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Biologically Normal vs Not Normal Sleep

Updated: Apr 26

Biologically normal sleep presentations

Contrary to widespread belief, it's far from the norm for babies to sleep through the night, and it's unfair to expect them to do so. While there are indeed some infants who seem to effortlessly drift into lengthy blocks of sleep from day one, they're the exception rather than the rule. For the majority of parents, the reality is quite different.

Sure, there are those blessed moments where you hear about a baby who nods off for a solid stretch of hours right from the get-go. But let's be real: that's not the everyday experience for most families. Many babies and young children require patient guidance and support to establish healthy sleep routines conducive to their growth, well-being, and overall development.

The pressure is often compounded by well-meaning professionals and relatives who ask, "Is your little one sleeping through yet?" or other sleep specialists offering quick-fix solutions promising miraculous results in just a matter of days. These external expectations can inadvertently heap feelings of inadequacy upon parents who find themselves navigating sleepless nights with their little bundles of joy.

normal sleep, normalising sleep, cuddling to sleep, rocking to sleep, feeding to sleep, bouncing to sleep
It's okay to assist your child to sleep

Biologically Normal Sleep

There is a movement around normalising biologically normal sleep but it seems that there are blurred lines here, leaving many parents feeling worried or concerned about what they are doing wrong, when they see some parents breezing through with "biologically normal sleep".

The focus on understanding and accepting biologically normal sleep patterns is often misunderstood due to the number of children experiencing the same issues, and parents facing the same feelings of frustration. We always have to remember that just because a child is experiencing common sleep issues, this does not mean that it's biologically normal. Remember, common does not equal normal.

What is biologically normal? Well, I have quantified this as much as possible:

  • Babies needing environmental stimulations to feel calm, relaxed and sleep well.

  • Night wakes

  • Requiring parental presence to fall asleep

  • Rocking, cuddling, feeding or holding your baby to sleep

  • Brief periods of sleep disruptions due to regressions, teething, developmental leaps

  • Catnapping

Biologically NOT Normal Sleep

Whilst it’s important to know what IS normal when it comes to sleep, it’s also important to know what sleep presentation falls outside the realm of normal. Because as useless are the comments around expectations of sleeping through the night, what is also equally unhelpful are the parents who are told that their child's sleep issues are 'normal'. Encouraging a sleep deprived, exasperated and deflated mother to accept her child's sleep as normal, when it's not, is harmful, not only to the parents mental health, but also the child's growth and development. It's time we stand up and acknowledge, validate and empathise with these families, and educate around normal vs not normal sleep.

So, what is not biologically normal?

  • Babies waking more than 4 times a night

  • Toddlers waking more than once over night

  • Blocks of night sleep that are less than 2 hours in length

  • Naps which are 30 minutes or less in length

  • Children who are having a high level of sleep resistance

  • Children who are snoring, restless sleeping and mouth breathing

  • Chronic and persistent early morning waking

  • Big emotions during times of sleep

  • Heavy need of assistance to achieve sleep

  • Long periods of awake time over night

If your child is having the above challenges with sleep, then it’s time to further explore what is going on so you can actively and accurately manage their sleep for quality improvements. Sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity, but focusing on sleep training alone will not improve your child's sleep quality.

If you're concerned that your child presents with sleep beyond the realm of normal, take the next step to further explore this by downloading my FREE Underlying Issues Check List:

Please don't consult with any sleep specialist who doesn't explore why your child's sleep is challenging. This is an extremely important factor and by ignoring this component altogether, you will receive short-term results, and not resolve the quality of sleep.

If you'd like to chat about your child's sleep to determine if it's normal or not, please book in for a 15 minute free discovery call.

Shereen Nielsen x

I'm Shereen Nielsen, a certified Sleep Consultant specialising in infants and children from birth to 15 years old. With over seven years of experience, I've assisted over 4000 families in achieving better sleep. Additionally, I serve as a lecturer and mentor, guiding aspiring sleep consultants on their path to certification through my internationally recognised online Sleep Consultant Course.

Phone: +61419820474

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