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Hi! I’m Dana Obleman, creator of The Sleep Sense Program.
This week’s question comes from Heidi, who writes:
“I have to rock Dakota to sleep and she has a soother. If I put her to bed awake, she cries. She also wakes up every night about 3:00 a.m. What can I do?”
Okay Heidi, first of all I want you to have a look at on how you get yourself to sleep every night. Most people are very habitual about their nighttime environment. We do a little routine before bed as we get ready. The things we do once we climb into bed tend to be the same every night, whether it is that you are always on the same side or you’ve got your own pillow; perhaps you need to have a glass of water by your bed, keep the window open or use earplugs. Whatever the case may be, those are your strategies for sleep; those are things that help you make that transition from being awake to going to sleep.
For example, people do not tend to sleep well if they are in a hotel or staying at friends for the night. We do not like a lot of change; we do not like a lot of surprises with our sleep environment. What Dakota has done is created sleep strategies that involve you rocking her to sleep and involve sucking on a soother to sleep. I call those “externalized sleep strategies”, meaning that she relies on something external, whether it is the rocking or the soother or a bottle. It is all externalized and nothing is internalized, in the sense that she does not think that she has the power to get herself to sleep. She needs to rely on these other things. So where you need to start is to have Dakota figure out what her strategies are that are all her own, so that they do not rely on you or anything external. They are all her own.
Once she has figured out those strategies, she will become a great sleeper and those skills will grow with her as she turns into a toddler, turns into a school aged child. But we have to help her figure out what those skills are. So the hard part is getting her from the rocking to finding her own skills. The only way you can to do that through practice. That means doing a set routine every night so that you set the stage and you key her body that bedtime is coming. Maybe start with the bath, get her pajamas on, brush her teeth and have a feeding if that is part of the routine. Make sure she stays awake though all these steps because you do not want to cue her that it is actually time to sleep yet
That is what happens when she gets to the crib and you have got to put her into that crib awake. Yes, she is going to protest because you are making changes to her environment, just like you would feel some anxiety if I changed up how you got yourself to sleep. But until she practices enough so she learns the skills herself, she is going to put up a bit of a resistance to this.
Now, you do not have to leave. I always think, if I am teaching my sons new skills like swimming for example, I do not just throw them in the deep end and run for it. I get them lessons, I encourage them, I support them through the process but the skill of swimming is theirs to master.
I cannot do that part for them and so you have to keep that in the back of your mind as you start this process. I suggest you try the stay in the room method that is outlined in the program that allows you to be supportive and to be encouraging while still allowing you child to find her own skills. The nice part about staying in the room is that you get to see what those skills are. In a few nights, she could be hugging her teddy and going to sleep or twirling her hair to get herself to sleep or getting into a favorite position and drifting off to sleep. Those skills will emerge because she has had a chance to practice them and that will put an end to the rocking and it will also put an end to the 3:00 clock waking because if she has any wake ups in the night, it is not a problem. She knows how to get herself right back to sleep again and so she will do that; she will start handling these things on her own. My suggestion Heidi, would be to get started right away. Help Dakota find the skills she needs to become a great sleeper.
Thanks for your question & sleep well!