Sleep patterns can and do change over time. As most parents will well be aware, infants sleep patterns can change dramatically over time. You may have the soundest sleeper in your mothers group and may feel smug for a few weeks and then all of a sudden, your baby decides it’s time to wake in the middle of the night and it’s party time! So I’m sure you’re probably wondering why this happens, or perhaps some of the mechanisms behind it.
It may be helpful to know a little more about a process children go through and develop called self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability of a person to regulate their state of arousal or alertness. Learning to self-soothe is a part of this process. Paediatric Occupational Therapists often provide interventions to assist older children who may not yet have developed self-regulation skills in order to assist them to develop more functional sleep-wake cycles, concentrate, regulate mood and emotions, and learn more effectively in class. “The process of self-regulation involves the capacity to modulate mood, self-calm, delay gratification, and tolerate transitions in activity” DeGangi (2000).
It is said that the first few years of life are the key times when an infant first learns this skill. It is one of the first jobs infants master which enables them to take an interest in the world around them. Initially, the young infant is completely dependent on their parent or caregiver to help them to learn when to feed, when to sleep and when to be alert. This largely develops through learning the routines and rhythms of the day. Over time, the infant starts to learn how to do this themselves so that they may start to regulate their attention and activity levels for playing and learning. Many babies will start to self-soothe by bringing a hand to their mouth to suck or gnaw on, rocking, touching hands together or touching feet, watching objects or people in their environment or listening to pleasurable sounds.
Sometimes, if the routine changes, this can really affect how well an infant is able to regulate the rhythms of sleeping, waking, feeding and being active during the day.
Remember every baby is an individual with their own nervous system and developing preferences. What works for one child may not necessarily work for another. Some of the activities mentioned above may be helpful, and it is worth trialling some activities to find what works best for your child.
By Emily Saunderson
Director/Occupational Therapist Kickstart Kids Therapy
DeGangi, G. (2000). Pediatric disorders of regulation in affect and behaviour: A therapist’s guide to assessment and treatment. San Diego: Academic Press