Why can my baby only self settle some of the time?

baby waking in the night, baby self settling some of the time

Babies’ ability to self-settle can vary due to a combination of factors, including their developmental stage, sleep environment, and individual temperament. While some babies may effortlessly drift off to sleep on their own, others may require more assistance, especially during the night.

Sleep Pressure and Hormones

At bedtime, when melatonin levels are rising and sleep pressure (our drive to sleep that builds across the day), is peaking, babies often find it easier to self-settle. If you are trying a new way of settling your baby then bedtime is the best time to practice – they are much more likely to accept a new way of falling asleep here, than any other time!

However, as the night progresses, the dynamics change. Around 3 am onwards, babies have taken much of their NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep, and sleep pressure has reduced dramatically. Cortisol levels also begin to rise, signalling the approach of morning wakefulness (this is the hormone that helps us wake up in the morning!). 

During this phase, it becomes more challenging for babies to self-settle, leading to increased wakefulness and the need for you, as their parents, to help them get back to sleep. This doesn’t mean you can’t change things at this time, it just means you might have to have a bit more patience.

Settling for naps, but not at bedtime?

Some babies may successfully settle themselves to sleep for their daytime naps, but then struggle to do so at bedtime or during the night. 

It can be really puzzling to parents, and we are often doing detective work around differences in sleep environment, timing, and sleep cues.

Getting the balance of day and night sleep just right for your little ones needs can help with settling to sleep. Some tweaks to their naps and bedtime routines and timings can make a big difference.

Struggles with short naps or settling for naps?

For some families, day time naps seem to be feel like a real struggle – with babies who can’t ‘connect’ their sleep cycles.

Daytime naps often occur under different conditions than night time sleep, making it a separate learning process for babies.

Even if they ARE the same conditions, there is much less sleep pressure and little to no melatonin around either. Consider a) if they are waking because they are actually pretty well slept, b) is your timing right? c) are they looking for your help to get back to sleep?

Download Your Free Nap Transitions Guide

Learn the signs that your little one is ready to drop a nap and how to approach it.

Download Your Free Nap Transitions Guide

Learn the signs that your little one is ready to drop a nap and how to approach it.

Think of self settling like a ladder – your baby can self-settle for some of the time, but not all of the time – they have climbed halfway up, but we want them to get all the way to the top (eventually).  This takes time, patience, and consistency. It really isn’t a race.

It is often worth reflecting on how we are reacting as parents too. Are our boundaries different at 7pm to 3am? Are we responding differently? It is always okay to opt for the path of least resistance, but sometimes its not supporting our goals.

If you are struggling with self settling, naps, early waking or finding a routine that works for your little one, we can help! Check out our sleep courses and 1:1 sleep packages to see how we can help you get sleep on track.

 

Ready For Better Sleep?

Join 45,000+ parents who have helped their baby’s and toddler’s sleep better with our instant access sleep courses. Created by Infant Sleep Consultants so you can have more predictable naps, easier bedtimes and a more settled night’s sleep.

Ready For Better Sleep?

Join 45,000+ parents who have helped their baby’s and toddler’s sleep better with our instant access sleep courses. Created by Infant Sleep Consultants so you can have more predictable naps, easier bedtimes and a more settled night’s sleep.