Is there a science behind good sleep?

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by AimzW1805 on Wed Oct 16, 2019 8:59 pm

Is there a science behind good sleep?

My son is 16 months old and still breastfeeds to sleep, unless someone else has him and I go out (which is rare), in which case, he’ll be rocked or cuddled to sleep, there’s no way he’d settle like that for me! He currently sleeps in his cot in my room (because I don’t see the point in moving him into his own room for me to spend half of the night in there!). We have a calm and consistent bedtime routine that we follow but he will still wake every 2-3 hours per night - always half asleep and crying with the only way to settle him back to sleep being a breastfeed. I’m a single Mum so going through this on my own with the exception of the nights when my parents will offer to have him for a few hours. I’m shattered and I’m desperate for some there a science behind getting children to sleep? Is it just pot luck as to whether you get a “good sleeper” or not? I’ve read the gentle sleep book by Sarah Ockwell Smith and whilst I’m not ever going to use cry it out methods with him, Sarah’s book just seems to advocate following his lead, which at the moment is to be awake A LOT.



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Dr Anna Weighall
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by Dr Anna Weighall on Thu Oct 17, 2019 4:31 pm

Re: Is there a science behind good sleep?

Hi Amy

That sounds exhausting! Whilst we all expect some sleepless nights with very young babies, by 16 months you could reasonably expect to be getting a full night's sleep. Adults and children can vary enormously in terms of how much sleep we need, and individual differences are normal. There is a lot that science can tell us about sleep, how it works and even how to improve it. However, I am not aware of anything which suggests clearly why some babies sleep easily and others less so. I don't think breastfeeding or being in the same room should cause too much of a problem per se, although if you are in the same room if is possible that your baby is aware of your presence and the fact you are nearby means you will be very responsive so waking and demanding that you feed her to sleep is very easy and rewarding for her. Also, it is quite common for breastfed babies to fall asleep on the breast, as babies grow older associating the breast with sleep and that can lead to a vicious cycle where they can only get to sleep with a feed, and are unable to fall asleep easily without it. The fact that your baby can drop off sleep when you are not there is good - it means that he CAN do it.
There is a lot you could try that I think would help, but it will take a little while and baby steps. It is great to hear that you have a good bedtime routine, keeping that up is really important so definitely keep going with that.
It sounds like you need to try and make sure breastfeeding is more about nourishment and less about pacifying. At nap times and bedtime, try to put your baby down slightly awake so that he or she will get used to falling asleep without having to nurse. You could consider trying a dummy – perhaps just at nap time/in bed, but of course this is personal choice and he may not accept it given he is used to you! But if your little one doesn't want a pacifier, don't push it.
You will eventually want to tackle the wakings in the night, but you might find they reduce anyway once you get him to be able to sleep without you.
Whatever you try in terms of strategies stick at it for 2 weeks, sometimes it may seem that it is getting worse before it gets better but often we do have the right strategy we just haven't carried it through for long enough.
Feel free to respond or if you would like more information you can download or order a copy of our Goodnight Guide for Children
I hope this helps!
Dr Anna Weighall
Reader in Education, Director of MSc Psychology and Education - DPhil Psychology, University of York; BSc (Hons) Psychology, University of York ... ighall.php

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