As a pediatric sleep specialist, I've worked with hundreds of babies and young children with sleep challenges. There are a few commonalities I always find which allow me to be confident that with the right plan that every child is capable of learning to sleep!
2. Sleep Props
4. Routines and sleep schedule
This one is simple. An overtired person (baby, child, toddler, adult) has a harder time going to sleep and staying asleep! So no matter how great of a job you're doing watching for cues and doing your best to improve sleep- you may very well be working against biology!
Dr. Weissbluth, one of the worlds greatest sleep gurus, was once quoted as saying "Sleep is biological, not logical". What does this mean? Simply that until your child learns HOW to sleep, it's unlikely that your child will be well-rested enough to sleep well. At least not consistently well. You know that magical "one time" where baby showed he can sleep through the night? And you thought you were at the end of your exhausted tunnel? And then NOPE! Not again? Yes, that's what I'm talking about!
Sure, our newborns in the first three months of age may need help to fall asleep. Their underdeveloped brains are easily overfatigued and they may not be able to fall asleep with independent sleep skills (aka self-soothing). So we rock, bounce, swing or feed-to-sleep. We do what it takes! Heck, I've heard it all! Car rides, swings, carriers, stroller walks for hours on end! Even rocking baby under the kitchen stove hood fan!
Motion is usually a favorite of most babies in some form or another, but nothing quite seems to beat the feed-to-sleep association! Babies love to suck to soothe, and especially so when they are tired! So what starts off as a baby who is hard to keep awake during those early days, leads into more and more feeding to sleep or sleepy. And the next thing we know, we have a baby who is much older, maybe even eating solids, but waking up more than ever to eat overnight.
WHY? WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN? Yes, I know that's what you scream in your head in the middle of the night when you just can't understand why baby won't stay asleep for more than an hour at a time! I've been there, too! What starts off as a strategy for a newborn, very easily becomes a habit you've taught your baby. Or as we say in the industry, as sleep association. It's just what your baby BELIEVES she needs in order to go to sleep. Why won't she stop on her own? Well, you probably wouldn't give your sleep props up very easily, either! What? I have a sleep prop! YES, YOU DO! Most adults believe they can easily fall asleep at bedtime as long as they have a blanket, pillow and a bed to lay in. Take those items away and sleep becomes much more difficult!
If your infant isn't eating enough during the day, he's going to NEED nighttime nutrition. And if he eats at night, he's not very likely to eat as well during the day. Assuming baby is healthy and thriving and gaining weight well, most babies only eat so many calories in a 24-hour period. So, if we are using night time feeding as a strategy to fall asleep, you can imagine that not only are we encouraging the habit to continue, but also encouraging baby to bulk up on nighttime calories over daytime feeds. So, it becomes important that as baby gets older, that night feeds are not dropping, but rather, that baby is moving calories from night time to daytime to encourage those longer, more restorative night time sleeping patterns.
ROUTINES & SLEEP SCHEDULE
If a child's sleep routine isn't working for him or her, then we tend to see more sleep issues. If bedtime is too late, or if a nap is too early, we might see a harder time going to sleep or staying asleep for little ones. Or, if the routine itself isn't ideal, a child may not have enough time to mentally wind down and prepare for sleep. Or, if a routine involves sleep props, then it's safe to assume little one may continue to want a sleep prop to return to sleep, either overnight or after a short nap! After all, if your baby isn't even putting herself to sleep at bedtime, why would she think she could put herself back to sleep overnight?
SO HOW DO I FIX IT?
I'll be honest, this is the hard part! The answer seems simple: Just teach her how to sleep! Stop doing the work for her! But the path to make those changes, well that isn't so easy! I mean let's face it, most parents (myself included) aren't OK with leaving a baby to cry-it-out! It just doesn't fit with our parenting goals and values. We want to soothe and comfort our babies and ensure they remain well-attached and know they are loved. So making changes can be tough! And the internet is FULL of tips that may not even be bad ideas, but they are usually only a small piece of the puzzle. I mean if the white noise was the answer, then I wouldn't even have a job! What we KNOW is the answer is a plan that we can commit to and consistency to follow through. But how do you make that plan up yourself when you're exhausted, overwhelmed, confused, and you feel like you've tried everything?
The first thing to do is to make a plan. Statistics say 92% of people won't reach their goals. Ever wonder how the other 8% make it happen? They have a plan that works and the support to make it happen. I help my clients write out a plan, so they have the notes they need for their unique baby. Then I provide the support to make good sleep really happen. The accountability a coach offers allows you to have faith in the steps and the strength and reassurance you need to follow through and allow your child to learn on his or her learning curve. My clients who commit to working with me always achieve sleep success. A 90% (or more) improvement in 2-3 weeks and LASTING results with strategies to maintain sleep skills, as we learn how to balance sleep as a priority in our busy lives.
I offer a FREE 20-minute sleep evaluation to every family who is interested in learning more.
I'll be happy to identify the major sleep challenges holding your child back and answer your questions about
how we can work together to TEACH YOUR CHILD how to sleep!