Thanks to the number of questions I received from my Facebook page a couple of weeks ago, I am now writing on how you can help your baby back to sleep when he or she starts crying or playing for hours in the night refusing to fall asleep.
First, I would like to share with you a theory in Aware Parenting what babies and children need in order to relax and fall asleep easily, AND stay asleep for as long as they need to.
According to my Aware Parenting mentor Marion Rose, these key ingredients are what babies and children need to sleep.
Let’s talk about tiredness and how to read your baby’s cues of tiredness.
The obvious ones are yawning, rubbing their eyes, scratching their head, their eyes looking a bit red, spacing out, being clumsy and less coordinated.
However, in Aware Parenting perspective, whining, being cranky and crying are not cues for tiredness. Instead, these behaviors are considered as our natural mechanism to release stress, tension, fear and trauma from our bodies.
These mechanisms include crying, laughing, yawning, sweating, playing, shaking, talking and raging.
Take a moment to reflect or observe your baby when he is about to be put to bed.
Does he begin to cry?
Does he take forever to talk to then be ready to sleep?
Does he appear ‘hyper’ and wanting to play?
Does he seem to find things very funny and laughs easily?
Does he seem like he is fighting sleep?
If you say yes to one or all of the above, this is your baby’s own natural mechanism coming into play.
But we so often and without realizing it, try to stop or distract our babies from crying, from playing because we are conditioned to think that playing or laughing before sleeping would cause our baby being too worked up to sleep and could have nightmares, and would shhh our toddler who is babbling and talking non-stop when the lights are out.
Now let’s talk about connection and release.
Our bodies are designed to get rid of or release things that are not beneficial for our bodies like peeing and pooing. It’s the same for our bodies to release uncomfortable feelings through these natural mechanisms.
While release is one way for the body to relax for sleep, in Aware Parenting, connection we offer to our baby is key. For our baby to release effectively, he needs particular kinds of connection.
Sleep is a form of “letting go” or separating from state of consciousness. So the more connection is received before sleep, the more separation and letting go can happen quickly and easily.
Marion offered her input that there are three kinds of connection and they are all important.
Everyday connection – which comes from doing things together with our babies on a daily routine such as bathing, feeding, changing, reading a book, going out and so on.
Presence connection – which comes from your presence and loving being, usually with face to face, eye contact and physical closeness.
High-energy connection – which comes often with physical play, has eye contact and very focused on each other.
When we provide presence connection or high-energy connection, that’s usually when release occurs.
If you don’t feel connected with your baby or child before sleep, it is likely that she is disconnected from herself. When our baby feels deeply connected with herself, she is in tuned with what she really feels and then she will show it to us.
I like this example – imagine yourself getting really upset and have been trying to stop yourself from crying. Then someone close to you comes up and puts their arm around your shoulder and asks if you are alright. Can you imagine how easily you can burst into tears then?
Our babies and children are just the same. Our presence helps them connect with themselves.
Now let’s talk about relaxation.
I’d like to invite you to think about what keeps you from falling asleep easily.
Is it feelings from stress? Being worried about something?
I do this exercise with my workshop participants and most of the answers are pretty much the same.
Feelings of fear, stress, worry and anxiety sitting below the surface make it hard for us to sleep.
How do we help our babies relax?
One way is to help them relax by postponing the natural mechanism from happening. This could mean rocking, feeding, singing, walking and patting. These methods are very relaxing for us and for us to do for our baby.
However, by doing so, they create dissociation which means our baby feels disconnected from her body so that she feels relaxed enough to sleep. It’s like bypassing the natural mechanism of the body to do what it is supposed to do in order to relax.
And because we come to a brief awakening from one sleep cycle to the next, our baby’s feelings come up again and that is when we find our baby crying, wake up fully and wanting to play. The natural mechanism is kicking in again during those brief awakenings in between sleep cycles.
So we end up rocking, feeding, singing, walking many many times in the night.
The other way is to allow this natural mechanism to take place and trust that our baby has this innate ability to help themselves become relaxed.
We offer presence connection when they get agitated and cry, so that they feel safe to release uncomfortable or big feelings.
It might mean that when our baby starts to cry before bedtime, that instead of stopping the crying, we offer her our presence and really listen to those feelings that she needs to release. We hold her in our arms or with physical closeness like holding her hand, or lying down while facing her and let the release happen.
According to the book Tears & Tantrums by Aletha Solters, crying and raging are important stress-release mechanisms that are available from birth on. For example, if a child’s favourite doll breaks, she will spontaneously cry. This crying is an important and healthy release that has beneficial physiological and psychological effects.
Or we offer high-energy connection when they get hyper or seem to be fighting sleep. This might mean that if our toddler wants to play chase or climb all over us before bed, that we meet him at his need for connection so that he feels very connected to us and release feelings through laughter.
According to the book Attachment Play by Aletha Solters, laughter reduces tension, anxiety, fear and anger.
Does this information help you reframe and understand things in a different light?
We are conditioned that if our baby laughs or cries before sleep, that they would end up having nightmares. So we have been fighting this natural mechanism that are designed to help our babies be more relaxed to sleep. This is why it is so hard on us as parents. We have tried everything we can think of – calm activities like a bath and reading a book, cool environment, dark room, baby is fully fed – and yet, our baby is still not sleeping peacefully.
So essentially, babies and children really do want to sleep, and they can sleep as much as they need to until another need arises. They simply want help and support from us with their inborn mechanism to create relaxation through release – either by laughter or crying.
How do you feel after reading this? Does it make sense? Have you noticed these releases in your baby when it is nap time or bedtime?