We have an awesome guest post today for you all from Heather Turgeon the author of The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night’s Sleep from Newborn to School Age. She recently published this amazing book and offered to share her best tips with you today on the blog, and then also give away books for any of you who need (who doesn’t?) some help in this area on our Instagram! A sleeping child is one of life’s most beautiful scenes and best gifts, and this couldn’t be more evident then when we scrolled waaay back into our Instagram feeds and saw just how often we shared our sleeping angels with our followers
Heather asked us what sleep troubles were ailing us for this post and we all agreed: Sleep Regression. The never ending cha-cha dance of one step forward two steps back. You think your kiddo is sleeping like a rockstar and then they pull an all-nighter… like a rockstar. Here’s what to do!
“Your baby was sleeping well, but now she’s waking up every 1-2 hours, or your preschooler was going down smoothly her first month in the big bed, but now she pops up and joins you in the living room after lights out.
When my partner and I work with families in sleep consultations, we hear the words “She thinks she’s a newborn again!” quite a bit. Here’s why sleep regressions happen, and what you can do to get your family back on track for a full night’s sleep.
The Silver Lining
Whether it’s a 4-month old baby who has reverted to around the clock wake ups, or a formerly champion sleeper who starts resisting bedtime, the good news is that sleep regressions start from your child gaining a new skill. A higher level of consciousness (the main culprit for regressions between 3-6 months), new motor abilities, greater powers of creativity or negotiation (the culprit at 3 years)—all come with novelty and excitement to practice. Every time something changes in your child’s brain, body, or environment (illness, travel, nightmares, new developmental skills…) there’s a chance it will disrupt her sleep and that’s perfectly normal. Your baby’s sleep regression has no bearing on her future sleep habits, so don’t worry that you have a “bad sleeper” on your hands. Good sleepers and bad sleepers actually wake up equally at night, it’s just that the good sleepers have practiced self-soothing and know what to do when they wake up.
The Myth of the “One-Time Fix”
We don’t use the word “sleep training” for a few reasons (most importantly, that sleep is natural, not trained!), but one is that it feeds the notion that sleep should be “fixed” and magically stay good forever. It makes a lot of parents frustrated and confused when sleep derails at some point in the future. Don’t think of healthy sleep as a training program, think of it as a family philosophy that lasts for years and years. That philosophy varies from family to family but it could be: We all prioritize and value our sleep, we keep regular routines and schedules, we have our sleep “stuff”—the loveys (see the Rammell boys with their respective loves below!) and good room environment that make us comfortable, and we fall asleep independently in our own beds at bedtime. (For families who share a bed for part or all of the night, that philosophy will be personalized).
Helping a Baby Through Regressions
The key to helping a young baby through a sleep regression is to weather the storm by responding to her, but trying not to add in a lot of soothing tricks like bouncing and rocking that the baby didn’t need before. Your baby is excited and much smarter now, so she’s very aware of exactly what you’re doing. Try to discern her sounds at night—is she really calling for you seriously, or is she making all the normal sounds babies make at night, like grunting, fussing or moving around? If parents pause and see if a little less does the trick (patting, shushing, re-inserting the pacifier…) their baby will eventually move through a regression and come out on the other side sleeping well again. The most common reason babies wake up in the night is that they’re placed in their cribs already asleep. As they grow, going into bed awake becomes very important.
Helping a Child Through Regressions
Sleep regressions come from developmental or environmental changes (imagination leading to fears of the dark, or changing rooms, etc.). The key is to respond to your child’s needs while also keeping the family sleep philosophy intact. Make the room dark during the day and talk about shadows and light to help your child feel safe, and come up with techniques for feeling comfortable at night (share with your child how you do this). One of our favorite techniques for older children at bedtime is to set up an automatic 5-minute check after bedtime (called the Reverse Sleep Wave in our book)—your child only has to lie quietly in her bed and you come to her every 5 minutes until she’s asleep. It shifts the dynamic of bedtime and gives her the peace of mind to know you’re coming back for a small check, so she can relax and fall asleep.”
Thank you so much Heather, we are excited to try all these tips out! You can buy her book and get lots more info on her website, or you Amazon Primers can find it here. And of course, enter to win a free copy at @smallfryblog on Instagram.