Self settling: the key to better sleep

Self settling is one of the most important keys in achieving healthy sleep, not only for your child, but for you as well.

The skill of self settling is a learned behaviour and once your child has learnt it they will fall asleep on their own un-assisted and without the use of any sleep props.

Sleep props

A sleep prop is something that your baby relies on to fall asleep e.g. nursing, rocking, pram, car, dummy, holding mummy’s hand.  If a baby or toddler has a sleep prop like this, they will look for and need this prop when they wake between sleep cycles overnight or during daytime naps.

This sleep prop will be needed to move from one sleep cycle to the next, and you will find yourself probably having to go back into the room to rock, nurse, plug in the dummy etc, to help your baby get back to sleep, showing your baby that they need the sleep prop to continue sleeping and will most likely cry until they get it.  This can be very tiring for baby and mum.

Look at it this way, if you were to fall asleep with your favourite pillow and blanket in your bed, but as you woke between sleep cycles you noticed that you were now on the floor without your pillow or blanket, you would wake and look for the same sleep environment that you need to fall back asleep. 

Once a baby has learnt the skill of self-settling they will wake during sleep cycles but because the conditions are exactly the same as when they went to sleep they will naturally be able to return back to sleep without your help.

So, as parents I believe we need to teach and help our children learn this skill.  We do of course have to take this process very slowly with newborns, however my suggestion is to try and start teaching this skill between 6-12 weeks of age, and attempt to make it the norm from about 12 weeks of age.

Tips to help your little one learn to self settle

  • Set the scene, by providing the optimal sleep environment with a dark room and some white noise.  It's also important your baby is on the right sleep schedule for their age.  A regular sleep routine will set your baby’s internal body clock, making sleep times predictable and making falling asleep - and staying asleep - much easier.
  • Follow the ‘drowsy but awake’ theory.  This means your baby should be going into their cot awake, so they are learning to fall asleep on their own.  You can rock or cuddle them to get them drowsy, but try putting them down before they fall asleep completely.
  • Make sure your baby isn’t overtired.  If your baby is very cranky, fussy, rubbing eyes etc before sleep time, they will have a much harder time falling asleep.  If this is the case, move nap time or bedtime earlier so you catch the ‘nap window’ making falling asleep on their own easier.
  • Experiment and be patient.  This is a learning process (just like crawling or walking), so give your baby time to develop this skill.  If your baby is under 3 months of age, you might attempt the ‘drowsy but awake’ technique once a day and slowly increase from there.
  • Don’t rush to your baby at the first sign of a cry.  Give your baby a few minutes and they may surprise you by figuring it out for themselves without you having to intervene.

Here at Sleep Works our personalised sleep plans are perfect for us to assist and give advice on how to teach your baby to self-settle and remove any sleep props.  Get in touch with us for a free 15-minute phone consultation to discuss your situation.  We’d love to hear from you.
Remember: You know your baby best so if there’s any doubt that your baby may be crying due to hunger, wind, sickness, a dirty nappy, or anything else out of the ordinary, then it’s important that we comfort and help baby with those issues first. 

Tamara Bruce