Sleep associations (prop) and how it affects sleep

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

We all need some sort of association to fall asleep at night.  I need a pillow or I need to be on the left side of the bed or it doesn’t really matter.  If I don’t have my pillow tonight, I’m definitely going to struggle falling asleep and staying asleep. Once I get my pillow back, I’ll have the best night sleep ever.
The same happens with babies.  Babies also need some sort of association to fall asleep and stay asleep.  The problem however is, parents tend to help babies form their associations instead of the baby forming his own independent association.
So the follow scenario happens:

  • You feed your baby
  • You change the nappy
  • Burb the baby
  • Everything is perfect…..

You put your baby in the cot….. and now he cries.  You don’t understand why your baby is crying and in fact you don’t want your baby to cry.  Maybe something is wrong.  Now you pick him up,

  • You rock and pat him or
  • You give him a dummy or
  • You give him another feed (maybe he is still hungry)

You will basically do anything to get your baby asleep. Now you have made it your problem to make your baby asleep, instead of your baby falling asleep on his own!
Ok, let say the dummy worked and your baby fell asleep.  You’re very happy now.  Now every time you want your baby to fall asleep, you give him a dummy and it works every time.  Because you’re giving the dummy to your baby every time he needs to fall asleep, he starts to form the association, “If I want to fall asleep, I need a dummy” That would have been fine if we as human beings didn’t have a sleep
cycle.  Unfortunately, we all  (adults and babies) have a sleep cycle which means we go into a deep sleep, light sleep, and even wake up a few times.

The problem is…. as adults we have sleep skills, so when we wake up briefly, we can just soothe ourselves back to sleep and we don’t even remember waking in the first place BUT….. as babies, if they rely on a sleep prop like:

  • Dummies
  • Bottles
  • Rocking/Patting/Singing
  • A parent laying down with the baby
  • Nursing to fall asleep can be a big problem

The problem is, if your baby relies on a dummy to fall asleep initially when he has a brief wake-up period during the night, he is going to need the dummy to soothe himself back to sleep.  The problem is, the dummy is not always available so he is going to cry out to you EVERY SINGLE time he wakes,  to bring the dummy back. He is unable to soothe himself back to sleep independently because he never learned the skill. You were always there to help him. Every time your baby cried a little bit to try and teach himself the skill, you came and intervene, because you don’t want your baby to cry.  Your baby will not be able to sleep through the night until he has learned how to self-soothe.  If your baby has trouble self-soothe,  you need to identify all his sleep props and remove them so he has the chance to learn how to self-soothe independently.