You might be familiar with the term ‘sleep associations’ but did you know that a child’s sleep associations can determine whether or not they will sleep through the night?

There are many factors that come in to play when it comes to a child being able to sleep through the night but this one is the biggest. There are both positive and negative sleep associations that can play a pivotal role in your child’s nocturnal behaviours.

A positive sleep association is something that your child associates with sleep. It helps them to settle to sleep and sleep for longer. It’s a prop that is sustainable over the long term.

A positive sleep association might be:
  • A comforter
  • A sleeping bag
  • White noise
  • Thumb sucking
  • A pacifier – if they are old enough to find and replace this and are not reliant on you for this
A negative sleep association is something that impacts your child’s sleep in a negative way. This is because of their inability to either manage it themselves, or find and replace it in between sleep cycles. It requires help from parents.
A negative sleep association may look like:
  • Feeding on breast or bottle
  • Hand holding
  • Patting
  • Rocking or holding to sleep
  • A pacifier – If they are under eight months they usually don’t have the ability to find and replace it by themselves
Generally speaking, if your little one is reliant on one of these props to fall asleep, they will most likely need it to stay asleep.

This means they will more often than not, wake up looking for this same thing, after a short nap or when they wake in the night. It often becomes unsustainable. This is probably why your child still isn’t sleeping through the night. You need to remember that there is no wrong or right and you need to do what works for you. If you are happy replacing the pacifier or offering a little pat or feed each time your baby wakes, there is nothing wrong with this. On the other hand, if you are tired of getting up multiple times a night and you want your little one to sleep through the night, a ‘sleep association audit’ can help.

The idea of a ‘sleep association audit’ is to take stock of what sleep associations your baby has. Then focus on the positive sleep associations and remove the negative.

This is typically hard for parents to do on their own because taking away a sleep prop means their child will cry in protest, as they get used to a new way of sleeping. The fact is, change is hard and no parent likes to hear their child cry. Parents understandably become stuck in a cycle of frequent night waking and exhaustion and sleeping through the night starts to seem like a dream more than a possibility. If this is you, I want you to remember that anything is possible. Your dreams can be your reality.

The reality is, all children can sleep well if given the opportunity and it’s up to you to make change, if change is what you seek.

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