A friend of mine just had a baby and she gave me the idea for this article because her family was urging her to “get the baby used to sleeping with noise”. If I had a dime every time someone told me part of my son’s sleep problems were because he needed to get used to sleeping with noise…well I’d probably only have $5, but still, it was really frustrating to hear. Let me be honest. I have NO SCIENTIFIC proof of what I’m about to say. YOU CAN’T GET A BABY TO GET USED TO NOISE AND SLEEP THROUGH IT. Okay, you might be able to help them not wake up with every little noise, but overall, your baby has a certain threshold where certain things will wake him up. Period.
Update 8/2011: There has now been a study indicating there may be scientific proof after all that some people are hard-wired to wake more easily with sound while others sleep right through it. Read more here.
When your baby is a newborn, he will spend most of his time in a deep sleep and likely sleep through almost ANYTHING! In deep sleep, it takes a lot to wake us up (adults included). Around 6 weeks old, he will become more social and start returning your smiles. This might be around the time the dog barking or that noise outside starts becoming interesting and he may not be able to sleep through as much, but usually he will still be in a deep sleep a lot of the time. By 4 months old, the way he sleeps changes a lot in when he goes into deep sleep and may be even more affected by noise.
Babies will vary as to how much noises interest them or wake them up and how quickly they can fall back to sleep if they do hear a noise. I can tell you that both my boys could not sleep through just anything and were not portable babies (I could not bank on them falling asleep on the go). But, my second son could fall back to sleep MUCH easier than my first. You might think I didn’t make enough noise with them, but let me assure you, my first son was in a very noisy daycare for 8+ months (before we got a nanny and kept him home, partially due to his sleep issues) and he NEVER “got used” to noise! I don’t care how many people tell me that I didn’t do something, he simply has always been worried he will miss something fun if he has to sleep and he all but went on a nap strike at daycare. Even as a 3 year old, at bedtime, he would claim he was not tired, say he didn’t want to go to sleep and then fall asleep 4 minutes later (I am not exaggerating!). He was no different as a baby and would fight sleep tooth and nail. So, with both boys we made sure we put the barking dogs away and gave them a quiet place to sleep, in the nursery and in their crib. We later bought White Noise Machines, to block out some of the household noises and encourage longer naps and better night sleep. My other friend’s baby was able to sleep through a lot more noise and on-the-go compared to my boys. It’s just luck of the draw.
So, next time someone tells you to get baby used to sleeping with noise, no, don’t walk on your tip toes, but please give your baby a quiet place to sleep if he needs it. I can tell you one thing, I certainly can’t sleep with my dogs barking outside my door or the radio blaring. I don’t expect my babies to, either.