Common Sleep Associations – Ashley Neal with Carolina Sleep Consulting – Columbia, South Carolina

Many of the families who come to me for sleep help have a baby or child that is not sleeping through the night, waking upwards of 7-8 times a night. 9 times out of 10 the reason the baby/child is waking so frequently is because they have associated falling asleep with an external source that they cannot reproduce themselves. So what are the most common sleep associations I see when working with families? 

  • Breastfeeding (or bottle feeding) to sleep: If you’ve worked with me, you’ve heard this analogy: “Imagine if you got into bed to read before going to sleep. You start getting sleepy, put down your book, turn off the light and fall asleep. Hours later you wake up to find yourself on the cold, hard kitchen floor. You would most likely not brush it off and just fall back asleep. You’d be freaked out right? You’d be worried, maybe a little frightened. You’d probably wakeup your partner and say something along the lines of, “How the hell did I wind up in the kitchen?”.” The same principal happens to your child when they fall asleep one way, usually at the breast, and then wakeup all alone in their crib. They don’t remember that happening and they need that breast to fall back asleep. So you pop it back in for a “quick fix”, baby falls back asleep…until the next time they wake up and need your help again. Endless cycle. 

  • Pacifier: This association can be both a good and bad one. If your toddler/child is old enough to replace the pacifier on their own without assistance, then no harm, no foul. The pacifier does become a problem when mom or dad are are having to go back in and replace it several times a night. If this is the case, it may be time to ditch it. Many families make the decision to ditch the pacifier, but then at 3am when baby is screaming for it, they cave and give it back. If you are serious about getting rid of the pacifier, do yourself a favor and cut the ends of all the pacifier off so you have no choice but to follow through. You’ll be in for a rough night or 2, but usually by night 3 baby is fine without. 

  • Motion/Rocking: Just like it sounds…baby has to be pushed in the stroller, rocked up and down the hall, have a car ride, etc. This is the same principal as the nursing/bottle feeding to sleep. Baby will need the same assistance returning back to sleep as they had falling asleep. 

  • Presence of mom/dad (usually in toddlers/older children): I hear a lot, “My child was a great sleeper when he was younger. Now he’s in a toddler/big bed and he won’t fall asleep unless I’m laying there”. This usually stems from parents transitioning their child out of the crib to early, moving them to a “big bed” where they don’t quite understand the “sleep rules” that go along with a big bed. Things usually start off great for a couple night/a few weeks, but then things begin to go downhill rather quickly, usually resulting in mom or dad resorting to laying in the child’s bed until they have fallen asleep. After just a few nights of this…BAM… a new sleep association has been created. 

Keep in mind, none of the above have to a negative association. As a matter of fact, all can be very calming for a child and I by no means am saying put your child to bed hungry and lonely! Just be careful that you are not doing any (or all!) of these things as a means to get your baby/child to sleep. Feed until they are drowsy, rock until they are calm, be a presence in the room for reassurance, but not until they are totally deep asleep. Also, be careful not to replace one sleep association for another. Don’t phase out nursing to sleep to then be rocking to sleep. 

Feel like you’ve done everything humanely possible to get rid of sleep associations with no success?  Contact me today to see how we can begin the road to a more peaceful, restorative sleep for your little one.