The Great Sleep Obsession

I recently stumbled upon this great article, written by Sarah Ockwell-Smith, about the unrealistic expectations we have of babies and their sleeping behaviour.  She writes about how modern day society has created such an obsession with babies sleeping ‘through the night’, and about how sleeping through the night is not a reality for most children until they are 2 years of age.

After reading this article once (to myself) and a second time (to my husband), I must say I feel not only a sense of relief that I’m not the only mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown (!!)…  I also found it incredibly reassuring to know that my baby (with her unreliable sleep habits) is totally normal.

Following on my last post about sleeping with your baby, Marlow is now 10 months old and still not sleeping through the night. She starts the night in her own bed, and usually wakes up around 3 or 4am when I bring her into our bed. Most of the time she will go back to sleep in my arms, while sometimes she needs to be nursed back to sleep. In any case, she is certainly not sleeping through the night. Not even close. And according to this article, it’s totally normal and natural.

Anyway, I found it to be a really reassuring article and thought I would share with you to hear your thoughts. What do you think? Do we have unrealistic expectations of our babies? Should we relax a bit more and just simply enjoy this precious time when they’re so little? Or… do you happen to have a strict schedule with your baby that works for you? Do you have a baby who does, in fact, sleep through the night? (If so, please share your secrets!) : )

xx Courtney

p.s. Photo is of sweet baby Casper, taken from Esther’s Instagram feed.


Comments (31)

October 3, 2013

Morning Courtney,

I agree, most of us do have unrealistic expectations. I have a 14 month old who wakes at least once a night, but mostly more. Our expectations were astray also due to our first being a great sleeper, but I now realise that is not the norm.
I find it helps to remember that biologically it is safer for them to be waking during the night, especially pre 6 months until the risk of SIDS starts to reduce. Hence this is their bodies safety mechanism kicking in. It really is only in Western society that we have so many babies sleeping away from their Mums. It really does make sense on so many levels to keep them near.
There is no doubt, that it is hard to cope when you are tired and exhausted in the early days/months. But we really do as Mums have to reach out more and accept help during the day to make this tiredness a little more bearable. That, and just going easier on ourselves regarding our expectations for the day, not everything needs to be perfect, scrambled egg is acceptable for tea every now and again etc etc!
In the big scheme of things, this time with our little ones is really just a short time, it will be over before we know it and we will be yearning for those middle of the night, downy headed cuddles. x

October 3, 2013

I completely agree, society does have unrealistic expectations of babies and their sleeping habits. The focus always seems to be on sleeping through the night, even when they are tiny. People don’t seem to want to focus on why, just to force the issue by leaving babies to cry or trying to sleep train them. Bed sharing is the way we cope and we have found this minimises the waking time. If a baby wakes and is responded to immediately either by being brought into the parent’s bed or already being there, they tend to go back to sleep fairly quickly. Forcing the issue only confuses and upsets them.

One of the major contributing factors for me is that women are expected to return to the workplace too soon. For financial reasons or due to their country’s maternity policy, it puts parents under a lot of stress to ‘sort out’ sleeping issues. The reality is that they aren’t the baby’s issues, but rather the parent’s.

October 3, 2013

I suppose we all want to raise our kids differently and we have different ideas of what our ideal family/home life should be like. For me and my husband, we find it important to make our two children part of OUR life. We therefor decided early on to establish routines and as a result they have both slept through the night since they were 3-4 months old. Our oldest is now 2.5 years and our youngest is almost 6 months old.
Some parents feel this is too strict for small babies and thats indeed right for some, but this is what works for us and we are all happy. More to the point, i have energy to look after them both as i get to sleep at night time!
I can recommend The blissful baby expert book.

Courtney in London
October 4, 2013

Dear Therese,
Thank you for your comment and for sharing your views on sleep and the need for babies to fit into your schedule.
Just as every baby is different, I also think every parent is different, and we all have ways that work for us, and it may vary from one parent to the next. But if it works, it works! Thanks again for sharing. xx

October 3, 2013

I totally agree. I had many an argument with my mother in law as she was horrified that my son was not sleeping all night even when he was a new born baby! It made me feel inadequate as a new mum as I was constantly asked is he sleeping through yet. It was hard when I had to return to work after a night of broken sleep, but I never expected him to “self settle”, after all what are mums for! As it turns out he only just sleeps through now and he is almost 5 and I miss our nightly cuddles! I think people should stop worrying about sleep and if children are happy and healthy what difference does it make.

October 3, 2013

Gosh this article struck a chord! It’s so true. We all need to relax a bit (although with extreme tiredness that is hard!). My little one is just over two and we’re finally there, but…if she does wake up (because sometimes she does)…she always wants a warm bottle of milk to go off with…so that’s another hurdle to cross (because everyone tells you that they should be off the bottle well before this…well, each to their own…but I’m not taking away this comfort just yet). Thanks for the great and reassuring post.

October 3, 2013

I’m on my fourth one to sleep in our bed now…For some reason every time I have thought this baby will be different and will sleep through the night at 6 weeks in the moses basket. Each time though we have ended up moving our mattress to the floor and having a single one next to it so I can alternate lying on their mattress and ours with a separate duvet for at least 6 months! With our first I remember trying to get our daughter to sleep in her cot so much me and my husband would pick it up and rock it for hours to keep her peaceful! The ridiculous things you do trying to get sleep! x

October 3, 2013

I don’t even know where to begin. Our first slept through the night at 3 months and when I went back to work a month and half later woke up twice a night, on a pretty regular basis (except when sick or teething) until he was — 20 MONTHS old… Yikes! We did no sleep training but explained that mommy wasn’t going to wake up anymore, and his father went to him for two nights, and that was it. Since then, he has slept 11-13 hours every single night, without any night wakeups, night terrors, or nightmares.

Number 2 — 15 months old is a total disaster if you use ‘regular’ metrics, i.e., he has yet to sleep throguh the night, not even once! My husband accuses the cosleeping. It was my way to get some sleep when he woke up all the time as a baby. His crib is in our room, and he really doesn’t like it, and wakes up crying to get out and to cosleep. I am breastfeeing still as well. He now wakes up 3-5 times a night (??? who’s counting?). Total nightmare, but it seems more difficult and tiring to find a soft and gentle solution. We are patient, but also tired. My husband is at wits end!!

Should I get a bigger bed? 🙂

October 3, 2013

Great article. I think you just have to accept that all babies are built differently when it comes to the sleep gene. My daughter slept through from 17 weeks with lots of hiccups since like illness or jet lag that spoil the routine but we always bounce back. I religiously followed Anna Wahlgrens A Good Nights sleep. I’m a parent who doesn’t believe in crying out and so this book was super effective without me having to endure the heartbreaking cries. I have followed her methods a lot since too and they are nothing short of miraculous for us. Hope this helps in some ways but remember this – every mum feels on the verge of a nervous breakdown at some stage where sleep is concerned x

Courtney in London
October 4, 2013

Thank you Amina, for your lovely comment. I really think you’re right that all babies are different when it comes to sleep. And yes, it’s reassuring to know that all mothers do feel on the verge of a nervous breakdown at some point. (I think I’m at that point right now. I’m hoping it will pass!) xx

October 3, 2013

with our second baby boy born this may I followed a rather strict routine pretty much right from the beginning. I swear by ” the sensational baby sleep plan”. It’s the “bible” to me. Our baby started sleeping through the night (12hours!) from 8 weeks on and so he does ever since. For me as mum with a lively toddler and a baby to look after it is vital to get restful nights and I am so happy that I sticked to a certain routine as it really has payed off ( something I didn’t do with our first son).
love your blog, all the best from Germany

October 3, 2013

when my eldest was 5 months old and still waking up one or 2 times a night, my English husband found a book, The baby whisperer. and I decided to give it a try, in 2 weeks she had a better routine which saved us. with the second I started it immediately and by 2 months old she would sleep through the night. Mind you, she has always been a good sleeper, one that can sleep in any bed around the world, can be woken up at 5 am to catch an early plane in Africa, so I am not so sure it was the EASY method or the attitude.

October 3, 2013

Oh, this is such a nerve-hitting subject for many of us. Many think they have the answer, while really, they have easier-sleeping kids. I’m convinced, because I used to think like that too. My first daughter is a sleeper like me: anywhere, no matter the noise, light, etc, she will sleep if she’s tired. Slept through ‘our’ night (23-06) since she’s six weeks old and very soon the whole 19.00-07.00 hours. We were darn proud.
3,5 years later her sister was born and I have barely had a good night sleep since then. Until she was 1,5, she would wake up 4 to 6 times every night (sometimes more!), need a gentle stroke or a pacifier, calm down and fall asleep again. It kills, these kind of nights. I work from home and I have no clue how people with officejobs handle themselves with a baby like that. By now -she 3,5 now- she sleeps through the night in her own bed about one third of the nights. The rest of the times she’s like Marlow and joins us around 04.00. My husband is a very very light and restless sleeper, so I blame his genes. And luckily, he can handle broken nights much better than me and pulls more than his weight in the whole situation.

October 3, 2013

my peaceful little one didn’t sleep through the night without waking or needing a feed until the 2years mark. I had learnt from my first born to go with the flow of the needs of the child and family, not the books or play group parents or experts.
I’m also anti ‘controlled crying’ and have bought a king size bed and I have a blow up mattress beside for the little people to be close by. It’s easy and should not be an issue

October 3, 2013

I am reassured to hear many of us going through this. I can’t complain, my baby used to sleep by herself since she was 3 weeks old, she would wake up for night time feedings and go back to sleep right away, now she is 8 months and super active and won’t sleep by herself, also she wakes up sometimes 1 or 2 times at night.
We tried to let her cry for few minutes but we felt horrible. A baby this age can’t be spoiled if she cries it means she feels uncomfortable in some ways and to tell you the truth, she won’t be this age again , so i better even if sleep deprivated, take a chance of this moments.

October 3, 2013

All three of my boys woke up during the night until the age of 2. And every night would also join us in bed at around 3-4am, similar to Marlow. I just never forced anything, it is not my nature. I have to admit I am trying to catch up on my sleep now that the youngest is almost 3. All three if my boys just started waking less and at around 2 -3 years in a regular small bed slept through the night. It just happened naturally.
I’m off to read the article you posted, thank you!


October 3, 2013

For me, sleep patterns, or the current obsession with it, highlight the desire for our children to be “convenient” .
Even now with a 5 year old who sometimes wakes up in the night, the horror and gasps I get from colleagues who may comment because I look a little tired. (BTW I do not seek sympathy – it’s part of being a parent)
I want a contented, happy child not a convenient one.

October 3, 2013

I agree with the article completely. I don’t believe in rigid routines for either myself or my baby. Over time, sleep improves. It takes a long time for things to be sorted out naturally and without “training”, and sometimes it can make a mother crazy, but I think it is the most compassionate approach.

October 3, 2013

I think it’s so interesting how cultural baby sleep is. Our first was born (and spent his first year) in the US where it felt really unusual that he wasn’t sleeping through the night from around four months old. Our second baby was born in Sweden where we are still living. Here co-sleeping is pretty much assumed (and no one bats an eye about it) and people think it’s pretty great that both of our kids (now 2.5 years old and 14 months old) normally sleep their 12ish hours per night plus naps in their own beds without night-waking. I’m not sure what is best, but there is definitely less pressure and less of a feeling of having failed if your baby is waking to nurse a couple of times a night here in Sweden.

Courtney in London
October 4, 2013

Dear Mina,
It’s so interesting to point out that it’s so different on a cultural level, and how different it is in Sweden compared to the US. I can totally see that. It’s even different here in London compared to the US. And then it seems even more relaxed in Germany and even more so in the Scandinavian countries.
Maybe I need to move to Sweden? I have always felt very at home there! 🙂 xx

October 3, 2013

My 3rd is just like your Marlow, same age too. My first 2 slept easily the ought the night (5-7 hrs) at relatively young ages, between 2-3 months old for both of them. I never did sleep training & always have them sleep with us in our bed. They just started sleeping longer & not waking up for feedings all on their own. Not the case with my 3rd, he sleeps pretty good in the begging of the night & then comes to our bed & wants to feed every 2-3 hours until morning. Another mom friend of mine who has 4 children told me it’s very common for the latter babies of larger families to be like that with their sleep because it’s their time with mom, it’s their way of bonding & spending quality time alone with mom in a house full of other kids that are all vying for moms attention as well. Kind of made sense to me, so I’m going with that.

Courtney in London
October 4, 2013

That makes total sense. Yes, it’s so true that those hours when Marlow is awake in the night are really her only hours where she has my undivided attention (even if it’s sleepy/hazy attention). And that perhaps she really needs it for now.
We’ll see… hopefully she’ll start sleeping at least a little better. I’ve just started her on formula milk this week (I was breastfeeding exclusively until now) so maybe it will help a little? Hopefully! xx

October 3, 2013

Neither of my kids slept through the night consistently until they were 2. I’ve had friends who have babies who started sleeping through the night from 6 weeks on. I always thought that was abnormal. I just kept telling myself that my kids have bright minds and would rather be thinking than sleeping…but we emphasize the importance of our children’s sleep because a) they need it and b) so do we. After 4 years now with kids I’ve learned to live on less sleep by knowing that my optimal sleep time is 10pm-5am. So I just make sure I’m in bed asleep then. And that’s how I survive and also have learned to love and embrace the 5am hour

October 4, 2013

I definitely agree with your little comment that we would all feel better if we just relax a bit and enjoy this time, because it will be over before you know it. My baby slept in our room till she was 5 months old, then went into her own room in her crib. She has slept through the night since about 3 months old. I did do a definite bedtime routine at the same time every night. It was a short routine- and I always ended it nursing her and she would sleep for about 12 hours. I just think it’s their make-up- some babies sleep a lot, some don’t, but for the parents that have babies that don’t if you can find some peace in it, knowing it’s fleeting, it might help.
Courtney, if you want a recipe I found for homemade formula- let me know. It’s amazing, super nutritious and really easy to make.

October 5, 2013

Aaah I get so upset with the silly expectations folk impose on mums of little ones about sleep and to be honestly people forget… from one baby to the next I would forget about babies and their sleep patters! Normal night time behaviour is considered unacceptable from a one year old, but if an adult gets up in the night for a drink of water or to go the bathroom – that’s ok!!! Somehow these sleep myths and expectations sew so many seeds of doubt in the minds of moms who are doing a brilliant job… I wish folk would say: “What a sweet, busy little baby you have” rather than “does your baby sleep through?”… Here’s a post I wrote on babies and sleep expectations:

October 6, 2013

I didn’t sleep a whole night until I was 3 y.o. Because of this, my mother always says I ruined my parents sleep. Now I’m 21 and I don’t feel guilty anymore, but some years ago I felt really bad when my mom told this to anyone who wanted to listen. I felt so sad of being annoying to my mother. So unrealistic to expect your baby to sleep through the night and in a different room. If I have children, I will co-sleep.

(Sorry for my english!)

October 6, 2013

I think what most people miss in this article is that it points out two problems in society now a days, children have to conform to ‘what is expected’ sleeping through the night, but it points at another related problem that is brushed over by most of the comments above: being a mam as a job is not respected anymore (i have been asked sooo many times why i was not working over the last 7years!) as you point out Courtney, you are exhausted as most mam’s are at your child age as she is (or all 4 of them), but in previous generation you would not run a blog, a company and family life (that is a lot and i admire you!). To be able to have to all mothers (parents) have to be able to keep to many balls up in the air at the same time and so sleep routines have to be adjusted to that, some people feel. I have to say that my mam and grandmothers did get our baby’s out of hospital (in holland they would stay 10 days in hospital after birth or have nurses look after them in the house for upto 10 days!) were all sleep trained and if not they would be so by the age of 6-12 months. I think every family has to do what suits them best and maybe we should respect each other choices in how to raise our children more, as all families are different and every individual child is different. What might work for one, will not suit somebody else and not feel we have to conform to what is seen as the norm.

October 7, 2013

My 4 month old is such a different sleeper than my 3 year old daughter – she never slept longer than 5 hours until she was done nursing at 15 months and my 4 month old (who you actually met when he was just a little over a week old outside of RSG this June – when I was in the “getting no sleep” haze) is a great sleeper, unless we go on holiday. Every kid is different, but looking back I feel like she was just hungry? She also spent all over naps in a swing and most of the wee morning hours there and I felt like she would NEVER sleep in her cot, but the baby prefers the pram or the cot and hates sleeping in the super expensive swing we bought. I don’t have any answers, but know that I am rooting for your sleep – every child and baby are different and having had a terrible sleeper and a good sleeper the only advise I can offer is do what works and take care of yourself!

October 9, 2013

Thanks for posting this! My almost 1 year old daughter is still an awful sleeper, despite me reading loads of sleep books and trying a million different things (everything short of crying it out). She still wakes up between 1 and 5 times a night. You do get used to the lack of sleep, and once you give in to it it’s not so bad, but one of the most stressful things about it is that everyone asks “How’s she sleeping?”. Sometimes I lie, because I’m so sick of hearing people’s reactions when I tell them she still doesn’t sleep through. Really, I’m the only one it’s bothering, so if I’m dealing with it, then why does everyone feel the need to tell me that I should let her cry? Ahhh, the joys of parenthood!

October 11, 2013

This is very timely. I actually reread your cosleeping post, thinking everything seemed rather smooth for you. But parenting rarely is! My 8 month old daughter will not nap at all or for long and won’t sleep in the crib at night. I’m fine bringing her into bed at night but I need a break with naps and a few hours in the evening. Anyone cosleeping parttime who could offer hints on naps and early evening crib sleeping would be greatly appreciated. And thanks, Courtney, for sharing. I wish you restful nights in the near future!

Kathleen Michelle
October 17, 2013

Thank you so much for this post and the link to Sara Ockwell-Smith’s article. I looked here after seeing posts on your beautiful Instagram about Marlow’s sleep habits, and I’m so glad that I did. I am a first-time mom, with a 14-month-old who has not slept well — largely due to her only recently-diagnosed food allergies, which cause her gastric distress. She now wakes twice nightly, which is a drastic improvement from before. ANYway . . . Ockwell-Smith’s perspective is consistent with everything I have learned about child development and physiological psychology in my clinical psych graduate program. I am so fed up with people giving me their unsolicited opinion that my daughter should be sleeping 11 or 12 hours straight, and that if she isn’t, I should leave her to scream herself back to sleep. That isn’t called self-soothing. It’s called “learned helplessness.” And I won’t do it. Thank you again for this post! So glad to know I’m not alone!

Leave a Comment