This is a guest post from sleep consultant, Natalie Herman.
You have spent weeks implementing effective sleep routines and just as you have been reaping the rewards and enjoying blissful nights of sleep, your baby starts waking again at night. What concerns parents is how do you know whether the sleep regression, or what I call a ‘dip’ in sleep, is a result of emotional discomfort and not just a behaviour or sleeping habit that needs correcting?
What are the signs your child is going through a sleep regression?
- Your baby is starting to wake every night and these sleep disturbances have been going on for at least a week. The techniques you used in the past are no longer working.
- Your child is suddenly resisting bedtime and becoming increasingly hysterical at night until you go to them.
- They require more attention than usual in order to get them back to sleep i.e. cuddling, holding and it takes a very long time to get them settled again. i.e. over an hour.
- Your baby starts preferring one parent over another at night.
- A toddler may start expressing a fear of the dark.
- There has been a sudden lifestyle change that is deeply impacting them, mum has returned to work, dad is travelling extensively for work, a long family holiday has ended, start of a new childcare arrangement, moving house, a new sibling, etc.
These factors can result in your child feeling emotionally insecure. In these cases they often express their discomfort at times of the day when they know separation will be at its longest. i.e. bedtime or in the middle of the night.
What can you do to alleviate their anxiety and get their sleep back on track?
Obviously your action plan will be dependent on the age of the child and their ability to understand reason. It’s important to give them a lot of extra reassurance during the day, before bedtime and at night. For an older child it can help to talk them through their daily routine and explain to them at what point you will be seeing them so they know what to expect.
When there is a life-changing episode, big or small, explain to them how the change will affect their life – who are the new people in their lives? What they will be experiencing and when? Try and get them excited about it. If you feel anxious about the change, they will feel it and will respond badly. Children pick up on our vibes very easily and use us as anchors for how they approach certain situations. If you are leaving them with a new nanny, maintain their normal routine as much as possible so their feelings of anxiety are minimised.
There are times to give your child that extra attention and times when it is better to avoid it! Extend your bedtime routine to make sure you are giving your child quality 1-1 time before bedtime. Do something nice and calming together to get them in a mood for sleep. However, avoid resorting to feeding your child to sleep, getting into bed with them or bringing them to your bed. You can go to them at night but don’t linger too long. You are better off cuddling them until they calm down and get through this difficult phase. This phase will pass and is very normal, so don’t think you need to go overboard and overdose your child with too much attention. They will quickly get used to this and the regression will take longer to pass.
If you believe that fears are what is causing your child to wake at night you could consider a night light. Not all children use this as a tool to get your attention. For many children this is a genuine fear, so treat it seriously. My daughter loves her Madel nightlight as it can be set to different colours and gives a soft glow. Make it fun and choose together. Try and get your child to speak about their fears (if they are of toddler age), so you can relieve them of their concerns a little. Try not to belittle how they are feeling and express your understanding of how scared they are, whilst reassuring them that they are safe.
Finally, put yourself in their shoes for a minute, think about the times in your life that you went through difficult lifestyle changes and consider how long it took you to get used to it. Your child is no different and may require the same or even more time than you in order to feel secure again. Their brain is still maturing so they will take longer to understand certain concepts especially changes in time or places.
Make sure to vent to your friends and family how difficult it is for you to suddenly be sleep deprived again. You may be surprised when you hear from other parents how normal and common these sleep issues can be for our children.
Natalie is thoroughly dedicated to giving babies, parents and entire families the sleep that they deserve. Her passion for making a good night’s sleep a reality was inspired by her own experience as a mother of a playful and outgoing daughter.
Natalie is a fully Certified Sleep Consultant and holds a Certificate in Sleep Consultancy and Early Prevention. She is also a member of the International Association of Child Sleep Consultants and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. In addition, Natalie holds a Bachelor in Social Science (honours) and a Post Graduate in Human Resource Management. You can find her on the Natalie Herman Baby Sleep Consultancy website, Facebook and Instagram.
Issue 31 of Kid Magazine features another article from Natalie on bringing home baby as well as loads of other content for mums (much like every issue!). A subscription is affordable and a convenient digital format to read on-the-go to fit into your busy mum life.
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