Is your baby a light sleeper? Are you tiptoeing around the house, getting irritated your dog for breathing too loudly every time she is asleep? Do you dread the transfer from your arms to the crib, because no matter how fast asleep baby seems, she is all of a sudden wide-eyed and awake the second you get her in her crib?
I hear this from parents A LOT. They say they work so hard getting their baby to sleep, but their efforts seem increasingly futile because it seems like no matter what they
Let’s start with a little myth busting about baby sleep
Everyone, including all babies,
So yes, your baby is a light sleeper. But your baby is also a deep sleeper, too.
Some babies spend more time in light sleep stages before getting into a deeper sleep. While some babies go from light sleep to deep sleep in almost no time at all. Either way, everyone goes through these cycles every time they shut their eyes.
Deep Sleep vs Light Sleep
The sleep that does us the most good, the truly restorative sleep is non-REM sleep or deep sleep. Typically, we get that deep, non-REM sleep in the middle of our sleep cycles. People tend to feel more rested and can get by on less sleep than others when they spend more of their sleep time in deep sleep.
When I hear parents saying that their baby is a light sleeper, it is probably that their baby tends to spend more time in light sleep than in deep sleep. Light sleep cycles are the sleep states where we dream and are more aware of our surroundings, and are easier to wake up from.
Babies’ sleep cycles are also significantly shorter than adults’, so they are spending time in light sleep more often than adults. If you find that your baby always seems to be waking easily or frequently, part of the challenge may be due to timing.
Can you teach your baby to spend more time in deep sleep?
Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The bad news first: you can’t really teach your baby to spend more time in a deep sleep than a light sleep.
Here is the good news! What you can do is help your little one to fall back to sleep on their own when they wake up.
Independent Sleep and eliminating sleep props
There are a lot of elements to teaching a baby to fall asleep independently, but the most important one is the elimination of sleep props. A sleep prop is anything external that baby relies on to go to sleep. You can think of it as the way baby knows how to go to sleep. They have never practiced going to sleep on all their own, so they don’t know how to do it.
Feeding, rocking, pacifiers, or being walked around in their parents’ arms are all good examples of sleep props. If baby needs a car ride to fall asleep, then they’re going to need another car ride when they wake up again at the end of the next sleep cycle. If your baby always gets rocked to sleep, they learn to rely on that motion as part of the process, so once they wake up at night, they’re waiting for you to help recreate that situation that they know how to fall asleep in.
These habits, or sleep props, that babies associate with and rely on to fall asleep are typically the difference between a “bad sleeper” and a “good sleeper”.
All babies can be “good sleepers”
The babies that people tend to refer to as “good sleepers” have the same sleep cycles as the ones who wake up crying every time their parents try to put them down. It is likely that these “good sleepers” have just gotten the hang of falling asleep on their own. Then when they wake up, they can squirm around a little to get comfortable, maybe babble to themselves for a few, then go happily back to sleep.
You can’t stop your little one from waking up during the night, it is how our bodies work. Helping them learn to fall back to sleep independently (just like you likely do) is the key to helping you both get the deep, rejuvenate, and uninterrupted sleep that you both need and deserve.
How do I help baby learn to be a “good sleeper” without a sleep prop?
One of the most common questions I am asked as a Baby Sleep Consultant is, “How do I teach my baby to sleep without the bottle, nursing, pacifier, being rocked, etc.?” The answer really depends on each individual baby. We all have our unique learning styles and what we find helpful in terms of support while learning a new skill. The bottom line is that your baby is going to have to practice doing this activity (falling asleep) in a new way (without their sleep props).
Another common question I get asked is, “How much crying, protesting, or fussing will there be?” Well, this is going to be a change for your baby. So, they are likely going to have an opinion and feelings about making this change. Just like most people have feelings about making changes, because as humans, we seem to not love change. Being consistent in encouraging and supporting them in practicing falling asleep in their new way (without their sleep props) will help you and your baby see sleep success more quickly and with less protest in the long run.
The gift of sleep when baby is a light sleeper
The gift of sleep is a wonderful gift to give your babies. Especially because all babies (and adults) are light sleepers at least part of the time. And no one can change that.
The gift of learning to sleep well on their own is one that keeps on giving throughout their life. And trust me, it will benefit your entire family for years to come. (Did anyone say more sleep for mom and dad, too!? Yes, please!)
Are you unsure how to approach helping your baby learn to sleep well? Are you a bit nervous that whatever you try might make sleep worse? Well, the good news is that I’m here to help you with either or both of those questions and concerns. Set up your free evaluation call to chat with me, and get the information you need to move forward!
Cheers to healthy, happy sleep!