by Alissa Pemberton BSc (Midwifery),
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) & Holistic Sleep Coach
Every new skill your baby learns, whether it be rolling, crawling, walking or language development can have a huge impact on their sleep. When they've just developed the ability to do something new they often struggle to stop doing it - even when they're asleep! How will this impact my child's sleep?
Developmental milestones will usually impact sleep in two ways.
Your baby/child will struggle to fall asleep
Imagine you've got a stressful day tomorrow. Whether it be work, family, a flight to catch or a deadline. We've all been there. You lie down in bed, knowing you really need a good sleep, and your brain is buzzing! This feeling of being unable to switch off is what your baby/child feels around these times of big developmental leaps.
Their brains are busy creating new neural pathways. The connections between the cells of their brain which occur when we learn a new skill. All of this makes it much harder for them to shut off and sleep.
Your baby/child will struggle to go back to sleep after a night waking
When your baby/child learns a new skill, all their body desperately wants to do is practice it - even in the middle of the night! Particularly with physical milestones like crawling or walking, it's not uncommon to find your child wakes in the night and then spends an hour or two wide awake wanting to play and practice this new skill.
How long does it last?
Thankfully, these changes to sleep often only last a week or so, around when your child is about to, and has just mastered a new skill. It can, however, derail a previously good sleep routine if you don't address it early.
What can I do?
These developmental milestones aren't within our control. They're going to happen eventually, and they will probably disrupt sleep. How we as parents deal with it though can make all the difference between it being a few nights of disrupted sleep vs. derailing your child's sleep in the long term.
Physical milestones like rolling, crawling and walking
The easiest way to get your little ones to stop wanting to practice these skills in the night, is to help them practice more in the day.
Give them LOTS of opportunity to practice and expand on these new skills.
Here's some ideas: - Get down on the floor with them and crawl. - Have running races. - Create an obstacle course (even indoors!). Take cushions off the sofa, incorporate a Pikler triangle or small step and plan a route around the living room. For crawling babies making cushion obstacle courses on the floor is great for helping them practice crawling over or around obstacles. - have 'big body play time' after dinner. Set aside a 10-15 minute period each evening after dinner for big body play time. If the weather is suitable head outdoors into daylight. Research has shown that not having enough exposure to broad spectrum daylight negatively impacts sleep. Run, crawl, jump. Give piggy backs. Rough housing. Tickle fights. Anything goes. Lots of physical touch and interaction to get the last of their energy out before bath and bedtime.
Separation Anxiety Whilst this might not be considered a big developmental leap, the appearance of separation anxiety will undoubtably impact on your child's sleep. Often appearing between 8-12 months, this occurs when your baby begins to develop a concept called object permanence. If young babies can't feel or see something, they think it no longer exists. This is why peek-a-boo is so fun for them - they literally think you have disappeared and magically come back again! Around the age of 8 months babies hit a developmental shift allowing them to understand that they and their mother are two separate beings (yep prior to this they think you're one and the same!). Whilst this is really exciting for them when they realise they can crawl, roll or bum shuffle away to do something on their own, they then hit a stage of fear when they realise you can leave too, and before they fully understand object permanence - they think you're gone for good! Once they have a full understanding of this, the separation anxiety will ease. But before this full develops your little one may get very upset at you being out of their sight for even a short period of time. When tackling separation anxiety: - never sneak out of the room/house. Always tell them you're going and say goodbye or 'be right back'. - play lots of games like peek a boo. - try hiding toys under a blanket/scarf for your baby to find. - practice popping out of the room and then returning almost immediately. Doing this multiple times a day will make a huge difference with separation anxiety. This is a completely normal phase, and most babies will begin to transition out of this after 12 months, but it's likely that your baby may not want to be left alone to fall asleep and may need more company/reassurance to settle again during night wakings. Try using the pop out technique above in their bedroom as well, to get them comfortable in their sleep space. Cognitive leaps/language development
Yep even something like taking a big step forward in language development can cause your kiddos to struggle getting to, or staying asleep. Extra wind down time will be key here. Get the big, stimulating things like bath time out of the way earlier in the bedtime routine and allow an extra 15-20 minutes of quiet play time to wind down before starting the bedtime routine. Reading, talking about your favourite parts of the day, quiet play like drawing or building with Duplo blocks or magnetic tiles is a great way to help them wind down. If you're struggling with your child's sleep, you can have 1-2-1 support from our Holistic Sleep Coach, Alissa Pemberton. Click here to book a no obligation phone call