Are good sleepers born that way, or are they molded? My daughter was the rare infant who slept through the night almost from birth, waking at our direction for feedings. Things weren’t always perfect, but we dutifully followed the guidance in Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks and used the Ferber method when needed — and voila, we all slept pretty soundly most of the time.
Nature versus nurture?
That isn’t the case for many infants. A study published the American Academy of Pediatrics on uninterrupted sleep patterns in babies found that nearly 40% of six month olds did not get six or more consecutive hours of sleep a night; by twelve months, a third of babies weren’t meeting that milestone. So how much of that is nature versus nurture?
Researchers in Quebec examined daytime and nighttime sleep in 995 twin babies at six, 18, 30 and 48 months to determine how both genetic and environmental factors came into play. They concluded that while nighttime sleep largely was driven by genetic factors, daytime sleep likely was driven by the baby’s environment.
Sleep and breastfed babies
Meanwhile, the study in Pediatrics that focused solely on nighttime sleep found that feeding methods seemed to influence sleep patterns. Slightly more than half of the babies studied were breastfed at six months; but within the group of six-months-olds who didn’t sleep through the night, 80.8% were breastfed. The authors noted, “Breastfeeding and cosleeping are frequently mentioned factors associated with sleep fragmentation in infants. Therefore, they are key factors to consider when investigating sleep-wake cycle consolidation.” The study also found that girls were somewhat more likely to sleep through the night than boys, suggesting a correlation between gender and sleep.
Maternal health factors
Another influencing factor researchers cite that can determine whether babies are good sleepers is maternal health. The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia found that “poor mental and physical health during pregnancy is associated with severe and persistent infant sleep problems.” The study’s authors suggest that pregnant women experiencing poor health might benefit from “more intensive sleep support once the infant is born.”
Rest a little easier…
The good news for parents, according to the research published in Pediatrics, is that while many infants do not sleep through the night, this isn’t cause for concern most of the time — at least in terms of a child’s normal development. Tired parents can take that as a reason to rest just a bit easier, even if a night of uninterrupted sleep isn’t in your imminent future.
Read about why no one in the family will be getting any sleep the second night of baby’s life.