Is it bad to rock your baby to sleep? | Sleep Associations
Is it bad to rock your baby to sleep?
Simply put – no.
Assisting your baby to sleep by rocking them is a very natural way to help your baby learn to transition from awake to drowsy to asleep.
We’ve all been there, it’s almost something we do on auto pilot when handed a baby.
Your baby was born with no idea how to get to sleep on their own.
If you find when you rock your baby, they quickly become sleepy or fall asleep…… you place them down, and they stay asleep for a complete nap, or for a decent length of time overnight, then you really have no problem on your hands at all.
I do find rocking can become a problem when we as parents are becoming physically exhausted with the process and length of time it takes to rock our little ones to sleep.
Or when they wake so frequently throughout the night, we are rocking them back to sleep every 2-4 hour’s. Creating fragmented sleep which is not restorative for anyone.
Let’s examine these 2 things some more.
- Fragmented night sleep due to rocking to sleep
- Delayed sleep onset due to rocking to sleep
Fragmented night sleep
Simply put this means that both you and your baby might be in bed for 8-12 hours overnight, but you are both waking up frequently and then having to get back to sleep from fully awake and alert.
This fragmented or broken night sleep is actually the number one contributing factor in sleep deprivation. Once sleep deprived, we as adults are cranky, our cognitive ability slips, our mood greatly drops, and as parents we lose patience and enjoyment.
When I see children with fragmented sleep they are often grumpy and irritable, they are not experiencing the incredibly restorative slow wave sleep they need. They’re missing out on time for memories to move into long term, their immune system to strengthen, and even time to grow. Sleep really is a wonderful thing!
The reason why fragmented sleep can be caused by rocking to sleep is a simple one.
If your baby continues to heavily rely on you to get them from awake to asleep, then they might wake from a sleep cycle overnight and because your rocking is the only way they know to get to sleep, they are looking for this to get back to sleep.
Instead of rousing from a sleep cycle, rolling over, and going back to sleep in a matter of minutes, they wake up. Become distressed as they are no longer in your arms, which is wear they fell asleep, and then the only way for them to communicate to you that they are tired and need assistance to go back to sleep, is to cry.
Cue you getting out of bed to rock them back to sleep.
This takes time, as the night goes on you might find it takes longer and longer, this is normal as sleep pressure drops off as the night goes on. But this means you are both missing more and more sleep as the night carries on, not to mention, you are both missing that really deep slow wave sleep which happens when we stay asleep for a decent length of time.
Day after day you are building a sleep deficit, you’re over tired.
Your baby is over tired, and neither of you are getting the biological sleep you need.
The solution IF this is your situation, is to create a disassociation between rocking and sleep. Use this as a calming tool, but try to get baby into bed awake, and let them understand this is where they need to fall asleep. Teach them to go through the stages of awake – drowsy – asleep without rocking. This can be done very gently (check out the gentle sleep guide HERE). Or quickly by working one on one with our sleep consultants.
Be aware of the sleep deficit created by the fragmented night sleep. Both of you will take a few weeks to start to really feel back to normal. Be kind to yourself.
Delayed onset of sleep
This means the time it takes for your child to fall asleep. If we see a delay in sleep onset, it can be because your child is not yet tired enough to fall asleep, or they are already over tired due to that sleep deficit, OR we as parents are over stimulating them in the way we are trying to get them to sleep.
Rocking your child to sleep once they are past the newborn stage can for some children be over stimulating. You will know this is the case for your child, as it will take a long time for your child to get to sleep.
This is true for any technique you use.
Unfortunately rocking to sleep is one of those approaches which often works better when an older baby is very over tired and susceptible to being assisted to sleep. This can lead to parents interpreting the delay in sleep onset as their child not needing as much sleep as normal, and thus waiting 3-4 hours between naps in the day, or restricting afternoon sleep to help with bed time.
So is rocking your baby to sleep harmful? Most definitely not!
Is it important to know your child, and know if rocking to sleep is working for them?
Yes! Do what works for you and your child!