Sleep expert, Tara Mitchell, explains how repetition and association are crucial factors in understanding a baby’s disturbed sleep pattern.
Children have numerous sleep cycles every night and roll through many light phases of sleep, especially in the early hours of the morning. Once the newborn months are over the way we get our babes off to sleep at the start of the night and throughout, will have a crucial impact on their ability to sleep.
The role of repetition and association
Our children learn through repetition and association. If I am trying to teach colours or shapes to my little one, I do so by taking opportunities to show her those specific things. Same rule applies for sleep. If we continually replace a dummy, or similarly feed, pat, rock or hold our children till they fall asleep (or even till they are drowsy), they soon begin to rely on these efforts in order to drift off. As a result, throughout the night as they finish off one sleep cycle, instead of drifting into another, the call out for help comes … again … and again … and again.
Here are some of my answers to popular questions I receive on this topic:
- My child was a great sleeper until around 3-6 months old. What’s happened?
I hear this all the time and it really comes down to your baby becoming aware of the roles being played in their sleep. Once they learn who and what it is that gets them off to sleep, their dependence on this becomes stronger and stronger.
- My child self-settles at certain points of the night so that can’t be the problem, right?
Naturally our sleep cycles involve REM and non-REM sleep, better known as light and deep sleep cycles. The beginning of the night brings deeper sleep cycles and our children tend to drift through these a lot easier. Come midnight and onwards, the need for us to play a role usually increases dramatically.
- I think it’s teething!
This would have to be one of the biggest factors I see parents attributing to poor sleep habits. Sure, teething can be responsible for some off days and nights here and there, but children teeth for two years on average and to this day I haven’t worked with a child where it was the reason for ongoing sleep issues. So before automatically blaming teething, here are a few questions to ask which may indicate that the issue perhaps isn’t teething after all:
- Does my little one have the ability to self-settle?
- Does a feed, pat, dummy, rock or some other measure magically fix that teething pain and get your babe straight back off to sleep?
- Are you seeing wakings more and more after midnight?
- Is your little one fine during the day but for some reason teething is only an issue at night?
Every child is different and there are many reasons that your little one may be experiencing poor sleep. I work one on one with families to get sleep sorted based on their individual circumstances. Bedtimes run much smoother when they are predictable and positive. If bedtimes have become a nightmare in your home head to my page The Gentle Sleep Specialist alternatively feel free to contact me at [email protected]