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Sleep Associations – How Do They Impact Sleep?

Updated: May 7, 2021

Sleep associations are what your little one associates with sleep; they help them to fall asleep and help them to transition to their next sleep cycle.

From 3-4 months old babies start to rouse & fully wake between sleep cycles and often need the same association they fell asleep with in order to go back to sleep between sleep cycles.

This is when some sleep associations can have a negative effect on your baby's sleep such as:

Assisting Your Baby to Sleep

Rocking, patting, bouncing and feeding your baby to sleep all work well for newborns until around 3 months old. However, from that age onwards these actions can start to become strong sleep associations and they rely heavily on these to fall asleep and go back to sleep each time they wake between sleep cycles, leading to a very exhausting cycle of rocking/patting/bouncing/feeding your baby to sleep and back to sleep!

Some babies can happily be assisted to sleep with these methods and it doesn't disrupt their sleep however more often than not this isn't the case. If you are finding these methods are no longer working for your baby and they are waking frequently overnight and catnapping during the day, I recommend gradually withdrawing from these methods and work on helping your baby to go to sleep independently (self -settling).


Now these can be a negative sleep association if you are having to get up frequently during the night to do the dummy run! Often a dummy will fall out of your baby's mouth really easily and it needs to be replaced for them every time they wake. This can be really exhausting to keep replacing it for them!

So I recommend if your baby is 6 months or younger ditching the dummy. You may have a few difficult nights but when it's gone, it's gone! If your baby is 7 months or older they will be able to develop the co-ordination to find and replace it themselves. Click here to read my blog on How to Teach Your Baby To Sleep With A Dummy


Co-sleeping is linked to an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Parents co sleep for many reasons often out of pure exhaustion and not being able to get your baby to sleep any other way.

Putting your baby down to sleep in their own sleep space is giving them the safest sleep environment possible. If you enjoy having your baby close to you, you can always put their cot next to your bed so they are within arms reach.

Positive Sleep Associations

As the name suggests these help your baby to sleep better:

A Comforter

Aim to give your baby a comforter from 6 months old to sleep with. They will soon learn to associate it with sleep and it will give them comfort. They are especially useful to help with self - settling and during the night when they are transitioning sleep cycles, they have their comforter there to comfort them back to sleep. They also help combat separation anxiety, acting as a replacement for mummy and daddy when they go to bed at night.

Sleeping Bag

Sleeping bags become a great sleep association, with your baby starting to relax and wind down as soon as they see the sleep bag coming, because they associate it with sleep and rest.

White Noise

White noise is a fantastic tool for calming your baby, helping them to settle to sleep and sleep well throughout the night. Studies have shown white noise isn't an addictive association so you can stop using it with your baby at any time without any disruption.

Pre-Sleep Ritual/Wind down routine

Having one of these in place before every nap and at bedtime can really help your baby to know that it's soon time to go to sleep and to help them get ready for sleep.

During the day this only needs to be as long as 10 mins so taking your baby to their room for their nap with the lights dimmed, check/change their nappy and give them some cuddles.

At bedtime, aim for a routine of around 20-30 mins long, read some stories, a good bedtime milk feed or bottle depending on their age, lots of cuddles and put your baby down in their cot awake but ready for sleep.

If you are struggling with your baby or toddler waking multiple times at night they may have a negative association which needs changing. This is something I can help you with and have had a lot of success with families!

Book a FREE 15 mins discovery call to find out why your little one is sleeping this way (or not sleeping!) and how I can help you all get more sleep!

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