a woman sleeping sprawled on a bed

Sleep Like a Baby

Last updated: August 2022

It is sometimes said that people who sleep well, sleep like a baby. Honestly – where did that phrase come from?! I asked myself that very question and then I googled it: "define sleep like a baby".

Define "sleep like a baby"

I don’t know about your babies, but mine did not sleep through the night. All things considered, I did in fact have very few problems with sleepless nights. I was very blessed. But even the easiest babies wake up in the night. Hungry. Soiled. In pain. Lonely. And when you’re a new parent you sleep like a baby – infrequently and with many interruptions.

But the phrase does seem to have an origin. Apparently, in 1996 American politician Bob Dole said, “I slept like a baby. I woke up every 3 hours and cried,” after he was defeated in the US presidential campaign.

Restful innocense

I have to confess that while I have never run for a presidential campaign, I have woken after 3 hours and cried. For many years it was with frustration that I only had 3 hours of sleep. When things worsened for me, I would cry with relief after 3 hours of sleep.

There appears to be some agreement on the internet that while babies wake frequently, they are also renowned for peaceful rest. That when they finally sleep, they do so with a restful innocence.

I know as an insomniac that I have frequently woken after scattered sleep and felt completely unrested – regardless of the time spent in bed. But a healthy baby can get a solid 3 hours and feel refreshed enough to entertain exhausted parents for a good solid few hours.

Quality trumps quantity

And what I learn from the analogy is that quality always trumps quantity. Learning to find truly peaceful rest is such a gift – whether that rest lasts 1 hour or 7. I have spent 8 hours in bed only to emerge utterly exhausted. And, I have had 3 solid hours of sleep and felt utterly refreshed.

Mental peace is a beautiful thing to strive for and is rarely found by desperately forcing an exhausted head down onto a favorite pillow. It is a state of mind that can take many years to learn to attain. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTi) works specifically to retrain the body and mind to learn how to sleep.

Anxiety issues

For me, ongoing issues with anxiety and hyperarousal deeply impacted my ability to sleep. After much angst and many breakdowns, I received treatment – both pharmaceutical and psychological – to address symptoms, and these days I have a much more peaceful relationship with sleep.

Sometimes I get a little sleep. Sometimes I get a lot. But always I am grateful for what I get. For many years, I lay down and instantly tensed up at the thought of the endless hours of wakeful exhaustion that were about to face me.

Finally, I sleep like a baby

Now I lay down and dream – sometimes while I’m awake and sometimes while I’m asleep. I have learned to find peace in my bedroom and finally – after 56 years – I can sleep like a baby. Infrequently, inconsistently, solidly, and peacefully.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Insomnia.Sleep-Disorders.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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