Is your child waking often in the night or having consistently short naps throughout the day? One of the reasons why this may be occurring is due to the dependency they have on a sleep prop.
What is a sleep prop?
A "sleep prop" or sleep association is anything that a child depends on to fall asleep. Nursing, rocking, and the use of a pacifier are some of the most common sleep dependencies children have, but there are many others. The bottle, swinging, and motion naps in the car or stroller can all be considered a sleep prop, and it is common for a child to use more than one sleep prop to help them get to sleep.
The use of a sleep prop or sleep association is a very normal part of falling asleep. Even as adults, many of us need that “something” to help us fall asleep, such as our favorite pillow, blanket, or pajamas to name a few. It's when a sleep prop disrupts a child’s sleep that it becomes challenging or a problem that needs to be addressed.
Some children will use a sleep prop and sleep through the night just fine. In that case, I would tell you to continue with what you are doing. However, other children are more dependent on a sleep prop and require it throughout the night when transitioning in between the light and deeper stages of sleep.
Why does this happen?
We all cycle through various stages of sleep, but we wake briefly in between sleep cycles to check in with our surroundings. Now, as adults, we may not realize that we are waking in between sleep cycles, but for children who are dependent on something or someone to fall asleep, this process looks different. If your child wakes in between sleep cycles and their sleep prop is no longer available (the pacifier, the bottle, the breast, etc.), they will fully wake up and cry out for you. This is especially common with children who are unable to fall asleep on their own.
These are a few signs that show your child is dependent on a sleep prop to fall asleep:
- Fragmented night sleep
- Short naps throughout the day
- Fights or regresses sleep
- Intense crying until you offer them a sleep prop
Sleep props that can really benefit your child are a white noise machine (protects your child’s sleep), a dark and cool room for them to sleep in, a consistent and predictable routine before nap and bedtime, swaddle or sleep sack such as the Swaddle Sleeves, and perhaps a security object like a lovey if they are 12 months and older.
If your child is waking several times throughout the night and consistently taking short naps, the key to improving their sleep is to create independent sleep skills. This will help them become less dependent on the sleep props they are currently using to fall asleep.
You might think it is impossible for your child to fall asleep without a sleep prop, but it is definitely achievable. There are steps you can take that will help you gradually wean them off and encourage them to fall asleep independently. It is never too late to create good sleep habits for your little one. I am here to help if you are looking for support!
*This photo was taken for photography purposes and under active adult supervision. Please be sure to follow the ABCs of safe sleep with your own little one for sleep!
Anita Patel, Certified Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Founder of Hush Baby Hush, helps create healthy sleep habits for families all around the world with newborns, toddlers, and preschoolers. Anita provides personalized sleep consulting services for families who are seeking advice and support to overcome common sleep challenges.
You can find Anita providing expert sleep tips on our blog and answering your sleep questions on our Instagram the first Friday of every month!