One of the most fascinating things about sleep is that feeling safe is a precondition. When we are in foreign spaces, only about ½ of our brain is asleep at any time. The other half is on guard.
This is our threat detection system at work. In order to go to sleep, we, as with many species, need to feel safe and secure. We create a mental list of ‘associations to sleep’ that indicate to us that we are safe in a particular space. If these are constantly reinforced, they soon turn into habits.
When does a sleep association become a habit?
Unfortunately, many parents unwittingly reinforce associations for their children that have profound long term consequences. Children are unintentionally taught to associate sleep with eating, sleep with being rocked or held by a caregiver, or sleep with a particular person or place. These associations result in children depending on their parents physical soothing or feeding for sleep, rather than learning how to self-regulate. This is one of the root causes of babies’ and children’s’ sleep issues and the main reason parents get ‘trapped in the room’.
Let’s expand on the feed to sleep association. Many parents believe that they need to feed their children immediately before going to bed or immediately after their child wakes up in the morning. However, this creates an association between food, sleep and how safe a child is. So, when a child is not fed right before bed, or not fed as soon as they wake up, uncertainty sets in, resulting in anxious cries.
These associations can also turn into lifetime habits if left unchecked: if parents are teaching their children that food equals safety, it’s little wonder that ‘comfort eating’ is such a widespread problem in our society.
How to build strong positive sleep associations
No parents want to create unhealthy or unsustainable habits in their children. However, without the correct guidance or knowledge, sometimes doing what we think is best for our children is counterproductive to their long term wellbeing. This is not to say that attachment parenting strategies like feeding to sleep, contact napping, and co-sleeping are harmful in and of themselves, but more so that, at some point, it is crucial to additionally teach your child healthy life long sleep habits that can complement the parts parents love and afford them a healthy break from the round-the-clock obligation that parenting brings.
Miss Megan, Head of Product at Batelle Remote Sleep School has dedicated her entire life to educating parents and caregivers on how to be a sleep expert for their own child. “It is not necessary to keep to a strict regime or to remove all impediments to sleep,” she says. “The key is actually to build strong positive sleep associations for your child, that are easily portable, and give them the tools to become resilient and flexible sleepers. If you want your child to be like this, then it’s important to keep sleep times fluid and vary your child’s sleeping location when it makes sense to do so”.
A core part of her process is guiding parents and caregivers on making this possible. She teaches parents how sleep blocks can be flexible if and when needed. This gives parents the much-needed freedom to allow for either more or less sleep and accounts for sleep disruptions without falling off the bandwagon. Her sage advice is like a breath of fresh air for parents who want to take the stress off the unrealistic expectations around their babies’ and children’s’ sleep while maintaining a sense of predictability.
Batelle Remote Sleep School
Miss Megan puts this wisdom into practice with Batelle, a remote Sleep School that teaches parents and caregivers how to put their babies and children to bed in under 5 minutes, within a week. The beauty of this program is, it simplifies sleep (for both parents and children) to such an extent, that it becomes as easy and pleasant as putting a kid down to play: children learn to love their sleeping environments in this same way. And once parents have taught a child to trust and love sleep, sleep becomes predictable, flexible and easy.
What is a good bedtime routine?
Batelle also debunks the myth that bedtime routines need to be long and drawn out. This is not to say parents can’t read, sing bedtime songs, or maintain evening rituals that become known as a “bedtime routine” if they choose: but the crucial part is that a lengthy bedtime routine is unnecessary to actually helping a child get to sleep. It’s the minutes before a child goes to sleep, and more importantly the way that parents interact with the transition of tucking them in and phasing out of the room that counts the most.
A web-based Sleep School
Batelle offers a web-based Sleep School for parents with children aged 4 months to 4 years old. This program provides parents and their caregivers with the support and tools they need to proactively instill these good sleep habits or solve any issues relating to sleep. This works equally well for nap and night-time.
Now, this all sounds wonderful, but is it just too good to be true? According to Batelle’s past families and their guarantee, the answer is a resounding “no”. From “we’ll forever be indebted to her”, to “worth every penny”, the feedback is exclusively 5 stars. Batelle is so confident in the success that they guarantee the results: within a week, your child will be settled to bed in under five minutes.
Moving away from the ‘cry-it-out’ technique
At the heart of this 7-day sleep program, is a focus on the child’s wellbeing. Miss Megan, is a firm believer that “cry-it-out” techniques are incredibly detrimental to children and can harm the parent/child bond. She has developed a method that reframes (and where needed, repairs) a child’s relationship with sleep and with their caregiver. For parents who simply want their child to have the best sleep practices possible, it’s a way to proactively optimize for both sleep and safety, while creating a flexible lifestyle that doesn’t leave your child dependent on you as their only way to sleep.
“Sleep is the most vulnerable time for a child,” says Miss Megan, “the single most important thing we can do is to teach our children to trust and love their sleep space. This enables families to achieve the sleep (and the corresponding benefits to their family life) that they deserve.”
For more information on Batelle
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