why your child isn't sleeping well

Why Your Child Isn’t Sleeping Well

A big reason your child isn’t sleeping well might be because you are too involved in your child’s sleep routine. You may be thinking, “There is no way my baby can get ready to go to bed on their own”. And you are probably right. Sometimes we all wish we could say, “Alright. It’s bedtime. Go take a bath, brush your teeth, get into your jammies, read yourself a story and tuck yourself in. Mommy will be out here watching The Bachelor with a glass of wine if you need me”. Then have our little ones magically get ready for bed all on their own. This scenario isn’t very likely. Even if we could pull that off, I don’t know any momma that would actually enjoy completely removing themselves from their little one’s bedtime routine. (Well, maybe once a week on Bachelor Mondays, of course.)

I’m not suggesting that you remove yourself from your little one’s bedtime routine, but that you remove yourself from their sleep routine. The difference being your little one’s bedtime routine are the steps they go through to get ready for bed. While, their sleep routine are the steps they go through and the things they need to take them through their journey to sleep once they are in bed.

Truth be told, I love putting my daughter to bed. Watching her play in the bath, getting her dressed in her warm, fuzzy pajamas, cuddling and reading stories are some of my favorite times of the day. Bedtime is a treasured tradition at our house. I wouldn’t trade that for all the wine and trashy TV in the world (most days).

The issue parents face when their child isn’t sleeping well

For most parents whose little ones won’t sleep through the night, the issue I see doesn’t necessarily lie in the bedtime routine. Although the bedtime routine can impact sleep, this isn’t typically the true cause of sleep difficulties. The issue is their heavy involvement in their child’s sleep routine.

Specifically, the problem stems from a parent getting in bed with their child in order to get them to fall asleep. 

Now let me tell you why this causes a problem. 

When you crawl into bed with your little one, they will almost always want to cuddle up to you in some manner. Even if it’s just the slightest touch, they rely on the sensation of feeling you next to them in order to be able to fall asleep. This is because this is what they know, the way they have learned to fall asleep. If you have older toddlers and children, try to think back. You will most likely see that you have probably been heavily involved in your little one’s sleep routine since the beginning. Although the exact type of involvement may have changed over the years. It may have been nursing, rocking, giving back rubs or many other things.

The problem is that young children, like adults, wake up multiple times during the night in between sleep cycles. We all sleep in cycles, which transitions between light sleep and deep sleep.

We all wake up in between sleep cycles, too. That’s how our bodies work. However, we typically don’t even remember it happening the next day. This is because we’re barely awake for a minute or two before we fall back to sleep. We fall back to sleep easily because we’re good at it. The reason we are good at it is because we know how to get back to sleep on our own. 

Little ones don’t always know how to get back to sleep on their own

If your little one is accustomed to falling asleep next to Mom or Dad, with the reassuring ability to reach out and touch that parent, then what are they supposed to do when they wake up after a sleep cycle and that parent is nowhere to be found?

Well, as I’m sure every parent knows, when this happens little ones will cry. 

They cry until a parent shows up and recreates the situation from bedtime, such as crawling into bed with them. Then your little one recognizes this as a cue to go to sleep.

That’s the reason why you’ll so often hear parents utter something along the lines of, “My baby absolutely won’t go to sleep without me next to her.” It’s not truly because they need the reassurance that they’re safe, or that your presence is so calming to them that nothing else can get them calm enough to sleep. It is part of their routine that they follow to get to sleep. It is their sleep routine that I mentioned above. The way that they know how to get to sleep because it is what they have learned. 

So, what’s the solution?

Well, you could co-sleep. Then your little one can reach out and touch you every time she wakes up. However, if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve already given that a go. You either found that it’s not the solution you had hoped for. Or may you already know it is not the solution for your family. Also, bedsharing/co-sleeping is linked to safety concerns for babies.

A couple of late-night kicks in the face, or a perpetually wiggling toddler with her fingers in your eye can cause a quick change in plans for a lot of parents who thought cosleeping would solve their nighttime woes so everyone could get more sleep.

Or, you can try this (which comes with a much higher recommendation and is in line with safe sleep guidelines): You can help your little one learn the skills to sleep independently. Then they can call on these skills anytime they wake up in order to get back to sleep all on their own!

The skills to getting back to sleep all on their own

I know that might sound like a tall order for your little one, but I’m not suggesting anything too challenging. I bet you will be surprised at how quickly they adapt to new strategies for getting to sleep. Giving your child a lovey to stroke and cuddle with, encouraging them to roll around on their own to find their most comfortable sleep position or sucking on their own fingers can be effective methods for little ones to use when making the transition into sleep on their own.

The best part about independent methods of moving along their own journey to sleep is, they can be done anytime your little one wakes up, whatever time of the day or night. This can lead to longer naps, full nights of sleep (for both you AND your child!), and a family and child that is well rested and ready to tackle each new day.

You now know the ‘why’ behind how removing yourself from your little one’s sleep routine will help. So, I’m guessing you are wanting to know the ‘how’ piece. 

Making a plan to help your child sleep well

The details are a bit more complicated because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this question. Every baby and every family is different. My advice is to make a plan that parents and caretakers are comfortable with. The plan can be gradual because if your child is used to falling asleep while nursing, cuddling, being rocked, etc. this will be a big change for them! An example is gradually and methodically reducing the amount of help (nursing, rocking, patting, etc.) you are providing to your child on a nightly basis for a week or two until they are falling asleep on their own. Although, a word of caution, don’t make your plan too gradual. This can just cause confusion for your child and impact the success you see.  

When you are ready to implement your plan, be ready to stick to it. Your child will be learning something new and learning new things can be tough. There may be some protest along the way. With consistency, encouragement and practice your little one can learn these new skills! Starting a plan and then being inconsistent causes additional confusion and uncertainty for the child. It can make it harder for them to understand what the new rules and expectations are, and then result in more protest about the changes. Adding in some extra quality daytime attention and cuddles sessions (especially without the distraction of electronic devices #putyourphonedown) don’t hurt either. 

If you feel lost and still aren’t sure the right steps for your family, that’s what I am here for.  I can help you piece together the unique pieces to your child’s sleep puzzle so your whole family can get the sleep you want and need to be ready to thrive each and every day. 

Cheers to healthy, happy sleep!

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