Baby still waking up frequently at night? Our expert offers insights into why your little one may be struggling to stay asleep.
Being a new parent is one of the greatest joys you can experience – but the sleep deprivation that often accompanies it can be one of the greatest challenges. When you’re exhausted, it’s difficult to be your best. The key to a good night’s sleep is having the right tools and the proper guidance to get into – and maintain – a healthy routine. Just in time for National Sleep Day on March 1st, Erica Desper, Certified Baby and Child Sleep Coach, shares her thoughts on night waking and the “speed bumps” that sabotage sleep. Want to hear more? Join her for a sleep workshop at our Center City office in March. Check out our calendar for details.
Up all night with your little one? Join the club.
One of the most common complaints of new parents is sleep deprivation, especially when it extends beyond the newborn period. Many parents experience an initial period of sleep derivation followed by a blissful one where baby’s sleep settles into a more predictable pattern of waking only once or twice to eat. Then, as if someone flipped a switch, frequent waking resumes as often as every 2 hours, often around the 4 month mark. What’s up with that and what can you do about it?
The “secret” to solving night waking is to understand that we all wake frequently throughout the night.
When we transition between sleep cycles, we experience a partial arousal where we wake very briefly before shifting into the next cycle, very much like rolling over a speed bump while driving. During this partial arousal we are prone to notice if anything is missing from or has changed in our environment. For example, if your pillow fell on the floor, you would likely notice, wake fully, and replace it before returning to sleep.
Babies and children hit these normal transitions too and, from about 12-16 weeks of age on, hit them more often. These sleep “speed bumps” are integral to the structure of sleep and we can’t remove them. The goal with resolving night waking is not to prevent these arousals, but to ensure your child is willing and equipped to move through them and into the next sleep cycle on their own. That is the difference between a child who is sleeping through the night and one who is waking frequently. One can manage the transitions, treating them like speed bumps whereas another cannot and wakes fully, treating these transitions like stop signs.
Imagine you fell asleep in your bed with your partner and pillow and, 2 hours later, awoke alone on the kitchen floor.
You would likely be a bit disoriented and alarmed but, more importantly, would you be willing and able to go back to sleep on the kitchen floor? Or would you march back to your cozy, familiar sleep scenario in your room and bed? Very likely the latter would be more realistic.
Now picture that scenario from your baby’s point of view.
Often it involves falling asleep in arms – sometimes with milk – and then being transferred into the crib, asleep or very drowsy. Then, about 2 hours later, your child hits a partial arousal, notices that all those things are missing, and wants to recreate that scenario to get back to sleep.
The goal of sleep learning is to work toward helping a child learn to fall asleep independently and in the same space and environment she or he will wake in later in the night. You want your child to hit that transition, look around and say, “Oh, nothing is missing. Nothing has changed. And I know how to get into the next sleep cycle.” So really there is no secret – it’s a process of learning how to fall to sleep and back to sleep independently. And, fortunately, there are options for parents in terms of how you choose to support your child through that process.
Learn more about creating your customized sleep solution at BeAConfidentParent.com. And join me this month at Center City Pediatrics for a workshop designed to establish a healthy sleep routine for your newborn or your child.