What type of sleeper is your child?
It is no surprise that parents are tired. Whether you are in the thick of newborn exhaustion, parenting a toddler, or raising teenagers, I think we can all agree that more sleep is needed.
While there are likely many reasons why we are all so tired, trying to pin-point why and how to get your child to sleep more can be an exhausting undertaking. Many of us turn to the internet to try and solve our child’s sleep challenges and there is hardly a shortage of information out there. The problem is you may read an article that suggests one sleep method or theory and then the next tells you something completely opposite.
This is partly due to the fact that your child has her own set of unique sleeping patterns and the science of sleep is not one size fits all. In fact, it can be somewhat puzzling, even for sleep experts.
Thankfully though, there are a few ways that you can identify what type of sleeper you have on your hands, pointing you in right direction when it comes to managing her sleep habits.
While not necessarily based all on science, I have comprised a list of three different categories of sleepers that I have observed throughout the seven years I have been a practicing sleep coach.
The over sensitive sleeper
I have had many parents tell me they want their child to be able to sleep anywhere. In the car, on the go, at a party-they just want her to be able to go with the flow. Ironically these parents often end up with a baby who can only sleep in her crib at the exact same time every day. While this is typically something you are able to tell pretty early on, it is very possible you aren’t aware how sensitive your baby really is.
Common characteristics of the sensitive sleeper:
· Has difficulty sleeping anywhere but her own crib/bed
· Isn’t able to sleep well in areas with many distractions and loud noises (such as a car, event, airport, etc.)
· Appears to be very over-tired when missing a nap or bedtime (fussy, refuses to eat, rubs eyes, etc.)
· Is stimulated easily by noises, sounds, and new places
· Has a very difficult time going to sleep when over-tired and often will take a long time to fall asleep or will wake multiple times throughout naps/nighttime
· Sleeps very well in his own environment and has a happy demeanor when he’s gotten enough sleep
· Is often predictable with naps and bedtime if they stay consistent (e.g will sleep 2 hours for every morning nap, and 12 hours every night)
· Doesn’t respond well to rocking or being held in an attempt to soothe (arches back, continues to cry, doesn’t calm down)
Having this type of sleeper can be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, this type of baby will usually sleep long periods of time in the environment where he feels comfortable, but as soon as he misses a nap, forget it.
What to do:
· Stick to a consistent schedule as often as possible. Pay attention to awake times and try not to miss naps or bedtime unless absolutely necessary. This doesn’t mean you are home-bound all the time, but the reality of having this type of sleeper is your child is very sensitive to lack of sleep and you will all feel it when her sleep is compromised.
· Replicate your child’s environment during travel. Bringing white noise, lovey’s, and other objects that can help your child feel “at home” can be really helpful when there are any shifts in his environment. Your child will likely still have some trouble adjusting, but creating a space that feels like home should lessen the effects of the change.
· Plan activities around nap schedules and bedtime. Your life doesn’t have to revolve around your child’s sleep schedule, but when you have a very sensitive sleeper, you will likely choose this option to avoid meltdowns. There are plenty of ways to still participate in activities and fun events, but you just might have to leave a little earlier or plan for a babysitter if you know it will compromise your child’s sleep.
· Be prepared for some crying. This type of child often needs you to just get out of the way. If you have a sensitive sleeper, it will often take her a VERY long time to be consoled to go to sleep, especially when over-tired. I usually see that these babies will cry for 10-15 minutes (maybe longer if over-tired), but then usually fall right to sleep and stay asleep when left to work it out. What can happen is we get in the way of that process happening which can sometimes lead to a lot of tears. This doesn’t mean your baby should never be soothed by a care-giver, but 80% of the time your child will be overly-distracted by you being in the room and will have a harder time falling asleep if she is a sensitive sleeper.
The attached sleeper
All babies have some type of attachment to their parents but the “attached sleeper” has an extra need to be soothed and close to their caregivers.
Common characteristics of the attached sleeper:
· Typically needs to be soothed in order to fall asleep
· Will often fall asleep while laying on you, in a stroller, in the car, and on-the-go
· Has trouble self-soothing and often gets worked up when left alone (possibly cries for long periods of time when attempting to learn self-soothing)
· Can be a light sleeper, wakes up easily, especially on a transfer from arms to crib
· Seems more attached during the day (often is upset when you leave the room)
· Becomes attached easily to one or two soothing methods
· Will resist naps and bedtime, often without seeming cranky or over-stimulated
What to do:
· Offer soothing, but be mindful of the length of time it takes to soothe your child to sleep ( max of 40 min increments).
· Encourage independent time throughout the day (leave the room and always come back to get your child used to not being next to you at all times).
· Be careful of letting your child become over-stimulated by crying or attempting to self soothe. This type of sleeper will often NEED your intervention in order to fall asleep or go back to sleep.
· Rotate soothing methods. Try not to use just one or two methods (such as feeding or co-sleeping) in order to get your child to sleep
· Use white noise or motion in order to help your child fall asleep.
This type of sleeper will often cling onto a certain soothing method or routine and become upset when things change. It is important to teach your baby to sleep independently, since she is less likely to learn self-soothing on her own, but you want to make sure you aren’t creating habits that will stick around through toddlerhood.
The adaptable sleeper
The adaptable sleeper is the dream as a parent! Typically, this type of child loves sleep and will adapt to her environment in order to get the sleep she needs. The challenge is, this type of sleeper isn’t always predictable. Her patterns might change over time and she may have days that her sleep schedule throws you for a loop.
Common characteristics of the adaptable sleeper:
· Will usually fall asleep easily and in any environment (although likely prefers her own crib/room)
· Generally has a happy disposition
· Seems to love sleep and usually doesn’t have a difficult time falling asleep or staying asleep. If he does wake up in the middle of the night, he will typically go back down easily
· Isn’t as affected by missing naps or bedtime and will fall asleep on-the-go
· Might suddenly refuse naps or take shorter naps although mood doesn’t seem to change
· Typically falls asleep easily at night and sleeps long stretches
· May need some help soothing to sleep but generally won’t wake on transfer to crib
· Adjusts easily to travel and new environments
· Generally seems easy going and flexible
What to do:
· Even though your child may seem very adaptable, consistency is still important. Try and stick with a routine as often as possible
· Try to avoid too much activity and on-the-go naps. Although your child might not seem phased by it, sleeping in her own environment is still best for healthy sleep
· Understand your child might not need as much sleep as other babies. If she wakes up after 10 hours of sleep and seems fully rested, that is likely her unique sleep cycle. Still encourage a minimum of 1 hour naps and 10 hours of nighttime sleep, but don’t be surprised if she doesn’t go back to sleep if you attempt long sleep stretches
· Pay attention to awake windows to make sure she isn’t being stretched too long. Since your baby is likely in a good mood most of the time she may not show as obvious of sleepy signs
Of course not all children will fall into one of these three categories, but I have found that most children lean towards at least one. Just like children start to adopt specific communication styles our children also adopt sleeping styles. Understanding these styles will help you understand why she may not be responding to a certain method or environment and how you might be able to help her find her sweet spot.
It is so important for our children to get adequate sleep, especially in the crucial years of early development, and as parents we can help them do that!