PART 2 OF 7 AREAS COMMONLY OVERLOOKED OR NOT STRATEGICALLY PLANNED
When it comes to your baby's sleep, it is important to first check that they have all of the major building blocks in place. If you have not done so yet, check out my previous post Why Won't Baby Sleep?
With all the rapid growth and development in those early years, it is normal that occasionally a few days and nights of sleep get thrown off. However, if your child does not have a solid base to their sleep foundation, it is hard to know the true reason behind your child's sleep struggles and what adjustments need to be made.
Now, if you are pretty certain your baby has a solid sleep environment, age appropriate schedule, daily and sleep routines in place that contribute to sleep, and the ability to fall asleep and connect sleep cycles independently, then it is time to look for other reasons for things being outta whack.
Sometimes all it takes is a mindset shift. I feel like a broken record when I say this, but it is so true:
"Children are human. Their lives are not perfect. Sleep WILL get thrown off."
Now it is important that when sleep does get thrown off, you are able to help your child get right back on track. But it does help to understand the reasons behind sleep being thrown off. A big reason for a great sleeper to all of a sudden have trouble with those zzz's is due to developmental milestones, both physical and mental.
For a lot of children, learning a new skill goes hand in hand with trouble sleeping. It might be right before they accomplish a new skill or while going through the newness of it. Some examples are rolling over, crawling, pulling up on things, and walking.
When this happens:
1 - Do a lot of work during wake time to improve that skill so that it is conquered and no longer new.
2 - Let your child work through this. Don't introduce any new habits that you do not wish to experience during a bout of sleep.
Another physical milestone that can really throw things off depending on this child is teething! For some kiddos, it is extremely uncomfortable and/or painful. Do what you can to help your child work through the discomfort while keeping in mind the points above and talk to your pediatrician about options for relieving the pain.
In those early years, sleep plays a big role in the development of your child's brain. Even up through adolescence! Hence, sleep evolves with age. When your child is going through a mental milestone or leap, the sleep boat is expected to be rocked a bit.
For example, the four-month sleep regression! This is actually a time that your infant is beginning to experience more structured sleep. This often comes with more profound wakings between sleep cycles. With that, a child unable to fall asleep and connect sleep cycles independently will have a more difficult time falling back asleep. It is a time when the onset and return to sleep for infants who rely on rocking or feeding becomes longer and longer, becoming more of a struggle rather than a help.
Even a child who does have this skill at this age? They might experience a week or so of just being awake for an hour in the middle of the night. Note, if this describes your baby, you do NOT need to intervene. Letting your child work through this milestone will result in a more rapid return to sleeping well.
In the book The Wonder Weeks by Dr. Hetty van de Rijt and Dr. Frans Plooij, you can track when and why sleep could potentially be thrown off due to different mental milestone. But keep in mind, while knowing when to expect these moments, it is extremely beneficial to create a solid sleep foundation prior to going through any of these in order to get through each milestone more smoothly.
Part of your child's development will come specific and tangible transitions related to sleep - the dropping of naps and the transition from the crib to the bed. For more information on the topic of dropping naps, download my free resources "Is It Time to Drop a Nap?"
I find it extremely helpful to UNDERSTAND the why in order to set up realistic expectations and to make a proactive plan for getting through any roadblocks. Understanding what is going on with your child allows you to think logically about what is realistically expected and what needs to be done versus reacting emotionally and/or blaming yourself for typical sleep struggles of any child around the same age.