Sleep setbacks: What you need to know

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Solving your child’s sleep issues is an on-going process during the early years.  Very often, when things start to go well, and you are just beginning to enjoy improvements in your child’s sleep, suddenly, you’re going backwards! What’s happening with these sleep setbacks?

Oh, the amazing twists and turns of parenthood! Children grow and change from day to day; they can be unpredictable, illogical and downright baffling at times. On any given day, just when you feel you’ve figured it all out, your child changes on you, sending you back to square one. 

The journey from hourly wake-ups at in infancy to every-night sleep is almost never a straight path. It’s more like a dance: two steps forward, one step back, and even a few side steps in between.

Children’s needs change as they grow, and this can affect sleep, as well. During growth spurts, for example, a child can need more sleep, but find sleeping to be difficult.

Outside factors and life’s challenges can also disrupt your efforts, and regular bedtime routines can be interrupted. Illness, vacations, visitors, the birth of a sibling, and teething are just a few examples. When these things happen, and your child responds with difficulty falling asleep, or night wakings, you may find yourself giving up in the middle of the night and then berating yourself in the morning for abandoning your plan — an exercise in frustration that just adds tension and stress which further prevent your success. But, keep in mind that setbacks happen, and they happen to everyone.

Figure out what’s causing sleep setbacks so you can make a plan

When sleep setbacks occur, it can be helpful to try to identify the reasons, if you can. Check your child’s gums for telltale signs of teething, examine leaps in milestones, review the changes that have occurred in your household, try to pinpoint what’s happening.

If you’re able to identify the issues, take steps to handle those things first, and create a plan to get sleep back on track.

Sometimes you’ll just be left scratching your head, unable to discern exactly what’s up. If that’s the case, simply start from the beginning and organize a sleep plan incorporating any of the solutions that have brought you success in the past or try something new that you may have missed before.

Is it your commitment that has had a setback?

Sometimes, you just won’t have the time, ability or heart to organize and follow any kind of sleep plan, and you are treating naps and bedtime haphazardly. You may realize that the reason that things were going so well before is that you were consistent and focused on improving sleep, and now you’ve become lax with the bedtime routine, daily naps, or other details, and that’s affecting your child’s sleep. A re-commitment to your plan is what you’ll need to get back on track.

Is it really a sleep setback?

Sometimes setbacks aren’t really sleep setbacks at all!!! Sometimes the only thing that needs adjustment is your expectation.

Are you being realistic about what you are expecting from your child? Have you been comparing your child’s sleep patterns to another child who happens to be a fabulous sleeper? Are some things seeming to go backwards but other aspects of sleep are jumping forward – that often happens in pairs.

Every human being is different, children all sleep differently, and patience is a parental requirement.

Are you experiencing with a new problem?

Maybe what you’re dealing with is not a setback at all, but a brand new problem. For example, both good sleepers and night wakers can be adversely affected by bouts of illness or teething, vacations, or schedule upsets. Perhaps your child’s biology is dictating a switch from two daily naps to one nap. Or perhaps he’s ready to give up naps entirely. So, while it may seem like a step backward, it’s just one of those side-steps that happen during your dance toward all-night sleep.

Is focusing on sleep setbacks or other sleep problems preventing daily joy?

At times your child may be having wonderful successes and leaps in development, in other parts of his life. However, you’ve become so focused on sleep issues that you’re not open to enjoying the other daily triumphs that your child is demonstrating.  Stop for a minute and smell the roses. If you’ve been too stressed about the sleep issues in your home, you may even want to back off your plan for a day or two, or even a month or more, and catch your breath. Enjoy a stress-free bedtime for a while, then go back to working towards your sleep goals.

This post was originally shared on the author’s blog.

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