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How do I teach my baby to connect their sleep cycles?

Perhaps your baby has started self-settling at the beginning of a nap or bedtime but can’t seem to do it during their sleep when they wake. Or maybe they are going down ok using sometime like rocking or feeding to sleep but this doesn’t seem to be working well for re-settling in the early hours. Read on for my top tips on teaching babies to connect their sleep cycles…

Is self-settling important?

In a word, yes. It is one of the most important factors in your baby being able to sleep for any long stretch without you needing to intervene. Beyond the first few weeks, helping your baby learn to self-settle is often key to achieving good sleep, particularly after 4 months when our babies’ sleep matures and changes which can present as a regression.

Settling in first part of the night ok, but not the second. Why!

The first part of the night is when we have the sleepy hormone, Melatonin, on our side (our babies’ bodies are flooded with this hormone in the evening) and your baby should also have built up “sleep pressure” from being awake during the day. Both of these combined means that if you’re going to get any long stretch during the night it’s common for it to be between 7pm – 1am. After that, the Melatonin is starting to reduce and the “wake-up” hormone, Cortisol, is rising as we approach morning. So our babies’ sleep becomes lighter. This is when if your baby hasn’t learned to settle themselves back to sleep you are likely to have more frequent wakes.

The going BACK to sleep bit

If your baby has mastered falling asleep by themselves but hasn’t got the falling BACK to sleep bit nailed yet then what should you do? Firstly, if you used a settling method to help them learn to fall asleep independently then clearly it worked, (whoop!) and I would try that same method now for the night wakes. If you’re not sure how to crack the night wakes, we teach two settling methods in our consultations and sleep programmes; one method where you will stay in the room (which works best with younger babies) and comfort/soothe your baby, and one method where you will come in and out of the room to reassure your baby at short intervals. There are step-by-step guidelines on how to do both of these methods in all of our sleep programmes.

When to feed vs. when to settle

If you’re still at a point where night feeds are needed or you’re not wanting to night wean yet it’s about looking at how long your little one is able to go between feeds currently, what is their personal best? Using a sleep diary or tracking app for a few days can be helpful with this. You can then use that information as a bit of a benchmark and use a settling method (instead of feeding) for wakes after a short period. For example, if your baby has regularly done 4 hours+ between feeds at night then you could use 4 hours as your benchmark. Then, if your baby wakes 1 or 2 hours after their last feed, you know logically this is unlikely to be hunger and can attempt to settle them using a settling method rather than defaulting straight to a feed. Your baby will certainly let you know if it’s hunger and will not settle back to sleep with some settling!


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