Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
145
Infants Awaken and Return to Sleep by Themselves
August 21, 2023

Found in age groups

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Introduction

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.

Blog 145Infants Awaken and Return to Sleep by Themselves

When children frequently awake during the night and return to sleep, either with or without their parent’s assistance, unhealthy night sleep fragmentation occurs. The opposite, lengthy bouts of unbroken night sleep or sleep consolidation, is discussed in Blog Posts 11 and 125. Videos show that all young infants normally awaken at night, and they are perfectly able to return to sleep by themselves. In other words, they are capable of self-soothing during the night and can return to sleep again, unassisted.

How can parents encourage this self-soothing behavior at night so their child has more consolidated sleep, and both parents can get more sleep?

A 2022 study had mothers, fathers, and infants wear sleep monitors for 1 week when the infants were 6, 15, and 24 weeks old. During the night, when the objective recordings showed that both the mother and father were asleep, sometimes, an infant would awaken and then return to sleep without any parental involvement (‘infant-only wake bouts’). More of this infant behavior, self-soothing back to sleep or ‘infant-only wake bouts’, was associated with 3 parenting practices:

  • 1. Not typically feeding infants to sleep during night wakings.
  • 2. Putting infants to bed while drowsy but still awake (at 24 weeks of age).
  • 3. Using low-stimulus rather than high-stimulus soothing strategies during night wakings.
    • A. Low-stimulus soothing strategies
      • Give pacifier
      • Wait to see if infant falls asleep alone.
      • Sing to infant
      • Rub/pat infant, but do not pick up
      • Let infant cry and fall asleep alone
      • Comfort infant verbally, but do not pick up
    • B. High-stimulus soothing strategies
      • Feed infant back to sleep
      • Hold/rock until infant falls asleep
      • Feed infant and put-down infant while still awake
      • Pick-up and put-down infant while still awake
      • Bring infant to bed
      • Play until infant is ready to fall back asleep
      • Watch television until infant falls asleep

How about the bedtime? Perhaps parents who practiced the 3 strategies above put their child to bed early? Blog Posts 7 and 123 review the importance of early bedtimes.

The authors did not discuss the bedtime in their paper, but I asked the lead author, Professor Elizabeth Adams, to reanalyze the data to see if the bedtime was a significant variable. Her response was, “When infants were 15 weeks old, earlier nighttime sleep onset was associated with greater infant-only wake bouts (indicative of more frequent self-soothing).” So early bedtimes are associated with the child’s unassisted return to sleep at night after a normal awakening!

Blog Posts 109, 129 and 130 describe 5 additional parent-related variables associated with better child’s sleep. However, in each paper, the power of an early bedtime was not mentioned in the paper but an early bedtime was only recognized as a significant variable after the data were reanalyzed.

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