Does your child start waking hourly after a couple hours of good sleep?
You can take some comfort in the fact that this is a common scenario for many parents. Why does this happen? And most importantly what can you do about it?
To start with it’s important to understand sleep cycles. Without geeking-out too much… let me explain. For around the first third of the night your child goes into the very deepest level of sleep, called slow-wave sleep – a glorious phase of sleep. Not just for parents who get a moments peace but for your child, where growth, healing and immunity takes place.
As the night progresses their sleep becomes shallower as they enter much lighter sleep cycles and begin to have REM sleep or dream sleep. This phase of sleep is vital for memory consolidation and emotional processing to name a few wonderful benefits.
However as this is a lighter state of sleep, those children who are not able to self-settle will find themselves awake more often as they are not able to string one sleep cycle to the next. This is why these regular wake ups start to happen.
The important question then is, how do you address it before you all end up in a heap of exhaustion?
How are you responding?
As a parent, and especially if we are feeling shattered ourselves, we often fall into the trap of cycling through different responses to find something or anything that will put our kids back to sleep in the middle of the night. There may be rocking, feeding, changing of sleep locations, songs and for some even late-night car rides or pram walks. Whatever it takes!
In order to teach our children to self-settle they need consistency. Think about your child and their temperament and choose a settling response that is suited to them. It needs to be something that works and something they will take comfort from. This can include picking them up, cuddles and soothing. Most importantly once you have decided on this suitable settling response – use it for every waking and stick to it!
By teaching your child to self-settle (with lots of help to comfort and soothe but not actually putting them to sleep yourself) you will empower them to practice this skill. And self-settling is a learned skill which requires lots of practice. It’s the same as using a muscle. You can’t go into the gym and lift a heavy weight on your first visit. You need to give yourself time to consistently work up to it and the same is true for self-settling. Once your child has mastered this skill they will begin to knit their more shallow sleep cycles together without asking for your help to do it for them.
Start at bedtime
Having a consistent bedtime routine is vital for creating rhythmicity and setting sleepy cues for your child. The key is to have the same steps in the same order every night. Decide on a simple bedtime routine that works for your family and circumstances. The most important trick here is to put your little one down awake and use your now predefined soothing technique right from the start of the night at bedtime so that your child knows what to expect at all other waking’s.
Is it hunger or harder?
For some of the younger little ones, hunger will most certainly play a part in night waking. So, plan in advance what times you will offer your child a feed. This will be dependent on their weight and age, but I can assure you it certainly won’t be hourly and at every one of these frequent potentially hourly wake ups. Map out these feeds and use your settling response for any other waking outside of this.
You do not want to use feeding as a means to get your child to sleep when it’s not hunger waking them up. Feeding to sleep will become a sleep crutch not only for your little one but also for you.
It’s also great to practice putting your little one down awake after feeds. Give them a quick wind, cuddle, love and rouse them gently if you need to so that they go back down awake using your settling technique, which may include lots of pick-ups and cuddles to help soothe off to sleep.
The key to dealing with these frequent night wake ups falls into gently and lovingly teaching your child to self-settle. With a consistent settling technique starting at bedtime, respond to any night waking (with the exception of pre-mapped feeds) using this technique with lots of cuddles as required to gently teach your child how to fall asleep on their own. When they have mastered this skill they will be able to put themselves back between their lightest sleep cycles without looking for your help.
Sleep is important for your whole family’s overall health and wellbeing. You all deserve to wake up and feel great every day.
If you are still feeling stuck and would like some extra advice why not book in for a free 15 minute consultation with me?
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