What are sleep associations? Simply put – it’s the things that cue’s your little one around sleep. The things they need to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Stop and think for a second about how you fall asleep? For me, I need a pre-bed shower, I like to have a cup of water by my bed, pjs, and I fluff up my pillow and toss and turn as I fall off to sleep. I often wake overnight, turn over, sometimes check the time and fall back to sleep. Now, if I didn’t have that shower before bed or couldn’t wind down enough to switch off and go to sleep it’d be much harder for me. It’s the same for our babies – we want them to have some positive, comforting sleep associations as they settle that help the sleep process.
Around 4 months your babies sleep cycles become defined and instead of being able to drift in and out of sleep like they used to as newborns, they now pass through sleep cycles lightly. The likelihood of more night wakeups increases big time as when they reach a lighter stage of sleep. They are more likely to wakeup if they rely on parent led associations to assist and help them get back to sleep. This is why we talk about self settling and resettling! We need to remember whatever conditions our little one goes to sleep at the start of bedtime or naps, is also what they need replicated when they stir through these sleep cycles.
This graphic shows some of the positive baby led sleep associations vs the parent led associations. None of the parent led associations are bad in bad or damaging in anyway and for some babies they sleep just fine with those associations so its not an issue! However, if we are needing to do things in order to get our baby physical off to sleep, then it likely means, once a sleep cycle is over, your baby will wake needing this action again. If your little one has fallen asleep being rocked off to sleep and then we transfer them and they sleep ok for an hour or two, they will then likely wake up through that next sleep cycle and wake upset “I was in mummy’s arms rocking and now I’m not with her, I need that to go back to sleep” or “I was sucking on my dummy and its not in my mouth anymore, I’m gonna cry until mummy pops it back in for me” Or, “I was sleeping right next to mummy and now I’ve woken up in my cot, wahhhhhhhh”! Do you see how that can be hard on our little one’s if conditions aren’t kept consistent?
A big part of my job is to work out what associations there are that may be causing rough sleep and teach you how you can change these associations. We can replace them with new settling techniques so we no longer see frequent wakeups or short naps. By introducing positive sleep associations like the dark room, white noise, a cuddly or lovey we are making sleep so much easier for our little ones and who doesn’t want that?!
If you are finding yourself up all night having to assist your little one back to sleep and want some help changing some sleep associations, check out my free download above, or reach out and we can have your little one just love sleep in no time. You can check out my packages here.