If you have spent any time following sleep consultants, chances are you've heard the term "sleep props," or "sleep associations."
A sleep prop/association is described as - anything external that your child relies on for sleeping. A sleep prop can be anything from bottle feeding, nursing, rocking, bouncing, parents, etc.
So how does a sleep prop negatively impact sleep? Let me explain:
When our children are first born, feeds are done around the clock, rocking, bouncing, singing, anything is done to get those sweet little humans to sleep. This is completely fine behaviour for your little one who is currently in the fourth trimester (although it’s never too soon to introduce healthy sleep habits, that is a topic for another day). At 4 months (or 3.5 months for some) everything begins to change. This is called the 4-month regression, and it causes a permanent change in our children's sleep patterns. Your once sleepy baby, now has adult like sleep patterns, meaning he/she has lighter sleep cycles to transition through - this is where sleep props begin to affect sleep negatively.
With the new adult like sleep patterns, your little one will now be transitioning through 5 different sleep cycles. A child who does not possess any independent sleeping skills, will wake fully between the lighter stages of sleep, and cry out for help. Baby will very likely continue to cry until they have received the desired sleep prop, to help induce drowsiness, and in return they will fall back asleep. The problem is, they wake back up 45 minutes - 2 hours later, crying out for help AGAIN! This process can be repeated all night, and for naps as well. It is exhausting for everyone involved and makes for long days and nights.
How your baby falls asleep for bed, is how they will expect to fall BACK to sleep at 3am.
One of the biggest problems with assisting a child to sleep, other than the frequent waking, is the fact that your little one is falling asleep in one place and waking up in another. When your little one falls asleep all snuggled up in your bed, on your lap, the couch, etc, but then wakes up alone and in the dark, it can be very frightening.
Think of it this way: If you fell asleep in your warm and cozy bed, only to wake up in your yard, you would be terrified, and a bit frustrated right? You would likely stand up, yell, knock on the door to get back inside, and do whatever it took to get back to your bed. This is what happens to your baby when falling asleep in your arms/bed and wakes up somewhere else. Baby will wake up alarmed, disoriented, and starts to cry. At this point it is very difficult to settle baby back to sleep. Many parents will then rock/feed baby until they reach a deep sleep and start the process over again. When a baby falls asleep in their own space, and wakes again in the night, they will now be familiar with their surroundings, because that is the space, they originally fell asleep in.
To say all children are affected by sleep props equally, would be false. All children are different, and sleep props can affect sleep in a variety of ways. The severity of the sleep prop/association plays a huge role in your child's sleep patterns. A child with a severe dependency on nursing, is very likely going to wake up multiple times a night, compared to a child who may only be dependent on a less severe sleep prop/association like hand holding, or back rubbing.
How do you know if your child has a sleep prop dependency?
- Wakes frequently overnight, and won't go back to sleep without assistance
- Short, and inconsistent naps (30-45 minutes)
- Will not go into bed awake (cries, and fights sleep) This is because they do not know how!
- Completely dependent on one person for all naps, and bedtime.
How do you break the sleep prop dependency?
This is where sleep training or hiring a Certified Sleep Consultant comes into play. To help drop all sleep props, and set your little one up for success, implementing healthy sleep habits is essential. This means going down awake for all sleep, introducing an age appropriate schedule, and creating consistent nap/bedtime routines.
Please note: Not all sleep training is "crying it out."
Are you struggling with a sleep prop dependency, and ready to make a change? Reach out today, I would love to chat!