By Brittney Stefanic
Are you an exhausted parent looking for tips, tricks and information about sleep independence?
Did you know that little ones can fall asleep without needing to be fed, rocked, cuddled, or otherwise assisted in getting to sleep?
If you are ready to drop the props, read on for this step by step guide to teaching sleep independence!
Step 1: Ask yourself if your little one is ready for independent sleep.
It is most likely that the answer here is yes. It is never to early to start off on the right foot when it comes to safe and healthy sleep habits. In fact, there are even aspects that parents of newborns can start early on to lay a foundation of independent sleep. Does this mean your 4 week old will be sleeping through the night? Definitely not! But it does mean that you are making a conscious effort to start teaching your little one the beautiful skill of sleep independence.
No matter how old your struggling sleeper, it is going to be important that eating and sleeping are two separate parts of your day. When we first bring our newborns home, they tend to fall asleep feeding which is TOTALLY normal. This feeding to asleep becomes a “sleep prop” if the only way they can fall asleep is by feeding, every time.
Separating the two (with a diaper change, tummy time, a walk outside, or even a cuddle session with someone who isn’t the one feeding), is a great way to prevent the feed to sleep dependency that is so common. When we are able to detached these two tasks, sleep independence is easier all around.
Step 2: Set yourself up to successfully teach sleep independence
Know your plan. It is hard as heck to know what to do in the middle of the night when your babe will not fall back to sleep without being rocked, but it is even harder if you don’t have a plan for how you are going to comfort them without the rocking. So -- find yourself a plan that feels comfortable and sustainable.
Then, be consistent. Once you’ve selected a plan (thanks to Pinterest, Google or a trusty sleep expert), stick with it! It is most fair to your little one and yourself to leave any mixed-messages behind you and focus the one consistent plan that you’ve selected.
If you are worried about staying steady in your efforts, get yourself a buddy. Accountability really does help, especially when the going gets tough. Think about why people with workout buddies are more likely to complete a training program. If there’s a mom in your stroller strides that is about to sleep train, team up! Or get your partner on board. Or even consider hiring a sleep coach for expert guidance and support. Your long nights won’t seem quite so bad when you have someone cheering you on!
Step 3: Be prepared to make modifications, when needed
In teaching sleep independence, we need to give the changes TIME to make impact. However, we do not expect this new skill acquisition to take weeks and weeks. If you are more than one week in to your “sleep teaching” technique and not seeing results, it is likely time to find a different plan or make modifications to the one you have. You don’t want to keep trying something if you aren’t seeing results.
Since we live in a time of information overload, it is pretty easy to find a plan on Google and not know if it is the right one for you. If you more than a week into your plan and not seeing significant success (decrease in night wakings, dropping of night feeds, decreased time it takes to fall asleep), reach out to a sleep expert via blog, book, or phone call, and get yourself some expert help! And please know that what works for some, does not work for all. After all, we are talking about babies not robots.
Step 4: Assess your progress as you walk through the process
Here are a few signs to look for as evidence that the skill of sleep has been (or is being) established:
-Naps are longer than 40 (or so) minutes. This is a great indicator that they are able to independently link sleep cycles together.
-Bedtime protest is 15 minutes or less. This shows us that their “sleep pressure” before bed is spot on. They are tired enough, but not overtired!
-Your little one is falling back to sleep in the middle of the night without intervention. We don’t expect to never hear them as they link sleep cycles together (some babies cry out, roll over, sit up, call for us or even stand as one sleep cycle ends and before the next begins), but we are confident that they are able to start their next sleep cycle without needing intervention from us!
-Night feeds start to drop without having to pull them. When there is not a prop association to fall asleep at bedtime, little ones are much more likely to connect their middle of the night cycles without needing the prop. So, if the original dependency was being fed to sleep and we have stopped doing that at bedtime, chances are baby is able to fall back to sleep in the night without the feeds, too!
-Baby is happy upon waking up. This can be one (but isn’t the only) indicator that the naps or nighttime sleep are aligned with baby’s sleep needs.
-Wake windows are attainable. When we are able to make it through an entire wake window without too much of a push or stretch, it is a good sign that we are in the wake window “sweet spot”.
-Signs of overtiredness are decreasing. Excessive fussiness, inability to take full feeds, separation anxiety, and recurring meltdowns all tend to reduce once a child’s sleep needs are being met on a daily basis. Talk about a winning combination!
Success: Let’s celebrate this independent sleep skill
Congrats, you are well on your way to sleep independence before Independence Day! We hope these 4 steps have been helpful in setting you on the path towards having a great little sleeper.
Now, go celebrate the freedoms that we have (sleep included), and try not to fret too much about keeping everyone up late to see the fireworks... There will always be an opportunity to get back on track!
Brittney Stefanic is a whole-family certified sleep consultant and founder of Sleeper Teachers®. As a sleep enthusiast, she knows that independent sleep is such a game changer for families. When we are able to teach the skill of sleep to our little ones, partenthood improves, relationships are elevated and the entire family is better off. Brittney and her team love educating and support families around the world in finding sleep solutions through their customized sleep plans. You can follow the Sleeper Teachers® on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook @sleeperteachers for funny Reels, lots of blogs and frequent sleep Q&A sessions.