Sleep Associations

Sleep Associations

What is a Sleep Association?

To put it simply, a sleep association is a certain prop or condition that your little one needs to be able to fall asleep. This can be anything from white noise, a dummy, rocking, patting, singing, feeding to sleep, and so on. Your baby or toddler may have one sleep association, or several. Sometimes they may have an association to something and you don’t even realise it!

Are Sleep Associations a Bad Thing?

Sleep associations often have a bit of a negative stigma to them. However, they aren’t always a bad thing! We all have certain conditions we need to be able to fall asleep and stay asleep. If your baby or toddler goes to sleep with a bit of a back pat and shush but still naps well and sleeps through the night, then great! If your little one sleeps with a dummy and is able to find and replace it if they wake in the night, it’s probably not causing too many problems. Or, if you are happy going in and patting your baby or toddler back to sleep in the night, then that’s absolutely fine. There is nothing wrong with most sleep associations until they are no longer working for you or your little one.

A lot of the time when parents come to me for support because their baby or toddler is waking in the night, cat napping, or having early morning wake ups, it is because of their sleep association.

We all partially wake after each sleep cycle as we move into the next. When the conditions are the same as what they were when we went to sleep, this wake is so brief that we quickly go back to sleep and won’t even remember it has happened in the morning.

However, sleep associations usually become a problem for families when their little ones are waking after 30-45min during their naps or several times in the night, once sleep pressure is low and their bodies are recognising the same conditions they went to sleep in are no longer present, causing a full wake after a sleep cycle.

What Can I Do When it Becomes a Problem?

There are a couple of different options here. Essentially if your little one has a sleep association that is causing wakes, it means they haven’t learnt to settle or resettle themselves independently.

You may choose to teach your little one to self-settle cold turkey without any particular sleep prop or condition. To do this you would need to choose a settling method that you feel comfortable using and suits your little one.

You may choose to slowly wean your little one off their sleep association over time.

Or, you might choose to replace your little one’s current sleep association with something that suits you and your family better. For example, your little one may be getting too heavy to rock to sleep but you are happy to rub their back while they are in their cot. Or, your baby or toddler is having a hard time finding their dummy when it falls out so you choose to replace the dummy with a special cuddly.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that implementing any change for your little one is going to require consistency and time. That is why it is so important to do what works for YOU. There is no right or wrong way, only what is right for you, your little one, and your family.

If you need help trying to change your little one’s sleep association, click here to check out the sleep support packages I offer. Or, if you would like talk more about how I might be able to support you and your family you can book a free 15min chat here.
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