As a sleep coach, I am honored to work with many different families and one thing that I’ve learned is that all babies are unique and reach milestones at their own time. When our baby reaches the next developmental milestone, it’s common to tell the grandparents, the aunts, the cousins, and the moms at the playground. It’s exciting to celebrate our child and their growth.
Have you heard Matthew McConaughey’s quote about newborns, “They eat, they crap, they sleep, and if they’re crying they need to do one of the three and they’re having trouble doing it. Real simple.”
It usually not that simple. Identifying the problem is far easier than solving it. And as the baby grows and reaches new developmental milestones such as rolling over, crawling, or teething, things get even more complicated.
Also, this may come as the least surprising scientific discovery imaginable, but developmental milestones are likely to cause disruptions in a baby’s sleep.
Scientific Research of Child Development and Sleep Patterns
A study published in Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, observed the sleep patterns before, during, and after a baby learns to crawl.
“Along with the overall improvement in sleep consolidation, periods of increased long wake episodes were also manifested; the rise in sleep disruption was temporally linked to crawling onset. The results of the study highlight the dynamic interrelations between domains of development, indicate that emerging motor skills may involve periods of disrupted sleep, and point to the moderating effect of age.”
In simpler words – Babies have more nighttime wake-ups at the onset of learning to crawl. The study used ankle motion sensors to record movement longer than 5 minutes to define wake-ups.
The study also points out that as other developmental milestones are reached, things tend to get worse before they get better, and when your baby starts learning to talk, you can expect some random blathering sessions in the middle of the night.
The Disruption of Teething
Sore gums and discomfort from teething is an obvious developmental milestone associated with sleep disruptions. I’ve written about teething and tips to help with sleep during teething here.
A study from the April 2000 issue of Pediatrics looked at symptoms that correlated to emerging teeth. It found that during the 4 days before a tooth emerged, the day it popped out, and for the three days following, there was a statistical increase in wakefulness and irritability.
As I wrote in my previous article, teething does affect sleep, but we often give it too much power and it’s still possible to have restful nights.
Language and Movement Development
The discomfort that comes along with teething explains why it would be disruptive to your child’s sleep, so why would language and movement skills be responsible for some more frequent nighttime wake-ups?
Much like the rest of us, babies get excited when they start to learn a new skill. To your baby, learning to roll over, learning to crawl, or learning to talk is thrilling and they’re going to practice it over and over…. in the morning, in the afternoon, and when they wake up in the middle of the night!
Developmental Milestones and Sleep Tips
Now we know a little bit of the research behind why our baby is waking-up more at this time, but that doesn’t help us in the middle of the night.
As parents, our go-to-move is to look for a solution. We want to get our baby’s sleep back on track, so we start adjusting the bedtime, rocking the baby back to sleep, and generally losing our previous consistency.
My number one tip – Remain Consistent with your Sleep Plan!
You might have to go in and soothe your baby a little bit more than usual or help them move back into a comfortable position after they’ve rolled to the edge of the crib. You’ll likely have some frustrating nights where your little one will drive you batty with their newfound babbling skills.
If you keep to your sleep plan instead of adopting a bunch of quick-fixes, you won’t run into the problem of creating dependencies. If you provided new sleep props, these will last long past the time baby’s figured out their new development skills.
Tip 2 – Don’t give in to the temptation
The temptation to rock or bounce them to sleep, don’t let them sleep in the swing, don’t take them for car rides, and above all, don’t nurse or feed them back to sleep.
You can definitely soothe your child. But do so, by offering them some comfort, tell them it’s still bedtime, help them get back into a comfortable position, but make sure to let them get back to sleep on their own. That way, once they’ve got these new developmental milestones mastered, they’ll still have the ability to self-soothe when they wake up at night.
It may be a challenge, but your baby is going to be learning new skills continually. So, stay consistent and you can expect even more of those glorious sleep-filled nights once the storm has passed.
Want to learn more about how a sleep coach can help your family sleep more peacefully? Or how to implement a sleep plan for your child? Schedule a free call.