Many parents are drawn to the Wake to Sleep Method because it doesn’t involve any crying. It can help get your baby to nap longer. And the wake to sleep method can also help with early morning wakings. But there are some things you’ll need to do ahead of time.
I’m going to walk you through what the wake to sleep method is and how you can use it to get your baby sleeping more!
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What is Wake to Sleep Method?
The wake to sleep method, also known as the wake to sleep technique, is when you help your baby bridge the gap in between their sleep cycles. To understand what the wake to sleep method is, first you need to understand how a sleep cycle works.
The length of a sleep cycle depends on your baby’s age. It will range from anywhere between 20 – 45 minutes. Once your baby has reached 4 months of age, their sleep cycles are made up of 3 stages of sleep before they go into REM sleep. Let’s break those down:
Stage 1 is that very light stage of sleep. We’ve all experienced it. Have you every been laying on the couch watching TV and just barely doze off. Then a loud noise happens on the TV or your phone rings and you startle awake and think “I wasn’t even asleep.” That’s that first light stage of sleep.
Stage 2 is that stage that I would consider to be the first real sleep stage. If your baby was woken up at this stage, they would have felt like they had actually been sleeping.
Stage 3 is getting deeper. It’s the more regenerative stage of sleep. This is the stage of sleep that is important for your baby’s immune system. In Stage 3, your little one’s body begins to repair and it helps to rejuvinate their muscle tissue and immune system. It also stores energy for the next day.
Stage 4 is REM sleep. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and the stage where your baby will be doing most of their dreaming. This stage of sleep is when your baby is getting their deep, restorative sleep and is when your baby’s brain consolidates information and memories from the day before. REM sleep is so important to your child’s growth, development, retention, and more.
Sleep Cycles & the Rouse to Sleep Method
Once we’ve gone through all of the stages, we either wake up or come close to waking up, and then start over again until the alarm goes off.
Once your baby has completed a full sleep cycle, they should be able to seamlessly go into the next one so they get consolidated sleep through the night and take great, long naps during the day.
Unfortunately, a lot of babies struggle to connect those sleep cycles. You may be experiencing this yourself. Maybe your baby is taking short crap naps during the day. Or maybe they’re waking up every few hours throughout the night.
Why Babies Can’t Connect Sleep Cycles
If you’re nodding along, then you’re probably wondering why your little one is having such a hard time connecting their sleep cycles.
And the answer is because they are very likely dependent on an external sleep association in order to fall asleep. Do you need to do any of the following to get your baby to sleep at bedtime or naps?
- Rock them to sleep
- Bounce them to sleep
- Feed them to sleep
- Hold them as they fall asleep
- Sleep in bed with you (co-sleep)
If you answered yes, then your baby hasn’t yet developed the skills needed to self-soothe. What does this mean, exactly?
When your baby completes a sleep cycle, they’re going to be coming right to the surface of sleep. Remember, the first stage of a sleep cycle is very light. So when your baby is in the beginning of this light phase, they will realize that things aren’t the same as they were when they fell asleep.
They’re not in your arms anymore. The bottle isn’t in their mouth. And now, they’re upset. Because things just aren’t right in their little world. And as a result, they’re going to cry out for you to come and help them get back to sleep.
By teaching your baby how to fall asleep independently (or self-soothe), they’ll be able to seamlessly connect sleep cycles so they can begin taking those great naps during the day and sleep a solid 11 – 12 hours at night.
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When to Use Wake to Sleep Method
If your baby does have the ability to soothe themselves to sleep, or is in the process of learning how, but is:
- Taking consistently short naps; or
- Waking too early in morning & is waking around the same time in the early morning hours
Then they’re going to be a great candidate to try the wake to sleep method, also known as the rouse to sleep method!
Let’s look at how you can use the wake to sleep method for naps and early morning wakings.
Wake to Sleep Method Naps
I recommend using the wake to sleep method for naps if you’re seeing short naps after you’ve taught your baby how to fall asleep without any sleep associations.
When I work with clients to teach their babies how to fall asleep independently, I always tell them to expect to see short naps over the first few weeks. Your baby is learning a new sleep strategy and trying to figure out how to connect sleep cycles. Their melatonin levels aren’t as high during the daytime hours, so that can make naps more challenging than nighttime sleep.
I also recommend waiting a good week or two after beginning sleep training to try the wake to sleep method for naps. Why?
Because you need to have a good read on how long your baby’s naps are. The wake to sleep method is a good method to try if your baby is taking consistently short naps that last around the same time each nap.
For example, if your baby has taken a 30-minute nap pretty much every day for their first nap of the day, then they are a great candidate to try the wake to sleep method for naps.
But if you’re seeing a 30-minute nap, then the next day they’re sleeping 48 minutes, and on the third day it’s a 23-minute nap, it’s hard to gauge when your baby will be waking up from their nap. This makes it difficult to identify when you need to go into the room to do this wake to sleep technique.
If you’re seeing naps last about the same amount of time, give or take 5 minutes (in our 30 minute nap example, if your baby is waking up between 25 – 35 minutes of falling asleep for their nap), then give the wake and sleep method a try!
How to Use the Wake to Sleep Method for Naps
Set your alarm clock for between 5 – 10 minutes from when your baby would normally wake up from their nap. So if your baby typically takes that short 30-minute nap, set your timer between 20 – 25 minutes from when your baby fell asleep.
When your timer goes off, go to your baby’s room and quietly open the door. I recommend bringing your monitor with you so you can see if your baby responds when you open the door. If they begin to move around, then go ahead and close the door and allow them to try to connect into the next sleep cycle. Sometimes just hearing the crack of the door or seeing the light from the hallway can be enough to rouse them from their current sleep cycle and get them into the next cycle.
But if you don’t see them move after opening the door, then they’re going to need some help transitioning into sleep cycle number two.
You’ll quietly walk over to their crib and ever so gently put your hand on their chest. And what you want to see is a slight acknowledgement of that touch, like their fingers wiggle, or a little sigh. They may even shift positions a little.
This indicates that they’ve just transitioned out of that first sleep cycle and into the next one without fully waking up!
And that, Mama, is your cue to leave and allow them to take that longer nap.
Perfecting the Wake to Sleep Technique with Naps
You may need to play around with the timing of when you enter your baby’s room. If you go in at the 25-minute mark, and opening the door woke them up, then they were already coming to that light part of their sleep cycle. Tomorrow you will need to try a little earlier (maybe closer to 20 – 22 minutes) in order to catch them in a slightly deeper sleep.
You may find when you’re in the bedroom with your hand on your baby that nothing happens. You’re not seeing any of those signs that they’re transitioning sleep cycles. If this happens, you just need to put a little more gentle pressure on your baby’s chest. You can also try touching a different spot of their body, like their face or their shoulder.
Keep trying until you see your baby respond. Once they do, quietly leave the room and allow them to take that awesome longer nap!
Wake to Sleep Method for Early Morning Wakings
Another instance where you can try the wake to sleep method is for early wakings. If your baby is waking up too early and around the same time every morning, give the wake to sleep method a try.
You’ll use the exact same process that you would use with naps.
Let’s say you’d like your baby’s day to start at 7 a.m. You’re putting them to bed sometime between 7 – 8 p.m. but your baby is waking up around 5:30 EVERY.SINGLE.MORNING.
You’ll set your timer between 5 – 10 minutes from that early morning waking time. In our example, you would want to set your alarm to go off around 5:20 – 5:25.
How to do Wake to Sleep Technique for Early Wakings
If your baby is sleeping in a different room at night, be sure to bring that monitor with you when you open the door to their bedroom so you can see if they stir when you open the door. And if your baby is sleeping in the same room as you, you’ll just walk over to the crib.
With the wake to sleep method for early wakings, you’ll gently touch your baby. I like to start with their chest. But if you’re not seeing a response, you can try lightly touching their leg, face, hip, etc. When you see them stir, move, or make a little noise like a sigh, then remove your hand and step away from the crib.
You just gently roused your baby out of their last sleep cycle a few minutes before they were going to do so themselves, and successfully got them into their next sleep cycle without actually fully waking them up. Your baby should now be sleeping another full sleep cycle to extend their full night of sleep.
If you’ve done this for a few days and now see your baby waking up 30 minutes later, but it’s still too early, then do the wake to sleep method for early wakings again, but now 30 minutes later. So in our example, if your little one was waking at 5:30 and after a few mornings of doing the wake to sleep method, you’re now seeing them wake at 6:00, then switch the timing of when you go in to just before 6 a.m.
Wake to Sleep Method Success Rate
So what is the success rate with the wake to sleep technique? I have found my clients have around a 70% success rate when done correctly over the period of a week.
Don’t just try it once and say, “the wake to sleep method doesn’t work”. You really do need to try it with each short nap every day for an entire week to see success with it.
I’ve found that the wake to sleep method success rate is the same for both early morning wakings and naps.
So, it’s certainly worth a try! What have you got to lose? It won’t involve any extra crying and can help extend your baby’s naps.
Need Help with Independent Sleep?
Remember that the Wake to Sleep Method will work best for babies who have established independent sleep skills. If your baby does rely on something from you in order to fall asleep, like the breast, bottle, needing to be rocked, bounced, etc, then I’m here to help.
My team of Certified Sleep Coaches and I work with families to teach their children how to fall asleep easily at bedtime, sleep through the night, and take long, restful naps during the day. And the best part — we do this all without asking you to leave your baby alone to cry it out.
My sleep philosophy circles around gentle sleep training methods that generally keep parents right there in the room, being comforting and supportive as their baby learns how to fall asleep independently.
If you’d like to learn more, let’s chat! Schedule your free Discovery Call with me today!
Do you have to do this wake to sleep method forever or do they eventually work out how to link cycles on their own?