Med thumb sleeping infant

The one trait that’s hardest for new parents to acquire? Restraint. When their baby wails in the middle of the night, instinct takes over and many rush to soothe and, eventually, resettle their child. It’s only natural.

But, according to a recent study, parents should pump the brakes on their best intentions. Researchers at the University of London say it’s best to give the baby time to resettle on their own.

Using infrared cameras, researchers videotaped 101 infants at five-weeks-old and then again at three-months-old. They were interested in moments when infants woke and were able to go back to bed without any assistance.

Researchers observed that sleep duration evolved considerably from the first to second taping, with babies sleeping roughly two hours at five-weeks-old, to three-and-a-half hours at three months. Only ten percent of infants slept continuously for five hours or more at five weeks, as compared to 45 percent at three months.

They also noticed that one-quarter of infants woke and fell back to sleep “at least once during the night,” able to go to resettle themselves “with little to no crying/fussing.”

Resettling without any assistance is a sound predictor that babies will be more likely to sleep for longer periods, sooner. In fact, nearly 70 percent of the observed babies who resettled at five weeks were sleeping more than five hours at age three months.

Also worth noting, “Infants who slept through the night at three months spent more time sucking their fingers or hands,” something that researchers think is a “‘self-regulatory’ strategy that may help them initiate or maintain sleep.”

What does this mean for new parents? Many older babies don’t actually sleep through the night. They wake, cry a little, stare at things, suck their thumbs, consider the world’s most pressing issues (probably) and then resettle, leaving their exhausted parents free to have a few more precious moments of rest. It also confirms that resettling is a necessary precursor to longer bouts of sleep.

In short, parents shouldn’t be so quick to rush to the crib. Give the kid a chance to self-soothe, and everyone will be happier down the road.