• Martha Lewis

The Surprising Truth about Pacifiers and Sleep

Many parents rely on the dummy, paci, or binky to get their babies to sleep. And it's true, a pacifier can soothe babies and help them go to sleep more easily.

However, a pacifier is a sleep prop. And a sleep prop is anything external that your baby needs to fall asleep. Like nursing, or being rocked, or a bottle, or a carrier.

The problem with sleep props

We all move through different sleep cycles all night long. If your baby needs a sleep prop to go to sleep, then he won't be able to transition from one sleep cycle to the next without his prop. That's when babies with sleep props wake up in the night. They need to be nursed, or rocked, or given their pacifier so they can back to sleep.

Pacifiers disrupt sleep

Now it's true that as your baby gets older, he will be able to find the pacifier on his own. He can put it back in his mouth and go back to sleep.

But the pacifier is still disrupting his sleep. Because the act of finding the pacifier and putting it back in his mouth will wake him up completely.

I know it's hard to believe that a pacifier can disrupt sleep so much. So here's a scenario you may be able to imagine.


Let's say your pillow kept falling off the bed one night. So every time you woke up, you had to roll over, fumble for your pillow on the floor, find it, and put it back under your head. Sometimes, you wouldn't be able to find it. So you'd have to get out of bed or turn on a light to find it.

What if you did that multiple times all night long? Like every 90 minutes as you transitioned from one sleep cycle to the next. Would you wake up feeling rested like you got a good night's sleep? I don't think so.

That's how a pacifier is for babies. They wake up completely throughout the night to find their pacifier. So they aren't getting an uninterrupted night of sleep.

And pacifiers can cause early morning wake-ups. We're in really light stages of sleep in the morning. So a slight wake up at that time can mean your body has a hard time going back to sleep.

Real-life proof

I just finished working with an 18-month old who was waking up between 2:30 and 5 in the morning for the day. I'm sure we can all agree that 2:30am is far too early for anyone to be up for the day!

And what was the culprit? His only sleep prop was a pacifier. His parents were skeptical that the pacifier was causing his early mornings.

But I convinced them to remove the pacifier. And, voila, within a week he was sleeping until 7 or 8am every morning. His parents were stoked!

A time and a place for pacifiers

Pacifiers really help soothe some newborns. And if the fall asleep with their pacifier every once in a while, it's not the end of the world.

Pacifiers are also fine for babies when they're awake. Again, if it helps soothe a fussy baby, then go ahead and offer it. But if your baby keeps spitting it out, it means he doesn't really want it. Just try to keep the pacifier away from sleep to make sure that your baby does't become dependent on it for sleep.

Most parents are pretty upset when I tell them that they have to take the pacifier away from their baby for sleep. But I can usually convince them that the pacifier is causing the problem. And once their baby starts sleeping through the night, they don't regret getting rid of the paci.

I hope I've convinced you, too, that you don't want your baby to depend on a pacifier to go to sleep. Say goodbye to the pacifier and hello to a good night's sleep!

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Martha Lewis, MS

Jackson Hole, WY



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