We all dream of being able to put our babies down in their beds and walk away, knowing our baby is just going to lie there cooing softly then fall blissfully asleep... But there are a lot of developmental factors at play here.
From around 4 months your baby’s sleep patterns/cycles change and they can start waking fully after every sleep cycle, which is 35 to 45 minutes in the day and 2 hours at night. During the day this is what we call catnapping. Generally if your baby is only napping for this long in the day they are not getting enough sleep and can be cranky and overtired all day long. If they’re waking between sleep cycles at night, this will be every 2 hours and can get very exhausting for both you and your baby.
In order to sleep longer in the day and at night, the ability to self-settle can be important. This simply means your baby is able to be put to bed when they're perfectly ready and drift off to sleep independently, much like we would do. Contrary to some popular belief, going to sleep is not a developmental process - it's one of the most natural biological processes there is! It's not complicated, in theory, to fall asleep when you're ready to and it is something every baby is capable of, but it does need to be fostered. Parents can very easily (and unknowingly), in an attempt to get our babies to sleep, end up establishing a sleep crutch (something a baby learns to rely on to fall asleep, such as rocking or feeding). If this is something your baby has come to rely on to fall asleep, they are naturally going to expect the same thing replicated when they rouse between sleep cycles in the day and during the night. If you would like to gradually reduce your assistance in your baby going to sleep, you can certainly start guiding them to this skill and create an environment where you're respecting your child's ability to fall asleep on their own.
Here are some tips to make the most of your baby’s ability to self-settle:
- Implement a structured pattern to your day, so your baby knows what to expect next. We’d strongly recommend one of our Sleep Programs. Following the Sleep Program will ensure your baby is tired (not over or under tired) and ready for sleep; a crucial element for self-settling. A baby who isn't ready for sleep is never going to settle well!
- Choose something to use as a positive sleep association – a cuddly blankie, a comforter, a lovey. Use these things every time your baby goes to sleep – let them hold it/suck it/cuddle it. They’ll grow attached to it and use it as a strong sleep cue especially when they wake between cycles or in the night.
- Choose a method to teach self-settling that you are comfortable with and that suits your baby's temperament. We do not use traditional "cry it out" methods in our Sleep Programs, having developed our own more gradual approaches. We do offer nine different methods and you are able to comfort your baby throughout the process in a hands-on way if that is your preference.
- Be patient. It might not happen quickly, especially if your baby is older and already used to an existing method of falling asleep. Just remember it is far easier to teach a 4 month old this skill than a 12 month old!