The Sleep Crutch

March 19, 2015

I understand.  It’s 3am and you are utterly exhausted.  You will do anything to get your little one back to bed, ensuring that no one else in the house wakes up and you can get back to your pillow.  Just a few more hours and you can start the day.  So in an effort to get those last few zzz’s you walk, rock, sing, nurse, (you can fill in the blank) your baby back to sleep.


So is this wrong?  The short answer is no – as long as you are ok doing it every time your child goes to sleep and every time they need to go back to sleep during the night.


This habit that has been created or the thing you have to do to get your child to sleep is what we call a sleep crutch.  A sleep crutch is not a negative or bad behaviour, but they become a problem, or a crutch, when they become so closely linked in your child’s mind with sleep that he can’t drift off without them.


So think of how your baby falls asleep at bedtime.  Do they fall asleep in your arms?  Do you have to walk, rock or swing?  Does your toddler need to twirl your hair?  Do you need to lay down beside them?  Do you need to drive around town until they fall asleep in the car?  Anything that has to happen to your child or for them in order for them to fall asleep is a negative association and one that will need to be broken if you want them to sleep through the night without your intervention.


This ultimately does not mean that you need to stop this behaviour entirely.  It isn’t realistic that parents stop feeding their babies before bed and many parents enjoy the bedtime cuddles as much as their child – just not at 3am!  So what do you do?  I suggest you move up that behaviour that ultimately puts them to sleep to an earlier spot in your bedtime routine.  Nurse your baby and then read a short story, sing a lullaby then place him in the crib drowsy but awake.


Drowsy but awake is key.  If you want your child to fall back asleep from a partial awakening during the night on their own, then they need to learn how to fall asleep on their own at bedtime.  The good news is that the easiest time to learn this skill is at bedtime.


Are you still unsure of how to break this association with your child?  Give me a call!  I offer free 15 minute consultations to everyone and the good news is that breaking the sleep crutch is usually not the hard part of the sleep puzzle!