Are Some Children Just Bad Sleepers?

If you enter any Mom Group and start talking about how everyone’s kids are sleeping you will quickly find that about 50-60% of their children aren’t sleeping great. So this must mean that over half of children are bad sleepers. Every new parent has a 50/50 chance of never sleeping again, those aren’t great odds. Luckily for parents everywhere, this is simply not true. Barring any medical conditions the vast majority of children can and want to sleep well. 

It is my firm belief that children aren’t naturally good or bad sleepers. There is no baby sleep lottery happening every time a child is born. Their sleep habits aren’t imprinted at birth, they are learned over time. Babies learn via action and reaction and from routines that we follow. Some children are what I call “sensitive sleepers”, my son is one of these. They are sensitive to changes in routine, timing or environment but they aren’t bad sleepers. On the flip side a lucky few parents report that their kid was just always a good sleeper. But if you dig deeper there was usually more that this parent did to set their child up for sleep success. 

In my experience sleep struggles beget more sleep struggles. A child may have had reflux as a newborn, which leads to holding upright after feeding, which leads to holding while sleeping, which leads to sleeping in bed with the parents which leads to not staying in their room at night as a preschooler. But this child wasn’t born a “bad” sleeper; he was simply born with reflux. An infant’s minor sleep problems have a way of snowballing into real issues as the child ages.

I know from experience that it is really easy to get discouraged with your child’s sleep. When your baby is waking up 3-4 times a night you lose your optimism quickly. Parents often slip into thinking “my child is a terrible sleeper, there’s no way to fix it” and this becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Because you believe they are just a bad sleeper you start habits that further solidify their sleep issues. You may feel like they sleep terribly anyways so you don’t need to prioritize their sleep needs. And in turn you do end up with a child who has sleep issues. 

But the great news is that it is never too late to change the course of your child’s sleep. One of the wonderful things about children is that they learn new things incredibly fast. Just as they learned unhelpful sleep habits they can learn healthy ones. By introducing routines, structure and setting them up for success they can learn a new way of doing things. Even the “worst” sleeper is capable of learning how to sleep well, there is no child that is too far gone. If you’re ready to teach your child a new way of doing things, start here.