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Talkin' Sleep

You and your little one see sleep differently: Build a routine you both can agree on

If you’ve been around Talkin’ Sleep awhile, you know that what’s out there on the internet with regard to baby and toddler sleep typically has little to do with science, and developmentally appropriate expectations. Sleep training, cry it out, wait it out–those tend to actually build unrealistic expectations for the parents of what is actually developmentally appropriate for your little one. Let’s talk about the real reasons people struggle with sleep which is that YOU and your little one see sleep differently. Luckily once you understand that difference you’ll experience a mindset shift that  will help unlock new sleep potentials for your family.

As a parent, sleep is logical–a biological necessity.

As a parent,  when we think about sleep, we’re thinking this is something that is very, very essential to our baby or toddler’s development, health, and wellbeing. It’s your job to make sure we not only make sure they get healthy sleep, but that they get enough sleep. That it’s good quality and quantity. It’s all about their health–so it’s a no-brainer.

It’s common knowledge that sleep is essential to so many health outcomes so naturally as parents we think we need to make sure that our babies and toddlers get sleep. Which means we tend to get really committed to making sure that they sleep and making sure that they sleep well. And we might do that by learning about sleep, by creating the right environment and so on. We may see our role is to make sure that they sleep at a certain time, for a certain length of time and so on. Only the problem is, our babies and toddlers have other ideas and often don’t actually fall asleep or stay asleep as expected – or you wouldn’t be reading this right now, right?,  

From your child’s perspective –sleep equals separation.

Now before we get into thes, details, I want to remind you that sleep is a biological function. So, your little one  feels it in their body when they’re getting tired, when they’re ready for sleep and their body knows how much sleep they need. If putting it this way is a new concept to you, I am glad you’re here, and you’re not alone. Your kid’s natural instinct for sleep may not align with your perception of when they should be tired or how long they should sleep. Especially if up till now you’ve been consuming sleep training information or trying to use prescribed schedules and routines as outlined in the book (rather than by your individual child’s needs). 

Your little baby or growing toddler is really listening to their body so even though it’s not your ideal time they’re more connected to how their body is feeling and what their individual needs are. Which means they’re also doing their best to express them to you.  Both babies and toddlers have tired cues and behaviors. Every baby is different, and so are their tired behavior.

Now as I mentioned in the header to this section–your little one sees sleep as a separation from YOU! That roughly translates into  sleep from your baby or toddler’s perspective is the longest, scariest separation from you. Why is this? 

First of all, sleep is a vulnerable state. What I mean by that is when we’re asleep  – we are mostly unconscious. Let’s think back to early humans where our brains developed a lot of instincts to protect us from threats. (Because honestly our brains actually haven’t evolved that much since then.) If you were asleep and nobody else was protecting you, you would be eaten by a bear or tiger out there in the woods. 

Umm–no thank you!

So, the smartest, safest thing to do was to make sure that we only go to sleep when our environment is safe. And …from your baby’s brain perspective – the smartest, safest thing to do is…stay close to YOU! Their source of food and protection.

Why sleep is the hardest when you need to be elsewhere or when you’re desperate for them to finally go to sleep. 

Our baby’s brain and your brain are connected. Your baby’s brain picks up on how YOU are feeling, and when that state is calm and relaxed–that tells them they are safe. Remember, we talked about sleep being a vulnerable state (it’s dark, long and unconscious) so guess what is necessary to drift off to sleep easily? Feeling SAFE and CONNECTED to the person responsible for your safety and wellbeing (that’s you!). 

So here is what happens when you neglected your own needs all day or when you actually have plans for after your baby goes to sleep but your baby suddenly just won’t go to sleep or wakes up earlier than usual – you feel frustrated, angry, disappointed, or anxious thinking – ugh I’m going to be late. Or I just need a few minutes to myself (or with my partner!).

On a biological level, your brains are connected and actually your baby’s brain is designed to pick up on your brain’s emotions. Why? Because if the person responsible for your safety feels safe – it is safe to assume you will be too. But if the person who is responsible for you is feeling  anxious, angry, frustrated– there must be Danger danger! (remember the part where our brains, specifically the emotional parts, haven’t evolved yet and react to the threat of a bear the same as any other threat?). 

When you are feeling anxious or angry your brain is on “danger” alert – neither your brain nor your baby’s brain knows that there is no bear attack (the brain reaction is the same). So if you’re in a rush and need to get things done– it’s no time to sleep because danger is approaching! 

Making sleep routine changes you BOTH can agree on.

Now you’re totally correct that sleep IS indeed important to the development of your little one. As the parent – you know that they NEED the sleep and it’s your job to help them get it, even if they have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Now that there is an understanding of why your child is responding to sleep the way they are–it’s time for your mindset shift. Considering the fact that sleep is biological, and that your child’s bodily functions aren’t in your control – we need to focus on what IS in your control and what IS your responsibility as the parent. Are you ready for it? Your job is *not* to make sure that your child sleeps at a certain time, for a certain length of time. Instead – your job is to make sure that your child has the right environment to meet their sleep needs. I like to call them, giving your child sleep-ortunities (sleep opportunities). That is – the chances to sleep when they are tired.  So when you’re thinking of your sleep routine, Ask yourself:

  • Am I calm? 
  • Am I relaxed? 
  • Are we having a good time? 
  • Are we connecting during those routines? 

If one of those criteria is not being met it’s time to dig into what needs to change in order to remedy that. Because when these four items are met–you baby or toddler will begin to relax and be more inclined to sleep. 

The key is just having a ritual that is similar every night that you do together, that your little one connects with sleep and relaxation. Every child is different, every family’s different. So make sure that you find something that is really enjoyable for you. It is key that it’s enjoyable and relaxing and calming for both of you.  Need help figuring out some bedtime routines/rituals? Here are a few that many families report as a huge success for their routines.

Reading a Book

This can be either reading a book, or telling a made up story. You can choose a book that your child loves. Some children may want the same book night after night, some may want something new.  Follow their lead. It’s also a great time to incorporate a story about love and connection to reiterate what they mean to you.

Sing a lullaby

Find a song that your child loves (and that doesn’t get them riled up). When it’s time for bed, in a soothing and relaxing voice.

Mindfulness Basics

Try things like massage, yoga, or even stretching as part of your bedtime routine to help your little one calm and relax their body. You can incorporate breathing exercises in age appropriate ways as well. With a baby, you would focus on your own breathing which in turn will help your little one find calm. With a toddler, you would focus on teaching them by maybe incorporating some breathing exercises into your routines. 
If you wanna learn about this more, I have a bedtime mindfulness challenge for skeptical parents. It is guaranteed to make your bedtime routines and naptime routines easier, faster, and more enjoyable. Watch part one of the Bedtime Mindfulness Challenge

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