The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over, and over.. and expecting a different result.
Sound like parenthood much?
I hear too often parents telling me that their child (who was once a great sleeper), has–two, three or four months down the track–turned into a nightmare at bedtime. Sometimes there is a definitive catalyst for sleep regression, and sometimes it feels as though it sneaks up on us completely out of the blue – when nothing in our lives has changed at all….and sometimes it needs to.
Unless there is a medical reason, most sleep regression stems from some degree of fear–whether we are aware of the cause or not. Commonly we experience ‘setbacks’ with our child’s sleep patterns when they are feeling the most insecure; during developmental change (physical or cognitive), being out of routine (holidays, different carers or lack of consistency), and life transitions (new sibling, toilet training, starting childcare or mom returning to work) – that bring some element of fear and apprehension.
Just as adults are always evolving, so too are our children; their emotional and sleep needs alike. Whilst some children respond positively to a quick tweak to their routine or environment, others need’s may be more complex.
Here are some quick tips to help you get back on track:
Review your routine e.g. is it time to extend your child’s awake time between naps? are they ready to drop a nap? Do they need more or less wind-down time before bed? do they need to burn more energy during their waking hours? or more substantial solid meals than just puree?
Assess the sleep environment and make appropriate changes (age and circumstantial). E.g. where previously your baby may have slept in a pitch black room, your toddler may begin to develop a fear of the dark, and therefore a soft night light* may be considered. Perhaps you have just had neighbors begin renovations, or move in with a barking dog, calling for white noise to block out the noise distraction.*Red light is less disruptive to the circadian rhythm, so I recommend salt lamps if you are opting for a night-light.
Review any sleep training methods or settling strategies you have been using. Where your young baby may have responded well to a ‘cry it out’ method, separation anxiety may mean this will no longer be effective; just as a pickup/put down technique previously used on your 6-month-old will not be suitable your toddler at 12 months and beyond. In my experience, behavioral methods are usually unsuccessful at changing sleep patterns long-term – instead, I focus on connection tools such as listening, quality time, and play for a more sustainable solution.
Have a connection plan. Irrespective of age, children thrive on a close relationship with their parents; this enables them to successfully handle stress, upset and conflict in their everyday lives and transition with greater ease and efficiency at times of change. Children actively seek out connection from their parents throughout the day – and often overnight – in order to feel safe and secure (insecurity is the main cause of most sleep difficulties experienced by children). Making time for play, listening, and to spend one-on-one, distraction-free quality time with your child each day works wonders to encourage confidence and safety (the antidote to fear) and increased resilience (hence less regression) at times of change.
Create laughter. Children heal their fears, stresses, and tensions through laughter. If you notice that something particularly creates laughter for your child, do more of that! Some children will indulge in a deep belly laugh when a parent ‘pretends’ to fall over, or walk into the wall. Similarly, funny faces, silly dance moves, or basic ‘horse play’ can be a healing experience for children to laugh away their fears which may otherwise be the catalyst for nightmares, night terrors or just disturbed sleep in general. Laughter is generally the ‘icing on the cake’; when melted away through play and close attention, helps reveal more intense feelings of fear, anger and hurt to be healed under the surface (potentially originating from an earlier life event). It is common for laughter to transform to tears following connected and playful moments, so make allowances for some listening time if your child becomes emotional and begins to cry.
Avoid too much change at once. I encourage parents to focus on one change at a time – e.g. routine change, transitioning from bassinet to cot/cot to toddler bed, moving house, toilet training, changing bedroom or starting childcare to avoid overwhelm (and regression) for all.