How can I help my child to fall asleep and stay asleep?
The sleep associations a child has can be appropriate, such as thumb sucking, or problematic, such as rocking, parental presence, and nursing. If a child has problematic sleep associations that require parental intervention, they will not be able to regain them on their own once they wake up during the night.
Inappropriate sleep associations are the primary cause of frequent nightwakings. Sleep associations are those conditions that are habitually present at the time of sleep onset and in the presence of which the infant or child has learned to fall asleep. These same conditions are then required in order for the infant or child to fall back to sleep following periodic normal nighttime arousals.
Studies have found that between 15 and 20 percent of one to three year olds continue to have nightwakings. Here are some helpful tips to help your child sleep through the night:
- Given that a child's tiredness is associated with more awakenings during the night, it is important to establish a sleep schedule that results in your child being sufficiently rested. This can be done by establishing an early bedtime and taking naps during the day.
- Introducing a security or love object to your child can help them feel safe and secure when you are not present. Try to include this object whenever you are cuddling or comforting your child.
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine that includes calming activities, such as a bath and reading a bedtime story. This will help you to get ready for sleep and improve your overall quality of life.
- Environment! It is important to maintain a consistent bedroom environment at bedtime, to help ensure a good night's sleep for your child. (e.g. lighting, sounds, etc.)
- After the bedtime routine is complete, put your child to bed awake. Remember that it is important for her to learn how to fall asleep on her own so she can get back to sleep when she wakes up during the night.
- If your child is making any noise, check on her. Wait for a short amount of time or as long as you like. Some children need to be checked frequently; others do better if checked less often. Whenever your child begins to cry or become upset, it is important to check on her. You should only return to the room briefly however, reassure your child that you are still there and that everything is okay, and then help her go to sleep.
- If your child continues to awaken during the night after several weeks, it is likely that they are waking up for a specific reason. You can continue to use the same checking method during the night as you did at bedtime.
- Some parents feel that not being present when their child falls asleep is too big of a step for them and their child. In order to help your child fall asleep on her own, it is a good idea to start by teaching her how to do so gradually. You can stay in the room with her while she falls asleep, or you can slowly reduce your presence until she falls asleep without you present. This approach may take longer, but it can feel more comfortable for some families. If she can fall asleep consistently this way, sit farther and farther away from her every three to four nights until you are in the hallway and out of her sight.
It is likely that the first few nights will be very challenging and often the second or third night is worse than the first night. However, within a few nights to a week, you will begin to see improvement.