obsessed with it. It’s nice to be assured that every child is different and I can’t believe so many were sleeping through from 4 months, we certainly didn’t have that luxury for at least a year. Thanks for linking up to #MarvMondays. Kaye xo

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    1. I definitely could have become obsessed with sleep patterns, but I quickly learnt not to worry as Alfie will get his own pattern in his own time (well, he already does, it just happens to include waking at least twice for a feed!) But I hope this reassures others that whatever their child does, it’s normal for them! Thanks for hosting 🙂

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  4. I found this really interesting to read. You hear so many conflicting statistics from different sides of the same argument and it’s nice to have all of the facts from one (and might I add very reliable) source. I found the breast / formula question particularly intriguing as I’d always wondered about how this affected sleep. To be fair mine both slept really well from quite an early age and they still do now (touch wood), both were breastfed which kind of bucks the trend a little but as you say – they’re all different!
    Thanks for linking up with #fartglitter x

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    1. It’s nice of you to say I’m a reliable source ha! But I hope my aim came across that I just wanted to show how different babies are, and they don’t all follow the same trend. However, I’m glad your bf babies bucked the trend, as I often get told this is why Alfie doesn’t sleep through, and I hoped this research would prove people wrong, but it seems not!! Thanks for hosting 🙂

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  5. Mine are so past this stage (12, 9 and 6 yo) that I can’t actually remember if anyone asked me about their sleeping habits or if it annoyed me. It’s funny really. My eldest slept through at 3 months and I swear it was the longest 3 months! Then I realised how lucky I’d been once the other 2 came along. Both of them took until 10 months to sleep through; I was ready to head for a cliff. Best of luck with it all and well done on your little study! #fartglitter

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    1. Thank you for stopping by! I’m sure in years to come I’ll forget all about the comments as well! I know he’ll sleep through in his own time, I’m sure in a few years I’ll be moaning that he’s a lazy teenager who sleeps all day haha

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  6. Really interesting! Arthur is 16 almost 17 months and has never slept through. He is breastfed, but I have tried formula before bed before to see and this made no difference. He crawled at 5 months and walked at 10months and still nothing made any difference. He still wakes and asks for milk in the night which is almost certainly for comfort. I have started to think that the issue isn’t sleep at all – it is anxiety about being alone. Whe he goes to sleep, we stay in his room until he nods off. If we leave when he’s awake he gets very very upset. When he wakes and realises he’s alone, he cries, until we are there to settle him back to sleep. He ends up in bed with us every night usually between 10pm-1am and we all get more sleep that way. He does wake up when he’s in our bed, but goes back to sleep when he sees us next to him. I do believe in a more gentle approach and I think giving him that reassurance by being there for him will hopefully make him less anxious than just trying to leave him and potentially make him worse. It’s hard though, and I am tired ALL the time!! #fartglitter

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    1. This sounds very similar to Alfie! He likes the comfort of knowing someone is there when he is going to sleep – but doesn’t like being held! So I sit in the feeding chair so he can see me and it reassures him. Although when he wakes in the night he can sometimes settle himself back to sleep, it’s just often quicker for me to feed him and go back to bed. Well done though, I know the sleep deprivation is tough – I cope well on the whole but I go back to work in a few weeks and don’t know how I’ll cope then. I also believe in a gentle approach so I’ll just try to go with the flow and follow his lead. Thanks for stopping by x

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  7. A really interesting post. My baby is now ten days old and because we’re having to wake her every three hours for feeds, we’re not getting much sleep! It’s good to know others are experiencing this too!

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    1. Aww congratulations! 10 days is so tiny and so much will change for you sleep wise! We just fed on demand, so were lucky that Alfie decided to sleep through from about 3 days to 16 weeks – then it all changed and now we have regular wake ups! But you do get used to it, we are certainly in a routine now and the sleep deprivation is not as bad as some might think! Good luck with the night feeds and thanks for reading 🙂

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  8. So much pressure is put on a child sleeping isn’t it? We need sleep to function correctly yet, primarily, babies don’t sleep. They tummies aren’t big enough to keep enough food in to keep them satisfied and they need their parents comfort so are bound to be unsettled. On top of that, they have to learn EVERYTHING therefore do not know that there is day and night. The last comment kept me sane when sleep deprivation set in. It’s the first thing you’re asked as a mother “Is he sleeping through yet?” why is it the be all and end all? Why not “Is he a content baby?” or “What makes him smile?”. My son was mostly breastfed, one bottle of formula didn’t make him sleep through and he eventually cut down a feed a night till he slept through at 10 months, although this still wasn’t always a given. I think your post and statistics are interesting and will definitely be helpful for mums and give comfort. Like you say, every baby is definitely. In my opinion, if less focus was put on sleep in general for mums, they wouldn’t feel so much pressure to get their child to sleep through. #BloggerClubUK

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    1. I think the aim of my post was to try and ease that pressure on new mums about sleep – we have so much pressure as it, we don’t need more on something that essentially we can’t control! I would love to know where the sleep obsession came from, and I would love even more to try and change people’s attitudes and expectations of sleep! Thanks so much for reading 🙂

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  9. What an interesting post,it is fascinating how much it differs and everyone has varying experiences.With my 2 each one was different, my boy took much longer than my girl to sleep through! Popping over from #marvmondays

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  10. Wow you conducted a very professional survey here! I’m impressed with the high percentage of those sleeping through the night. I have three kids. My first slept through from 9 weeks old. The other two didn’t sleep until they were 2 years old! The baby stage goes by so fast, it’s best to just enjoy & roll with whatever sleep you get. Thanks so much for linking up with us at #BloggerClubUK

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