Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My Best Sleep Coaching Tips

I come across these issues very often in my practice so thought I would share them with you.  Once you are ready to start sleeping coaching, following these top tips will help you achieve success and get the much needed sleep for you and your lil one.

Top tip #1 – Bedtime is the easiest time to learn independent sleep.

When you have a sleep plan in place and you are ready to begin teaching your lil one the skill of independent sleep – Start At Bedtime (the easiest time for your lil one to learn the new skill).

I have had many parents tell me ‘we tried that awake thing at a nap once and it didn’t work’ or ‘I tried that in in the middle of the night and it didn’t work’.  These parents all started at the most difficult time to teach this lifelong skill.

Bedtime is also the time when you will be able to make better decisions. If bedtime is all you can handle right now, it’s ok to focus your efforts at this time for now.  Once you get it right at bedtime, you will have the confidence to address the other times, like night waking and naps.

Have a nice relaxing structured bedtime routine and put your child into their bed while still awake.  Then use your chosen sleep coaching method to help your child learn to fall asleep in their sleeping space.  This is how, over time, your child will learn to put himself to sleep without your assistance.

Top tip #2 – Bedtime and night waking – 2 different skills!

Learning to go to sleep at bedtime without a negative sleep association is one skill. Learning to go back to sleep after a partial arousal during night-time is another skill.

I have many parents tell me ‘he can fall asleep at bedtime that is a breeze, he just won’t stay sleep’.  I come across many children who can fall asleep independently at bedtime but need assistance during the night.  This child hasn’t learned both pieces that are needed to sleep independently throughout the night.

Once your child has mastered bedtime self soothing, your child’s night waking will likely decrease – but not all of the night wakings will go away.  With consistency you can help your child learn to go back to sleep in the middle of the night without your assistance.

You mastered bedtime, now you use your sleep coaching method to help your lil one learn to go back to sleep in the night … when your child wakes in the middle of the night, do a quick crib side check to make sure all is well and stick with it until he falls asleep.  You will do this for each waking until 6am.

Top tip #3 – Nobody sleeps through the night!

The term sleeping through the night is very misleading … everyone wakes in the middle of the night.  We all pass through sleep cycles during the night – we switch from REM to non-REM and the change in our brain activity wakes us up a little bit.

This is called a partial arousal.  We also have complete arousals, which wake you up a bit more and they occur every 3-4hrs in the night.

If your lil one is rocked, nursed, bottled, or held until all the way asleep or very drowsy at bedtime then they will need you to come back and help them again at each arousal during the night.

What I frequently see parents do is:
1)   Confuse the partial arousal (or brain wake up) with a hunger wake up.  Your child may not have been hungry at all, but most will be happy to have a lil warm milk with mom and now you have reinforced the suck to sleep association.

Ask your pediatrician how many hours your child can go without a feed at night.

2)   Rush in at the first peep and don’t give the child a chance to get themselves back to sleep, especially considering that you now know they are really just shifting sleep cycles.  Often they are not completely awake.

3)   Come in to help the child, even when not in distress or crying.  It is common for children to wake, cry out then go quiet or babble or moan until they drift back to sleep.  If you rush in you are interfering with the child’s ability to learn how to put them self back to sleep after an arousal.

I hope you have found these sleep tips helpful and that your lil one is on the way to independent and better sleeping very soon!

By: Michelle S. Donaghy

photo credit: emerille via photopin cc