Posted on Leave a comment

Why is my child waking up at night?

Why is my child waking up at night?

How come my baby can sleep 2 hours uninterrupted some nights? And 5 hours the next?

I have seen her sleep better than she is!!! Why isn’t she doing this every night?

Pretty much the million dollar questions, I know! And ones I am still answering daily, even after I have started working with a family, and we are problem solving to find out what exactly makes their baby “tick”.

The truth of the matter is, babies do not sleep like adults.

As adults we sleep in 3 – 4 hour stretches at nighttime. Typically we connect two sleep cycles such as these and form our 6 – 8 hour night. Sometimes this is with little to no disruption. Other nights, we are wide awake middle of the night and wondering if we should get up and be productive! 

All of us wake up at night. Me. You. The nextdoor neighbour. The guy who walks the dog. Yes! We all wake up at night. We might nudge our spouse over. We might wake up to pee (one can only hope..).  Or we might get a glass of water.

Babies also wake up at night. However, their sleep cycles are much shorter than adults. These range from 30 – 45 minutes during the day, and are more like 90 minutes to 4 hours at night.

Since we know that the transition from “awake to asleep” is a vulnerable change of state for most humans, with infants being no exception – it is natural and normal that a baby might need some assistance to connect from one sleep cycle to the next.

Inconvenient for us. Yes.

Inconvenient for baby. Probably much less so.

Of course there are other factors at play beyond a baby’s sleep cycle being shorter on average than an adults, that can contribute to night wakings.

What time you are putting your child to bed, and what their daily rhythm looks like will play a part in this process.

I certainly do see children have more trouble sleeping when they are put to bed for the night overtired. I also see them struggle to sleep when their day has been super busy, or full of events that are out of the norm. 

When we get behind the child’s eye, and think through what a busy day might mean for that child.. some of their night waking behaviour sometimes becomes more clear.

For example; baby is taken to a large family dinner.

These are all hypothetical, and by no means am I saying you shouldn’t take your baby out to a family dinner once in a while. Your baby will certainly benefit from going out to a large family dinner once in a while!

But, I am using this as an example of how the repercussions of this might actually present themselves in your child’s sleep.

  • Baby’s nap is cut short so that the family can ensure they are on time for the start of supper.
  • Baby’s post-nap snack of fruit, veggie, and dairy is cut, and a granola bar is offered in the car instead.
  • Baby spends time in arms at the gathering; going from person to person who oodles at their cuteness.
  • Baby does not spend any time on the ground crawling around, because the family has a large dog, and parents are nervous about this.
  • Baby spends very little time crawling, furniture cruising, and maximising energy output.  
  • Baby is fed a food item for dinner that they have never had before.
  • Mom is nervous about breastfeeding babe in front of her cousin, and therefore skips a regular feeding time without even noticing this.
  • Baby falls asleep for a minute or two in the car seat on the way home, and then has difficulty transferring to the crib.
  • Baby wakes frequently overnight as a result of x, y, z.

When our days follow a regular rhythm and predictability, baby does get used to this. And it also makes it easier to troubleshoot on those difficult nights what exactly might have gone wrong, if anything.

Night wakings are for many reasons. We know this.

Thirst. Hunger. Milk. Extra touch-time. Cuddles. Comfort. Checking you are still there.. just to name a few!

Now what I will say is this;

Many babies do seek to recreate the way they fell asleep at bedtime, to transition from one sleep cycle to the next.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is natural. It is normal.

But, if the “thing” you are finding your child “needs” in the middle of the night is the same thing they required to fall asleep at bedtime, you may want to help them learn to fall asleep in a few different ways, and see what comes of this exploration?!

And as always, I am here if you prefer to make the line a little straighter, and journey to sleep in a way that is a little more concrete. 

XO

Lara

Posted on

Sleep Associations – the good. the bad. the ugly?

You’ve surely heard about them by now..

Sleep associations. The things your baby associates with falling asleep.

Are they negative? Are they positive? Are they causing you to wake up MORE at night than you would be without them?

Good questions, really.

In the world of baby sleep there is a lot of emphasis on sleep associations. There is a lot of emphasis on the way your baby makes the vulnerable transition from awake to asleep. We do know that this transition IS a vulnerable one for a baby to make, and so it is only natural and normal that they would need some help in doing so.

Sleep associations that you hear of often include; pacifier use, or sucking on a bottle to fall asleep, being nursed to sleep, or rocking in the arms of a loved one. Sometimes a baby requires the swing, car, carrier, or stroller, to be able to fall asleep.

I would argue that some of the above can be used in a very positive way to help your baby go to sleep, and this is where I will remind you as I always do.. That if what you are currently doing is working for you, there is absolutely NO REASON to make a change!

Unfortunately, many of the same associations above can become an unsustainable sleep need that families are unable to uphold at every sleep time.

For example; if your baby can only sleep in a car (true of a couple of families I have worked with), this is usually not going to be a sleep association you can sustain for months. If one person always has to drive overnight so a baby can sleep; when will that parent get the sleep that they need to be happy, healthy, and attentive?

In my experience, there are some sleep associations that will ALWAYS be helpful for a family. If your baby learns that these items are associated with preparing for sleep, it is likely going to help you in the long run.

  1. A predictable and loving bedtime routine – we know that babies become great predictors of events. They come to associate their actual routine with going to bed at 9 or 10 months of age after going through the leap of programs. But this is not to say a loving bedtime routine is not a helpful sleep association sooner than this. It is an increased opportunity for connection with babe, and this is always a positive thing!
  2. Bath before bed – a warm bath at the start of your little one’s bedtime routine can be helpful. The bath raises your body’s temperature, and then the almost immediate decrease in temperature after the bath is done helps signal to the body that it is time for sleep. The steeper drop in temperature is more likely to put your little one into a deeper sleep, with the onset of melatonin production.
  3. Massage before bed – Deep pressure calms the nervous system, and babe will love the skin-to-skin, and eye-to-eye, connection time here.
  4. Dark sleep space – we know that our bodies will secrete melatonin in the dark, which is why those blackout blinds are truly important!  
  5. White or pink noise playing consistently – when babies transition through their sleep cycles, we know the first sense to “turn on” is a baby’s auditory sense. If they hear white noise in the background when they fall asleep, as well as, at partial arousals.. There is a small chance they will put themselves back to sleep. It also helps drown out toddler siblings, and neighbourhood noises.
  6. Swaddle or sleeping bag – depending on the age of your babe; these are great signals that sleep is coming. Many babies form a positive association with what they wear to bed, and I have seen my own children rub their cheeks fondly on the shoulder of their sleep sack. Bonus – you’re not second guessing their temperatures in the middle of the night where our body temperature naturally drops.
  7. Reading a book, or singing a song – another beautiful cue that bedtime is coming. When a parent sings or hums the same song on repeat, this often becomes a nice focal point for babe as they transition to sleep.
  8. Mutually beneficial cuddling, rocking, or snuggles – I say “mutually beneficial” because there is usually a time limit here for a parent before they become frustrated that the child is not going to sleep. I usually ask the families that I am working with to snuggle their babies for 5 minutes closely before putting them down for bed. There is a bit of an art to this, but not really one I can write out in full detail in a blog post! You will have to hire me for the elaborate shush pat. Haha.

I often say to the families I am working with this…

If you resent something your child associates with going to sleep, then let’s change it?

For some this means removing one thing the child associates with falling asleep, and offering another connection point instead.

For example; for a family who is having to replug their child’s pacifier multiple times per night, can we introduce a back rub that baby associates with falling asleep instead? Work on adding that in for a few nights, and then sub out the pacifier for a hold and back rub in the middle of the night? Allow baby to express their frustrations in arms with you, but don’t offer false hope if the pacifier is not coming back.  

Or, if baby is used to being bounced back to sleep at every night wake; is there another repetitive motion we can replicate in the crib that is less “hands-on” or labour intensive?

Not all sleep associations are bad. Not in the slightest. Depending how you look at it, maybe none are bad! It is all perspective, and education.

Breastmilk makes babies sleepy. That was designed by nature, and nature makes no mistake. Unfortunately nursing a baby to sleep at bedtime, does not always equal long stretches of sleep through the middle of the night. But it is also not wrong to do in the slightest, and some families are lucky enough to see their babes link up sleep cycles doing this as well.

Try out some other associations with your babe, and see what they think? You might be very surprised to see that they associate something else positively with going to sleep, and it may be something that is more mutually agreeable for the both of you.

Hope that helps give you some ideas, and food for thought.

XO

Lara

Thank you to Stacie-Lynn for the beautiful “feetie” photo shared here.