Help! Why Won’t my Baby Sleep?
– By Sophie Wilkinson, Baby Sleep the Night
Pretty much THE big question I was asking myself with my first son during the first 7 months of his life… until I got help from a Sleep Consultant.
In simple terms…to answer this question…It is COMPLETELY normal for your child (and for adults) to wake regularly during the night.
Some wakes will be down to NEED but only in young babies who have genuine hunger needs due to their tiny tummies!
BUT… the main reason they wake in the night is because sleep is a cyclical process!
Regular wakes are a normal and natural part of sleep. Your child (and you) will always continue to wake during sleep. Even with the help from a Sleep Consultant it is impossible to change that we naturally wake at the end of a sleep cycle.
The best way I describe this to the families I work with is to look at what we might do during the night. We might turn over in the night, we might go to the toilet, or if you’re like me, you may well nudge your partner to stop their snoring! Its highly likely that when we do these things that it is at the end of our sleep cycle and we have naturally woken ready to enter a new sleep cycle. This is exactly what your baby does during the night, they wake after a sleep cycle.
For a baby this sleep cycle lasts between 20-50 minutes and for adults the sleep cycle length in 90 minutes. We go through light sleep and deep sleep phases cyclically.
What Is Sleep Onset Association Disorder (SOAD)?
Personally for me, SOAD is not what I would think of as a disorder but more of a fancy term for a habit. A habit that confuses our babies into thinking that they can only fall asleep under certain specific conditions which results in them thinking they need that same condition/environment/sleep prop to go back to sleep after waking up.
This reliance on a prop can cause parents many sleepless nights. However, like all difficult habits, it too can be solved.
Our babies are born with many needs that we have to fulfil for them until they are able to do this themselves as they get older. One thing they actually do have from birth is an inbuilt skill to be able to self settle and are already doing this in the womb. It is us as parents that inadvertently upset this natural skill by offering props to encourage babies to sleep or by accidentally missing their tired cues or appropriate awake window.
Though a child’s behaviour may seem to indicate that babies ALWAYS need someone to help them go to sleep, they don’t. But some children have simply ‘lost’ the ability to sleep independently, and that’s what SOAD is.
By modifying your behaviour just a little bit that can help your child relearn this ability. It might require you to be strong and consistent for a couple of nights, butx children learn to sleep on their own very quickly, within a few days, when implementing my gentle sleep training plans.
How Does a Baby Develop SOAD?
SOAD develops when the baby starts associating falling asleep with some kind of external help, rather than using their internal skills.
They then incredibly quickly develop a habit that associates exactly the same thing at the end of every sleep cycle in the night.
Reality to them naturally becomes that someone or something else is required to get them to sleep. Babies cry when they think they can’t fulfil that need alone, and a horrible pattern of frequent waking and crying commences – and this can be every 45 minutes… ALL. NIGHT. LONG. (Yep that was me too!)
For me, it was after one night of waking every 45 minutes during the night that I told myself I cannot do this any longer and feeling like I was letting my baby down who was desperate for more sleep and more rest I decided that I needed to get more support. It was from this night that I have been determined to change the outlook on sleep, change the support available to parents suffering with sleep deprivation and help babies who are not getting enough sleep so to support their development.
Why did no one tell me how to prevent SOAD?
It wasn’t my fault or any parents’ fault that SOAD happens so commonly. New parents are simply not given the information about sleep being a cyclical process.
I continue to work with Health Visitors and GP’s to increase knowledge around child sleep so to develop great sleep skills from birth and prevent any sleep difficulties going forward. My biggest bugbear was when I was asked about my mental health during a postpartum check and at the same time being dismissed when I mentioned that my baby was waking every 45 minutes and taking 45 minutes to get back to sleep again – it was torture and my mental health was suffering purely because I was not sleeping and my baby was always crying! Yet no one seemed able to help me with the cause for this.
I hate (yes it’s a strong word but completely how I feel!) that people say that babies will grow out of sleep difficulties… I hate that health professionals say that this is all normal. Yes, I have said that it is normal for babies to wake but it shouldn’t be normal that they rely on something several times a night to get back to sleep. It prevents the deep phase sleep (where all the good stuff happens) and it causes problems with your child’s cortisol and adrenalin levels which need to be managed. Sleep is a biological need that we need to meet!
Unfortunately, babies won’t grow out of this…a massive 84% of children who have sleep difficulties by their 1st birthday will continue to have difficulties until between 3-5 years if they do not have intervention. How is that helpful for your child, to parents, to families?
What Parents Should Know About Their New Baby’s Sleep Habits
Here is the information all new parents SHOULD be given:
- Very young babies have smaller stomachs, and they wake up several times a night because they are hungry and need to be fed.
- They will very often have other wakes too that are NOT hunger related.
- Within a few months, their stomachs grow, and they can eat enough to keep them happy and satisfied during a full night’s sleep (with of course natural wakes that they resettle at super quickly on their own). Once they have doubled their birth weight and are developing normally, they don’t necessarily NEED night feeding.
- All babies are born able to self settle and we need to encourage healthy sleep habits from birth.
How Does ‘Sleep Training’ Work?
Waking up after a sleep cycle relying on something to get themselves back to sleep has become a habit as we have already discussed. If you think about it, many adults also have these habits or ‘conditions’ that must be met before we go to sleep – we must have a particular pillow, we can only sleep in our own bed, the room must be dark, or quiet, or we need music etc
This is something we’ve taught ourselves to believe. We have trained ourselves to sleep with these props, BUT we can always train ourselves to get over this dependency. I was terrible with needing the TV to go to sleep with but I knew this was causing a more restless night for me so therefore I needed to change this habit which ultimately has resulted in a better nights sleep for me. It’s the same with babies. They may think they need mummy to feed them or rock them to sleep, but they really don’t and this is the reason why they continue to wake frequently. Since we can’t really talk, discuss, or rationalise with them, we need to demonstrate it to them that they don’t need this prop or reliance.
Sleep training is just a simple way where you get help from a professional to demonstrate sleep hygiene and good sleep behaviour to your child. Babies tend always to protest at change, be it changing of a nappy, their clothes or anything else, so there is often some protest at changes to their sleep environment too, just like I would have protested when someone would have taken my TV away.
Working with a Sleep Consultant means that you can navigate the objection knowing what to expect, what’s normal and also what’s not! Without help, the protest will very often cause parents to second-guess themselves and very often do things which make the whole process 100x harder than it needs to be, and very often to fail time and time again.
Do it once and do it right is by far the easiest and gentlest way on your baby and you and the protest normally subsides very quickly (read my testimonials and you’ll see!!)
Why do I recommend sleep training?
Sleep is a biological need and EXTREMELY important to our health as adults but even more so for children. If a child does not learn how to sleep independently, it affects the quality and amount of sleep they get, which in turn has an effect on their health, attention, concentration, memory, and much more.
Lack of sleep caused by waking up multiple times a night just to help the child go back to sleep also affects the health of parents. Mothers are three times more likely to develop postnatal depression if their babies aren’t sleeping through the night.
It can also affect your relationships, as lack of sleep can alter behaviour, making those who are sleep deprived more stressed, irritable, forgetful, and unable to think rationally.
If you are looking for help with getting your baby to sleep, you can get a FREE 15-minute consultation with me to see how I can support you and your family. There is also LOADS of useful tips and advice on my social media platforms to help YOU get the best sleep for your newborn baby, baby, toddler or child from 0-8 years old.
Header photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash
Sleeping baby photo by Igordoon Primuson Unsplash
Happy baby photo by Rodrigo Perpeira on Unsplash
Sleep cycle picture - source unknown
Blog by Sophie Wilkinson, babysleepthenight