Sleep-Onset Association Disorder

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Sometimes children associate security with objects or specific situations. With Sleep-Onset Association Disorder (SOAD), a child often wakes in the middle of the night and cannot fall back asleep if certain learned associations are not at hand. The child has learned, for example, to fall asleep in the presence a parent or with a radio or a television.

It’s normal for infants to wake during the night, sometimes referred to as night waking. The trouble develops when the child does not (or is not able) to fall back asleep on his or her own. Parents can unknowingly initiate Sleep-Onset Association Disorder by providing a characteristically over-patterned sleeping atmosphere. What may seem like a loving gesture may, in effect, be setting up a pattern of sleep disruption.

It is thought that over one-third of toddlers and preschoolers awake enough – five to nine times per night – to cause concern to parents. In spite of this, some infants sleep for the duration of the night as early as three or four months of age. When researchers looked into perceived “normal” and “not normal” sleeping behavior, children between nine months and two years woke twice nightly on average.

A management technique parents can use to get the kids to sleep through the night is checking on the child regularly and tapering off. The parents, for instance, check in on the child during the first few weeks about six times without physically cradling the child. After this, the parents then check on the child only four times, and so forth. By week ten, the child has learned to self-soothe and is confident that their protectors (mom and dad) are close at hand.

Here are some techniques thought to help infants and children with Sleep-Onset Association Disorder:

  • Establish a bedtime routine to ensure the child knows it’s time to relax and prepare for sleep.
  • Stick to a sleep schedule by going to bed at the same time seven days a week.
  • Set limits to what you will allow and not allow during the bedtime routine. If you come in when the child begins to cry, s/he expects such behavior and will become frustrated when the routine is not adhered to.
  • Put the infant or child to bed in the same bed every night.
  • Do not allow the child to sleep in the parent’s bed.
  • Periodically check on the child through the night.
  • Develop a sleep-time voice, preliminary soothing the child before as part of the bedtime routine.
  • Wake the child up each morning at the same time.
  • Keep the bedroom dark, without lights creeping in under doors or through windows.

Additional Resources:

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