By Jennifer Anne Robinson @happysleepcoach
Jennifer is a qualified sleep consultant for 0-7 years.
Self-Settling is a learned skill, however all babies self-settle/soothe at some point, and to some extent, otherwise they would all wake after every sleep cycle. That’s not the case, most will settle back to sleep if all their needs are met.
If it is the case that your baby does wake regularly then there is a chance there is something preventing them from going back to sleep. If they rely on you to get them to sleep then it is likely, that it’s the feed/rocking that they want. It could also be whole host of things such as cold/hot or the tag in their clothes is tickling them. A baby that is overtired may also find it harder to self-settle at bedtime, will wake more frequently and suddenly in the night also making it harder for them to do it themselves.
Initially a baby will rely on their parents to help them settle either through feeding, holding, rocking them to sleep. Some babies learn to self-settle quickly and easily on their own, but others need a little bit more support.
Teaching a baby to self-settle does not mean you leave them to cry in a room on their own, they need to be supported through a gentle approach, responding to their needs and reassuring them. We don’t just stop doing it for them but support them to the point they can do it for themselves.
Is there a sleep crutch? – A sleep crutch is something they rely on to get them to sleep – feeding, rocking, shhing, holding. If they rely on these to get to sleep at bedtime, then they will likely want these when they wake in the night as that’s the way they know to get to sleep.
Look at the environment – a dark environment helps the development on melatonin (the sleepy hormone), if you need a night light then a red or amber light is best. The more a baby can see, the more they are stimulated and this can hinder their self-settling ability. Think about temperature, make sure they are dressed appropriately, can’t kick off covers etc. When they are in the light sleep stages of their sleep cycles and become aware they are cold, this may wake them further meaning they don’t bridge their sleep cycles effectively and then cry out. Whilst half asleep, even slightly older children may not think to pull their covers on. Sleeping bags are great!
Be consistent! Have a bedtime routine, the same steps in the same order every night. Therefore, bedtimes won’t come as a surprise and your little one is more likely to settle quicker. If you are struggling to get your little ones to settle, especially at nap times, introduce a book that you read every night and every nap time. The consistency of it and the repetition just adds to the routine and can really help. Also, think about how you respond to each night waking, this should be consistent. Plan your response and stick to it. Have a ‘in the night plan’ which includes your initial response, what you will do after 30 minutes/ 1 hour. This prevents you from jumping all over the place and overcompensating in your tired state. Your baby will then know exactly what happens when they wake in the night.
It is also important to understand that the time it takes for your little one to settle at bedtime can tell us how/if they are self-settling properly, whether they are crashing through exhaustion or over stimulated…..
If your little one is falling asleep within this time frame it is likely they are crashing from overtiredness. If they are crashing, they are not properly practising their self-settling.
Babies need to practice this skill so when they wake in the night they know what to do. It may seem at bedtime your little one knows how to self-settle as they are falling asleep independently, however, if it is too quick this may not be the case. This can explain why when they wake in the night they are unable to self-settle – as they have not matured this skill yet.
Alternatively, if you are helping them to fall asleep by rocking/holding/feeding they may all asleep within this time bracket.
Settling themselves independently. This is the ideal amount of time for your baby to take to fall asleep on their own. They are aware of their sleep space, they are comfortable, happy and know what to do to get themselves to sleep. Babies that fall asleep after self-settling during this time are more likely able to be able to self-settle when they wake in the night.
More than 20 Minutes
There are lots of reasons why this might be – hungry, nappy needs changing, cold, hot …..
Other reasons include overtired – if they are overtired their body may have pumped itself with adrenaline in order to stay awake. This will therefore make it harder to self-settle.
Not tired enough – if they have had a too late nap or an extra-long nap, they may not be tired enough to fall asleep yet. Keep an eye on wake windows and sleep needs (my free sleep needs chart is on my website www.happysleepcoach.co.uk)
If they have just come from a very stimulating environment, watched a lot of TV before bed then they may not have had enough time to wind down.
They may need your help. They might be used to being fed to sleep or rocked/held and therefore holding out for you to help them.
Keep an eye on the amount of time it takes for your little one to settle at bedtime and see where on the chart they sit and whether you can see what might be affecting your little ones self-settling times.
Key points to remember:
Consistency with routines is so important
Self-settling is a learned skill
Look out for sleep cues and be mindful of wake windows
Environment can play a huge part in self-settling
I hope these tips help. For more regular helpful information please follow me on social media @happysleepcoach
For information on my bespoke sleep plans please visit www.happysleepcoach.co.uk.