All of us new parents have struggled with sleep deprivation. It’s par for the course with growing our families. I remember being warned about hourly wake-ups by a friend and thinking, “Well, that just won’t happen to me. It can’t happen. I won’t LET it happen!”. HA!
With it being almost impossible to pinpoint the exact reason a baby will sleep well one night and be wakeful the next, parents need another option outside of sleep training.
My personal experience as a mother and the culmination of my education drove me to create an alternative approach to sleep training that focuses on the parent. Babies have been waking for millions of years, but only in the last hundred has it bothered us so much. Is it possible that most, if not all the sleep woes can actually be managed in a holistic manner?
YES! In my practice, I see several common threads, or “sleep saboteurs” which parents can nip in the bud to achieve more restorative sleep for the whole family. Remedying these areas can actually replace the need to sleep train at all, and instill healthy sleep hygiene for your little ones that they can carry into adulthood.
#1: Nutrition and Hydration
An athlete or someone working in a high-risk job understands the need to train and to fuel their body with intention. Somehow though, the work of a parent gets undermined. We have culturally lost the appreciation for this demanding role. The biggest culprits include a lack of essential fatty acids, not enough phytonutrients, and dehydration. Scarcity in these areas mean that your mood can become unstable, the stress on your body is greater, and your quality of sleep is compromised. If you are breastfeeding, the toll is even greater. Baby literally “sucks” their nutrient requirements from mother’s body, and will tend to cluster feed throughout the night if milk production drops.
Remedy: Eat Wild Alaskan salmon and other foods rich in good fats (avocado, hemp seeds, chia seeds, coconut oil and EVOO). Enjoy salads and smoothies daily if you can. Drink half your body weight in ounces of water (e.g. 180 lbs would equate to 90 ounces or 11 cups).
#2: Sleep Environment
In clients’ homes, I find cluttered, over-stimulating bedrooms, lots of screens, an abundance of artificial light and impractical sleep set-ups. These things are problematic, with clutter contributing to stress, over-stimulation making it difficult to wind down, blue-lights suppressing melatonin production, and sleep set-ups adding an inconvenience factor that can easily be mitigated.
Remedy: Join the minimalist-movement and purge your excess “stuff”! Give your bedroom a warm glow with salt lamps, and consider rooming in with your baby for ease of care at night. The less you have to walk to get him/her, the quicker you can get back to sleep! I love this rocker which you can place right beside you.
#3: Unmet Needs
Over- or under-stimulation can inhibit a child’s ability to fall asleep at night. Missing the sleep window-of-opportunity can lead to the child getting a second wind, while stress can affect a parent’s ability to connect or read their baby or child’s cues.
Remedy: The bedtime routine should hold space for the child to show you what might still be needed (rough housing, cuddle time, feeding). If your child is taking longer than 20 minutes to fall asleep, it’s a good sign that they need something else before they can drift off. Be open to receiving the message and providing the assistance.
#4: Expectations vs. Reality
If you are expecting your baby (even your toddler) to sleep through the night, chances are, you will be frustrated. Unmet expectations create disappointment. Studies show that at 6 months of age, most babies are waking an unpredictable amount of times per night. Many even more than hourly! Once you have a good understanding of why babies wake, and your expectations are relaxed, things are more likely to fall into place. Little ones are unpredictable but expecting the unexpected can make it much easier to deal with.
Remedy: Sometimes too much information can be overwhelming, and it’s hard to know what resource to trust! Join a parenting group with like-minded friends. Build your village and be OK with leaning on them.
As a recovering Type A personality, I can tell you I believed with all of my heart that a tight sleep training plan would whip my baby into a nice schedule, and we would all be good to go. Perhaps that is the case with some of you reading. If you’re like me however, and you struggled with getting your little one to consolidate their sleep, you have lots of company.
You have a strong intuition as a parent, and this intuition should never be undermined. My sincere hope for you is that you feel a renewed confidence in yourself and your baby. Your baby is driven by instinct, not intent. You can trust his/her language (cries, coos, facial and body) to be an accurate expression of true needs and valid feelings.
I would love to hear which of these sleep saboteurs resonates most with you! Comment below and let’s keep the conversation going!
Brandie Hadfield is the creator of “The DREAM Method” for healthy family sleep, and co-creator of the Infant Sleep Educator certification in partnership with bebo mia inc. She currently serves as president for Attachment Parenting Canada and is the proud mama of two.