"HOW DO I GET MY CHILD TO SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT?!" is the thinly-veiled message under the surface of many of the emails that I get about sleep. And I don't blame you. I don't claim to be a magician in this regard, although I did get incredibly, amazingly lucky - my daughter put in her first eight-hour night at six weeks old, and has regularly slept through the night for longer than I can remember. I'm really genuinely not sure I could parent if things weren't like this.
But today's episode is about the data, not about anecdata.
Zoe in Sydney wrote to me:
A hotly debated topic with my friends has been "sleeping through the night." My daughter never was great at napping and still wakes up once a night, coming into our bed. We have never been able to do controlled crying etc - I would love to know what science says about sleeping through the night! And what is best for your child (vs the parent). My close friend is a breastfeeding counselor and said they are taught that lots of children don't sleep through until 4 years old! Other mothers I knew were horrified if their child wasn't sleeping through by 6 months - and the French talk about their children 'having their nights' much earlier...
As I started researching this topic it became clear that sleep is driven to an incredible extent by cultural preferences. Some (Western) psychologists advocate for letting children Cry It Out, while people in many cultures around the world see putting a child to sleep in their own room (never mind allowing them to cry) as tantamount to child abuse.
So: can we get our children to sleep more? Is bed-sharing inherently bad? Does Cry It Out harm the child in some way? Let's find out!