All little ones need sleep—and learning how to go to sleep and stay asleep is a natural part of baby’s development.
But some babies have a tougher time of it than others, resulting in what experts call a rather scary-sounding sleep-onset association disorder—a condition in which a child links her ability to fall asleep with your presence, a specific routine, or some other cherished something in the environment.
Unfortunately, some of the things parents do to get baby to sleep are the exact same things that keep him wakeful.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with rocking or nursing your cutie at night, singing a song, or talking softly, the problem arises if she wakes up at 10 p.m. and can’t fall asleep again if those same “cues” aren’t present.
Experts say 25 to 50 percent of babies 6 to 12 months old develop poor sleep associations. That figure drops to about 30 percent for one-year-olds, and to 15 to 20 percent for toddlers. (Keep in mind that poor sleep associations aren’t the only source of difficulties, however. Other familiar sleep busters include environmental irritants, startling noises, bothersome sleepwear, stuffy noses, and dietary sensitivities.) But you and baby don’t have to suffer. Try these tips to usher your little sleepyhead off to dreamland without a battle.
- Develop a smart nighttime routine.
Stick to a schedule that includes calming activities, such as a bath and story, and practice them nightly. Such activities make going to bed an event to look forward to.
- Squeeze in other z’s earlier.
We get that this sounds counterintuitive, but those in the know say the more tired your baby is, the greater the chance of nighttime wakenings. Be sure baby continues to take daytime naps and set your sights on an early bedtime.
- Let baby hit the sheets with eyes wide open.
Offer your cutie a hug and a good-night kiss,and thenleave the room—don’t linger. You want your child to practice falling asleep on her own so she will be able to get back to sleep if she wakes up later.
- Keep your options open.
If a quick exit is too hard for you, try a gradual approach for a planned departure. Sit quietly in the room until baby drifts off to dreamland. Move farther and farther away from the crib every three or four nights until you’re out the door completely. (This method may take longer, but some say it can be as effective.)
- Check in—without fanfare.
Feel free to respond if your baby yells or cries, as often or as infrequently as needed. Be reassuring, not stimulating, and be brief—stay only for about a minute. Gently remind your child it’s bedtime and leave again, quietly.
- Don’t reward a night owl.
Avoid turning a 2 a.m. wake-up call into a cause for a celebration. Stick to your plan. Meet baby’s needs: change his diaper or retrieve a binky. A better bet: just be boring.
- Plan to ditch the pacifier.
If baby tends to lose her binky late at night and it wakes her up, you could consider getting rid of it. Eventually, she won’t need it. You also might consider stashing a few extras inside the crib so if she loses one she can use another.
- Stop night feeding.
Gradually decrease the pre-bed breast milk or formula in each bottle.
- Be consistent.
Don’t give up. You’ll see improvement.