Most parents know that frequent feedings and sleepless nights are part of the drill with a newborn – but they shouldn’t last forever. As babies get older, they’re internal clock develops, along with a more set sleep schedule – great news for sleepy parents.
However, it’s common that old habits get in the way of those longer stretches of sleep. Sleep associations could be keeping your baby (and you) from a better night’s sleep. We went to the experts to get the scoop on sleep associations and how to establish positive ones to help your little one sleep.
Meet our expert
Lindsey Hennigar, Certified Infant and Child Sleep Consultant and owner of The Sleep Ranch has been helping families start sleeping better over 2 years. After facing some sleep challenges with her own daughter, Isabella, Lindsey sought help from a sleep consultant and was inspired to become a certified sleep consultant through The Family Sleep Institute.
Q: What are sleep associations?
A: A sleep association is any behavior that helps you fall asleep. For adults, it could be lying on your side or placing a pillow in a certain way. When we wake in the middle of the night, we recreate that sleep association by lying on our side again and repositioning our pillow. If something is out of our “normal”, we have trouble falling asleep. For example, all the tummy-sleeping moms out there who were forced to sleep on their sides while pregnant had to take some time to readjust and get comfortable with their new sleeping position.
From the experts
Babies, children, and even adults have sleep associations, whether they’re aware of them or not.
Just like adults, babies connect certain things or activities to sleep, and they can come to rely on those things to fall asleep which can cause some serious bedtime challenges.
Q: What’s the difference between positive and negative sleep associations?
A: Not all sleep associations are “bad.” There are negative and positive sleep associations. If a baby is relying on mom and dad to do perform that sleep association, such as rocking, replacing a pacifier, or feeding to fall asleep, they will wake up throughout the night and need Mom or Dad to come in and recreate that same environment as they are unable to do those actions on their own. These types of sleep associations are considered negative, as they are not sustainable.
From the experts
Positive sleep association: Something your baby can use or do on their own to help them fall asleep. For example, listening to white noise.
Negative sleep association: Something your baby relies on you to do to help them fall asleep. For example, feeding or nursing.
The goal is to have your baby be able to create these associations on their own, so they can fall asleep independently. Using white noise, a dark room, and certain sleepwear are some positive sleep associations that are easily repeatable and sustainable.
Q: How do I create positive sleep associations?
Lindsey’s tips for creating positive sleep associations:
1. Start early
It’s never too early to introduce positive sleep associations.
My youngest daughter is two months old, and she sleeps must better than my first two babies ever did. Sleep did not come naturally for my oldest children. I remember the first few weeks of my older babies’ lives and I had such a hard time getting them to sleep. Not only were my sleep-deprived babies miserable, but so was I. So I knew I needed to start positive sleep associations from the very beginning with my newborn. I started using the Nested Bean Zen Swaddle from day 1, and now my youngest is sleeping like a champ.
2. Make it part of your routine
Sleep associations are a great way to communicate with a child that is too young to talk. When these positive sleep associations are present or performed consistently, they will become a signal for bedtime. Just like putting on shoes means going outside or putting on a bib means it’s time to eat, putting on their Zen Sleepwear will mean it’s time to sleep.
From the experts
““My baby is already picking up on the fact that when I put on her Zen Swaddle, it is time to sleep. After I change her diaper, I swaddle her, turn on her white noise machine, and she is already starting to put herself to sleep. I have literally been waking her in the night to feed because she has been sleeping so deeply.”- Lindsey Hennigar, Certified Sleep Consultant
Incorporating Nested Bean Sleepwear into my children’s sleep has helped them fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and rest more peacefully. My two-year-old starts to rub her eyes and yawn when I turn on her white noise machine and bring out her Zen Sack because she knows it’s time to sleep. It’s the neatest thing to watch!
3. Start breaking negative associations ASAP
When you bring your baby home, your main priority is making sure they get enough food, rest, and love. Sometimes, this means we incorporate “negative” sleep associations into routines out of necessity. Don’t sweat it – these habits don’t have to be permanent.
You can use positive sleep associations to help wean your little one off the negative ones:
- Put your baby to bed drowsy, but still awake instead of letting them fall asleep in your arms
- Pat your baby’s chest or back while their falling asleep. Slowly decrease the amount of time you spend doing this so baby gets used to falling asleep on their own.
- Use gently weighted Zen Sleepwear that mimics your touch to help tech your baby to self-soothe
Zen Sleepwear is gently weighted to help teach babies to self-soothe. Most parents see improvements in their baby's sleep in just 1 to 3 nights.