Why is it that when we go on our long awaited holiday that we have difficulty getting a good night sleep? It all comes down to sleeping cues. We have a number of set cues in our environment that assist us to get to sleep. These are usually the right bed with normal sounds, smells, warmth, blankets, our favourite pillow and the right time of day. The more we change these cues the harder it is for us to fall asleep. Going on holiday certainly changes these cues; the bed is different not to mention the stiff sheets, the uncomfortable pillow, strange noises or it’s too hot or too cold.
Being able to fall asleep is a learned skill. In order to go to sleep we need to be tired and to have the right cues. Children are the same. Babies are the same. Sleep = Tiredness + Cues.
One of the most important skills you can teach your baby or child is how to go to sleep. These cues can be either parent dependent or parent independent. We have all heard of or know parents, and perhaps this is you, that hold their babies or breastfeed them until asleep, push the pram around the house, or lie in bed with their children until they fall asleep, sing songs, rock or even drive around in the car. These are all parent dependent cues.
These cues are taught and taken on board by the baby or child and become part of their sleep routine. We now have a problem. If your baby or child is using parent dependent cues, then as your child awakes during sleep cycles they will call out asking for you to provide the cues, which they have linked to falling asleep. Do you find that you have to get out of bed every couple of hours to pop in the dummy, cuddle, rock for a few minutes to get your child back to sleep? You know the broken sleep that results from this and it is not only you that suffer but the rest of the family as well. We all know too well the quality of sleep that we get from a broken sleep is vastly different to a full 8-hour sleep.
Parent independent cues also exist. These are a full stomach, a clean nappy, a baby being wrapped, changing into pajamas, blankets, their own cot or bed, their room, saying goodnight. All these cues are taken on board by the baby or child and become part of their sleep process. These have the advantage over parent dependent cues when during the night when your baby or child wakes from a sleep cycle they do a cue check, find that all is okay and then return to sleep. Most of the time you as a parent do not hear them wake. The advantage here is that you continue to be asleep, get a full nights sleep and as a result feel more energetic, patient and have more love to give the next day. The benefits flow onto your family as well as they all have a good night sleep too. We all have sleep cues, which we have learned and can change if we need to now to teach our children.