The Importance of Sleep Associations

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.

6 Ways to Get Kids to Stay in Bed

sleep

I remember with my older daughter Alicen, the night she realized she could get out of her toddler bed, she was up something like 42 times in the first hour. I know, it can be infuriating. There are many options to keep them tucked in at bedtime.

The mantra – This is where you summon your most peaceful self and prepare to take them back again and again. When you do this, you either say nothing, or you say the same thing each time with same tone and emotion. In our house, this was a very flat, “you mut stay in bed.” You also want to strive to take them back in the same way each time. I did, hands on shoulders guided walking each time. Even if they go boneless and sloutch to the floor, you repeat as best you can. The idea here is they are getting out for attention, for a game, and you are not giving it to them. If you choose to do this, you must know that you will stay calm. If you can stay calm and outlast, the next night it is less, and then less again, and then done. If you snap and lose it at time 17 and yell, “I said STAY IN BED!” You have just taught the child, 17 is the goal, that’s when it becomes a game. If you can outlast them, it should be over in a few nights.

A consequence – Using this technique, you let child know, “if you stay in bed, your door can stay open. If you get out of bed, your door will be closed.” If child gets out of bed, you might close the door for one minute the first time and longer on later times. This only works if your child likes to sleep with the door open.

The check-in – This plan reinforces the positive. This is when you say to child at the end of tuck-in, “if you are laying down and quiet, I will pat your back (or come sit with you, sing to you, play with your hair etc.)” Then you leave and just a minute or so later return and say, “you are laying down and quiet, I will pat your back.” When you do, again say and do the same thing each time (or say nothing) and stay less than 30 seconds. Ever so gradually work your way up to longer stretches out of the room. A child who is laying down and quiet for long stretches will likely fall asleep. There are check-in methods like Ferber and Mindell that build this into the regular bedtime routine in a systematic way.

The babygate – We have known many families that when they tuck-in, it’s over. They put the babygate on the door and are done. Child may get out of bed, mill around, call for mom or fall asleep by the door, but it’s still done. Given a night or two they tend to fall asleep in bed. If you are going to do this, the room MUST be child-proof (dressers attached to walls and all).

The stay – This is the family that finishes the bedtime routine, tucks-in and then stays. The first week, you might sit on the edge of the bed with your hand on their back. The next week, sit on the edge of the bed with your hands in your lap. Have a comfy chair because the next week, you move a foot away. Gradually, week by week, you move yourself out of the room. The trick here is to do this with little to no talking. If you engage in conversation easily, this may not work for you. There are gradual move-out methods like Brazelton that describe this in detail.

Tickets – As children are four years old and older, tickets may be an easy answer. The idea is to give the child two tickets (small, cut out, construction paper rectangles) with each ticket representing one request or time to get up. If the child needs a re-tuck, one ticket. If the child needs a drink of water, one ticket. When the tickets are gone, the child stays in bed. Not quite sure why this one works, but often it does.

To learn more about ways to keep them in bed and about other bedtime routines and sleep issues, join me on Wednesday Sept. 24 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. for our workshop on Bedtime Routines and Sleep Issues. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

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