Are you ready for your baby, toddler, or preschooler to get sleep? Would that help YOU get even more sleep yourself? Did you know there’s a skill of falling asleep on their own your little ones can actually learn?
Well, there is, and I’m going to let you in on that secret right now!
Sleep is a learned skill and the easiest time of day to teach our little ones is bedtime. That’s it. That’s where the sleep magic starts. While it may seem like too simple of a solution, that’s really, truly where it all begins.
One of the biggest reasons children wake frequently throughout the night, wake up too early (before 6am) and take shorter naps is that they haven’t learned the skill of how to fall asleep on their own at bedtime. The key here is at bedtime which is a significant in the timing of sleep pressure and how sleep cycles will become organized.
You might be wondering- what’s sleep pressure?
Well, that’s our body’s way of feeling ready to be asleep. The longer we are awake, the stronger the desire is for the body to be ready to go to sleep. At the end of the day our body is actually ready to rest and will produce melatonin, the sleepy hormone during our sleep window. For children, this tends to be sometime between 6-8pm (depending on their age and what time they wake for the day). When we push through the sleep window, we can get our second wind and trick our body in thinking we don’t need sleep, aka cortisol rush, which can last almost 45 minutes. This can be the indictor that we have missed the sleep window and cause a lot more crying at bedtime. The other thing that can happen is that if we miss that sleep window, we can just pass out from sleep exhaustion, which is really not putting yourself to sleep.
When your child goes to sleep awake and alert (as opposed to drowsy but awake) and has put himself to sleep at his appropriate bedtime, his sleep cycles will link up and he will actually begin sleeping through the night as he acquires this new skill. And because he has learned the skill of falling asleep on his own, he can put himself back to sleep in the middle of the night without waking you!! This helps everyone get good quality sleep and feel rested during the day.
(Note: Consistency is key! Learning is a process and takes time. Be sure to allow for 2-3 weeks of learning.)
It’s a myth that we sleep through the night since all of us as human beings wakes up 2-6 times at night. Depending on your sleep habits you may or may not have known this. We all have partial arousals through out the night. If we have the skill and know how to go back to sleep, then we adjust the covers, get resituated and then go back to sleeping from the light stages of sleep back into the deep stages of sleep. This helps us get good quality sleep so we feel rested during the wakeful hours of the day.
It becomes developmentally appropriate to help shape sleep in this way for our children after 6 months of age. Getting the right amount of sleep along with the right quality of sleep helps with memory, learning and emotional regulation. And as nighttime sleep improves, naps will improve too.
Note: Children younger than 6 months can still have their sleep shaped at bedtime, but they may need more support as their little bodies are still developing and changing at rapid speeds.
Here’s what happens when children haven’t learned the skill of going to sleep on their own:
- Bedtime is your least favorite or dreaded part of the day.
- Bedtime can take 10minutes to 3 or more hours of your time
- Bedtime is SUPER EASY; it’s the rest of the night that’s hard.
- When you lay your child down, they wake up for your to begin your putting to sleep process, yet again
- Night waking’s are disruptive to their sleep and yours too. They keep waking up no matter what you do. You’ve run out of options to feed, rock, bounce, walk, plug the pacifier, and/or bring your baby to bed with you.
- Your little one wakes ups more frequently between 3-6am.
- Napping can be all over the place and very difficult.
What can you do to help your little one sleep better?
If you are ready for sleep changes in your home, then it is a good idea to go into the night with a plan of action. No matter what book or method you choose to coach your little one, a plan can help you have direction and provide the structure needed to implement some new habits in your home.
- Plan to teach your little one the skill of going to sleep on her own, at the same time each night (Hint: Early bedtimes can help catch that just right sleep window.)
- Develop a bedtime routine, connection and relaxation, which are musts in helping your little ones drift off to sleep.
- Scrap the “drowsy but awake” thinking. Put them down “awake and aware” so they know they are going to sleep in their own sleep space. Bedtime routines help set the tone and prepare the body for sleepiness.
- Learn to read your little one’s signals. On average it takes the body about 10-20 minutes to fall asleep. Sleep tip: If you notice that he falls asleep quickly, there is a chance he is passing out from sleep exhaustion and is not really putting himself to sleep.
- Help wean your child off of her sleep crutch if she has one.
- Keep practicing as it takes time and consistency to create new habits.
Of course all of these tips are dependent on your child’s age, stage, temperament, how you consistently respond to them and how they have already been taught to go to sleep. The good news is that children can learn anything WE are ready to teach them. And yes, parents can learn too! It’s always so exciting to see the learning process in action that helps transform sleep deprivation into sleep- filled nights for the whole family.
If you were ready last week for a personalized sleep plan for your family, click here to connect with me today!