This might surprise you: sleep is a learned skill. Did you know that? Putting ourselves to sleep independently is something we must LEARN how to do and is not an ability we were born with! Isn’t that completely unexpected!? Being able to put oneself to sleep is an important skill and a pretty awesome one at that! It requires great self-regulation and the ability to self-settle and soothe. It’s not something we were born with the ability to do. As you probably know, many babies are able to sleep, but they need major assistance FALLING asleep. Usually this assistance of getting baby to fall asleep, comes from a caregiver. This is where Mom & Dad come in. Of course in the early weeks/months, we do whatever we need to do to get our babies to sleep and feed them when they need to be fed. We may nurse or bottle feed, bounce, rock, hum, sing, jiggle, dance, twirl, drive, or stroller walk to get our little peanuts to sleep. This may feel perfectly fine in the beginning, which it absolutly is!
What happens over time though, is that however baby falls asleep at bedtime, is how they will need to be put back to sleep once waking in the night. This doesn’t sound like such a problem, and for a little while, it’s not a big deal. But the science behind baby sleep is a little bit different than that of an adult. A newborn baby’s sleep cycle last about 40-50 minutes! This means that very shortly after they drift into a nice deep sleep, they begin to wake (45 min mark), entering a partial arousal. During this partial arousal, they may wake just a little, take a good look around and realize that their sweet milk, pacifier, or the calming bouncing, or rocking is gone and immediately wake fully out of frustration! “Wait a minute! Where are you!? Where is that milk!? Get back in here, how am I supposed to do this on my own!?” (This is what I always imagined babies would say if they could, in the middle of the night :)) What ends up happening, is in order for parents to get their little ones back into that peaceful slumber at 2, 3, 4 AM, they end up having to repeat a particular action over and over again! The more we do it, the more our babes depend on it and the less they learn how to put themselves back to sleep without Mom and Dad’s constant help.
As time goes on, and babies develop and grow, they begin to form sleep associations which are little cues telling them “oh ya, we are going to go to sleep now!” The bottle may be a strong sleep association, or breastfeeding or being bounced on a bouncy ball. And there is truly nothing wrong with any of these actions themselves. Many of these daily rituals are some of the greatest joys of becoming a new parent.
I can tell you from experience, that nursing a baby to sleep is something so special, well, there are no words to describe the beauty of it. However that being said, having to nurse every hour through the night, month after month because baby will only fall asleep while eating, is a whole different story in terms of enjoyment. Baby is not sleeping and therefore neither is Mom or Dad- and for me and my family, that just didn’t work for anyone. And don’t get me wrong, it might work for some people which is just great. But for us it didn’t. So, what’s important to remember is that there is nothing “bad” about rocking, nursing, feeding, bouncing, or the like but just know that if we consistently use these associations to put our children to sleep they will need the same response upon waking. (As humans, we all wake many times in the night as we come out of a sleep cycle. The difference is as adults, we are SO good at self-regulating and self-soothing that we often don’t notice or even remember many of our own night wakings, because we simply fall back to sleep.)
So I guess my point is rather simple: we can give our children and babies a chance to learn how to fall asleep independently by making new sleep associations that do not require Mom and Dad’s assistance all night! AMAZING, right!? (that means you’ll be sleeping while your child is quietly falling back to sleep after waking, connecting one sleep cycle with the next). New associations may include some of the things I have mentioned in previous posts such as introducing a lovey or blankie to provide comfort and security, using bedtime routine consistently, and putting our little ones in bed awake so that the when they wake in the night, the environment in which they are waking is exactly the same as when they fell asleep at bedtime.
To me, sleep is vital to my family’s health and well-being. It recharges my battery and gives me the energy to make each day count. Getting proper sleep is the same for our little bubbs in fact, it’s arguably even more important. So don’t be afraid to help teach your baby how to sleep well so that they wake each morning with a smile and have the life-long skill of sleeping like a champion! We as parents can give our children this gift. Sounds pretty good to me 🙂