Peter Fleming, professor of infant health and developmental psychology at the University of Bristol, the idea that babies should sleep through the night is a 20th-century idea. It’s more natural for them to wake up, often.
“Human infants are not designed to sleep for long periods, it’s not good for them, and there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that there is any benefit to anybody from having a child that sleeps longer and consistently,”
Human babies are born earlier in their development than other animals – they need close contact or an “external womb”.
Human babies are born 9 to 18 months early compared to other animals. Other animals are able to walk around and start eating – we can’t do that.
“So that means you want to keep that baby calm while the brain systems are finishing because they only have 25% of the adult brain-size developed, and a lot of systems haven’t set their thresholds and parameters yet. They’re expecting good care – like in an external womb or nest. We call it the evolved developmental niche or nest.” says Fleming.
Babies who wake up a lot are actually associated with higher levels of intelligence and better mental health.
There is, according to Fleming, a link between “very high levels of developmental and intellectual achievement and not sleeping throughout the night,” while Narvaez says that children who are kept closer to their parents and have their needs more readily met have “greater empathy and more self-regulation, they have greater conscience, and one study showed they had more cognitive ability and less depression.”
Babies have a much shorter sleep cycle than adults
Adults tend to go through a 90-minute sleep cycle and come up almost or perhaps completely to the point of waking up and then go back to sleep. We tend to have two or three of those during the night time before we become aware that we’ve woken and go back to sleep. Babies have a 60-minute cycle.
Despite what you might hear, and though it might try your patience, it’s natural for babies to wake in the night.
Babies are attuned to having their needs met by a primary caregiver throughout the night, in close contact, with lots of feeding. And there isn’t much we can do about it.
As Fleming puts it: “One needs to remember that society changes faster than biology. A biological pattern that’s taken half a million years to develop can’t just be suddenly ignored and turned around. Particularly when there’s no advantage in doing so.”
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