Sleep associations can be a very important thing for helping your child fall asleep and stay asleep through the night. Sleep associations are what your child has or experiences in the few minutes before they nod off and fall asleep. For my daughter this is her nightlight, her stuffed animal, favorite blanket, the noise from the fan in the hall and her firm pillow. When sleep associations are a constant, they become habit and help her fall asleep.
Night wakefulness is a normal part of the sleep cycle, in between cycles people rouse a bit. Children gradually learn how to nod back off and basically sleep through the normal, brief periods of wakefulness. It can be an easier process if the child has all of their sleep associations throughout the night. When a child is falling asleep in their own space, with their sleep associations that are constant, such as a nightlight or white noise that plays all night, they are much better able to soothe themselves and continue sleeping during the wakefulness. If a child is held or rocked to sleep and then placed in bed, when they have normal night wakefulness, they are much more likely to fully wake and call out because overtime they are dependent on the rocking as a sleep association to be able to stay or fall asleep. If your children are waking and calling out often through the night, sleep associations may be part of the difficulty and are an easy thing to check.
Here are a few reminders to help with your bedtime routine:
- Same place, same time, same order every night – The more routine you have, the better. In our house, it was and is bath, jammies, teeth, story, bed. As they’ve gotten older, we changed from us reading aloud for 20 minutes, to us for 20 and them reading in their rooms for 20, and that change is the new steady routine.
- Avoid TV and rough house play – If there are any bedtime or sleep issues, tv and rough house play have been shown to be too stimulating within two hours of sleep.
- Finish at least the last 10 minutes in their rooms – Avoid finishing the bedtime routine in the living room and carting them off to bed. Ideally, there is time to quietly acclimate to their own rooms.
- Manage bedtime power struggles with positive discipline – If they stall through the routine, run amok after bath, won’t stay in bed or stay in bed screaming, learn positive discipline. There are so many techniques that can be helpful in these moments such as assertive voice, choices, contribution and logical consequences. If you are struggling, it is time to learn better ways.
- If there is difficulty, pick a method and stick with it – There are so many ways to approach building healthy sleep habits. If there is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, the idea is to pick a method and stick with it. From co-sleeping, to gradual move-outs, to check-ins and cry it outs, each method is designed to get children falling to sleep and staying asleep easily. Learn about these approaches, and then pick the one that best fits your family.