How Listening To Feelings Improves Sleep

Closeup of a baby girl sleeping in her mother's arms
Closeup of a baby girl sleeping in her mother’s arms

Yesterday I took part in my first ever twitter chat, talking about one of my favourite subjects; the emotional reasons for sleep challenges. I got interviewed for @SnoozeShade weekly #SnoozeChat.

It was really fun, and I loved the thoughtful questions that my interviewer, @JennyHicken asked me, as they were really a wonderful opportunity to share everything I learnt through Hand in Hand parenting.

And as Tweets are so brief, I decided I’d write a blog post here to expand on what we chatted about. You can check out the full twitter chat here.

So, one of the reasons I love chatting about sleep, is that the Hand in Hand parenting philosophy takes a really different approach – one that actually works! It’s because with Hand in Hand we look a bit deeper into what might be causing your child’s sleep problems.

So rather than focus solely on having a regular routine, we focus on the major reason babies and children have trouble falling asleep, wake early, or wake in the night – stress and emotional causes.

When I talk about stress, and children, parents often laugh at me. What could possible be making their child stressed? They don’t have jobs, they might not even go to preschool!

Well, stress can actually start in pregnancy. In the beginning our baby’s emotional life is intertwined with ours. If we experience stress, or emotional turmoil during pregnancy, that effects our baby too. Birth can also be a cause of stress for our baby, especially if it was a long or difficult process.

Our culture has a long history of not thinking too much about the emotional lives of babies. Because babies cry to communicate needs, we often think of our baby only in terms of needs, rather than emotions. For instance, they must be hungry, tired, cold etc. Especially as new parents, we’re so busy figuring out how to do our job, and meet our baby’s needs that it often doesn’t cross our minds that they can also cry for emotional reasons.

There will be times when our baby’s cry and they don’t have a need, and we can help them by simply holding them in our arms and being there. Hand in Hand parenting calls this Staylistening, it’s based on the research that crying is a healing process, and that when we cry, we actually release the stress hormone, cortisol from our body.  Allowing babies and children to process their emotions, and not trying to stop this healing process, is part of how they can naturally regulate their sleep.

With older toddlers, the emotional causes of their sleep issues may become much more obvious. Perhaps they get a new sibling and start school and then suddenly their sleep gets disrupted.

During the snoozechat I talked about the some of the things that can help. I explained the importance of listening to feelings, rather than trying to distract our child. I explained that if our child has a meltdown at bedtime, it’s always good to listen rather than try to distract and get on with the routine. I always notice with my daughter, that if she gets a chance to release her emotions, she’s in a much better mood the next day – even if it means a few minutes less sleep than normal.

And children who get their feelings listened to on a regular basis may not even wake up so early! As waking early can be a sign of emotional tension -listening helps with that too.

So that’s a brief summary of our chat. You can read it in full on twitter here.

And next week I’ll be co-hosting again, when we’ll be talking about sleeping through the night without using cry it out. Wednesday 30th March 11am GMT (12pm Central European time). Join us if you’d like to your questions answered.

Are you looking for more help for sleep? Read Sleeping Through The Night  and Five Sleep Secrets For Peaceful Nights. Hand in Hand Parenting also offers an online self study course. You can sign up to the mailing list here for more information. 

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