There is one underlying force at work on your baby’s sleep that you may not have considered yet. That is your own mindset about sleep. Having consistent routines with predictable steps is great. When your child is still resistant to get ready for sleep, or to separate from you at sleep times, your own mood and energy is playing a role. Here are some ways to stay calm when your baby won’t sleep.
According to the Pediatric Sleep Council, “Emotional distress (such as anxiety, stress, and depression) in moms is significantly associated with disrupted sleep in infants.” It would be safe to assume the same results would be found in dads and other caregivers.
Before you became a parent or caregiver of a little person, your sleep was more automatic. You probably didn’t focus on the mechanics of sleep too much. You felt tired and you slept, period. There was no need to know much more than that.
Sleeping as a family works much differently. Schedule, environment, and safety naturally move to the top of your priority list. You now need to understand what is happening in your baby’s brain while they sleep. How can you help them sleep longer?
Your Feelings Matter
Ask yourself: how does putting my baby to sleep make me feel when I think about it? Is that a positive, or negative feeling? Take an inventory of which emotions come up for you when bedtime or naptime is approaching.
You might be feeling fearful about leaving your baby to sleep on their own, or doubtful that they will sleep for very long. You may even feel mad at yourself or someone else because you haven’t figured out this sleep-with-a-baby-thing yet. All these feelings are valid, and it wouldn’t be uncommon to feel them all at the same time. Your energy is your baby’s energy. Find ways to balance out your physical, emotional, and mental state to stay calm when your baby won’t sleep.
Shift Your Beliefs to Stay Calm
If you or your child are not feeling well rested after sleep, it is okay be honest about it. It’s okay if you are feeling doubt about your baby’s ability to be a “good sleeper”. Allowing yourself to feel your feelings with no shame is the first step to shifting your mood and energy. Faking it will not work. Find tools that work for you to feel genuinely calm for better sleep, faster.
Own your current situation and then forgive yourself. Some experts call this practicing self-compassion. Let the past go. It is okay if your child nursed to sleep. It is okay if you didn’t use a consistent bedtime. Your intentions were in the right place. You ARE a good parent or caregiver, and your child IS a good sleeper. These are the beliefs that will enable you to master healthy sleep habits for you and your baby.
Giving yourself a truly clean slate and let the past go. This will allow you to implement the healthy sleep habits you want with confidence. Your confidence will create the conducive learning environment your child needs to be the best sleeper they can be.
Be Intentional with Your Response
Child sleep is challenging! When your baby wakes up crying after a short nap, pause for a few minutes before you respond. Slow down and take a few minutes to examine your own thoughts and mindset before taking any action.
Your baby’s cries activate the fight or flight stress response in your brain and body. Unless they are ill or injured, a response fueled by stress is not what you or your baby needs. They need to be shown that they are safe in their bed. Show them that they have the capability to fall back to sleep on their own by waiting a few extra minutes before offering them assistance. When your baby won’t sleep, keep your mood and energy at the forefront of your mind. This will help you to stop blindly following your stress responses around your baby’s sleep. With practice, you will become more intentional in the way you respond to your baby’s crying. You will teach them to feel more secure about sleeping on their own.
You will be surprised to see how raising your awareness of your own mood and energy will dramatically shift the way you approach sleep in your home. Put the tools described here into practice and you will make major improvements in sleep for your family.