Aware Parenting, Babies and Sleep

Written by Marion Rose PhD

What I love about Aware Parenting is that it has such a deep trust in babies and their own innate capacity to know what they need.

In our culture, we tend to think that babies don’t know how to feel relaxed enough to sleep, and that we need to do things to them to feel relaxed enough to sleep 

– things like jiggling, rocking, wearing down in a sling, bouncing, singing, shushing, patting, or putting them in a stroller/buggy or the car.

But how would it be if we turned that idea on its head?

How about if we trusted that babies have a natural, inbuilt mechanism to feel relaxed enough to sleep?

What about if we also saw that children and adults have that same natural healing mechanism?

And what would it be?

How about expressing the feelings of the day, so that we can release and let go of the experiences, so we can feel calm enough to sleep?

Let’s go back a couple of steps.

From an Aware Parenting perspective, babies need three things to be able to sleep;

They need to feel:

1. TIRED;
2. CONNECTED;
3. RELAXED.

Let’s look at each one of those in turn.

1. Tiredness

How do babies tell us when they are tired?

They yawn, they rub their eyes, and they seek closeness.

2. Connectedness

What happens if a baby doesn’t feel connected when he is tired?

From an Aware Parenting perspective, he will feel upset. And if he isn’t in loving arms, those sad feelings aren’t healing to express.

So he will often hold in those feelings of sadness, though things like: sucking on something, clutching on to something, tensing his muscles in certain ways, or getting into a particular position.

In all of these ways he can disconnect from his sad feelings and from his body, enough to fall asleep.

3. Relaxation

Here’s where we come back to the natural relaxation bit.

We think that we need to do something to our babies to help them feel relaxed enough to sleep. That’s when we do all those things to them.

But how about, if, instead of doing things to them, we trusted that they knew how to feel naturally relaxed, and all that we need to offer if our loving, aware, compassionate, calm presence

– to hold them in our arms, offer our loving eye contact, and listen to their feelings.

Might it make sense that they need to express the feelings of the day to us?

Might it make sense that they have real feelings, from things like their birth, being in the world rather than in the womb, the overwhelm of a shopping trip, the frustration of learning a new skill, the confusion of hearing the beeps and noises of everyday life?

Might it make sense that if they get to express those feelings to us, they can then return to their natural state of presence – calm, relaxed, at peace.

And that is what we see with Aware Parenting.

When babies get to regularly express the feelings of the day in loving, calm, compassionate arms, they feel more relaxed in their bodies.

Their muscles are more relaxed. They make more eye contact. They mould into our bodies when we hold them. They smile more. They sleep more peacefully.

What happens if we regularly do other things to try to help them relax – like jiggling, feeding, rocking, singing, and so on?

Those things might all feel lovely and pleasant, but the thing is, those uncomfortable feelings of the day don’t go away if they aren’t heard.

They accumulate.

They build up in a baby’s body.

And our babies get more tense and agitated – because stored up feelings feel uncomfortable.

So, we may notice that they start taking longer to get to sleep, and they start being more restless in their sleep, and they start waking up more frequently, even though physiologically their bodies are becoming capable of longer sleep.

This is simply because of the accumulated feelings.

It’s natural for our bodies to want to release the tension.

And it’s when we are tired that we are less able to repress feelings.

That’s another way that Aware Parenting looks at babies and sleep differently.

Tiredness feels a bit uncomfortable, but it’s not painful.

If a baby cries when he is tired, it’s not that tiredness is creating the feelings.

It’s simply that tiredness is helping the feelings that were there come out.

You probably notice that for yourself too. If you have feelings bubbling, it’s harder to go to sleep, you’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night, and you’re more likely to wake up early.

Our bodies are amazing things.

Our psyches are amazing things.

We are designed to heal.

Babies have real feelings, and the more we are able to hear the full range of their feelings, including their uncomfortable ones, the more they stay connected with their true selves.

The wonderful thing about all this is that we can listen to our baby expressing her feelings to us,

She learns that we want to hear all of her feelings, and keeps sharing them with us,

And she also feels relaxed in her body, which not only means that she is happier, calmer and more engaged during the day,

But that she can sleep peacefully with true relaxation of her body for her naps and at night time.

She can be securely attached AND we can all get lovely sleep!