Many bleary-eyed parents know how challenging it can be to get your baby to fall asleep. There are many different methods to encourage sleep, such as swaddling, massaging, singing, and walking. Like the time-honored lullaby, rocking can be effective at putting your baby to sleep when used correctly. Learn how and when rocking should be used in order to get the best results.
Does Rocking Your Baby Help Them Fall Asleep?
Folk wisdom spanning across cultures and generations claims that rocking can help a baby fall asleep. Research does support this enduring method, as rocking is shown to reduce crying, quicken sleep onset, and improve overall sleep quality in infants (1).
The rocking sensation is thought to have a synchronizing effect on the brain, triggering our natural sleep rhythms (2). Slow rocking can help your baby ease into sleep mode and increase slow oscillations and sleep spindles (3) in their brain waves. Greater oscillations and sleep spindles are associated with stage 2 sleep, which is a deeper, highly restorative period of sleep.
Is Rocking Bad For Helping Babies Stay Asleep?
Not only does rocking promote sleep initiation, new studies published in Current Biology shows it can also improve sleep quality (4). These studies add to the evidence for the broad benefits of a rocking motion not only to fall asleep but during sleep. Being rocked gives greater oscillations and sleep spindles which are associated with stage 2 sleep, which is a deeper, highly restorative period of sleep.
In fact, the studies in people show that rocking not only leads to better sleep, but it also boosts memory consolidation during sleep. So do not feel bad for rocking your baby to keep them asleep.
How Do You Rock a Baby to Sleep?
Rocking a baby to sleep may seem completely intuitive, but there are actually a few different methods. Manual techniques include gently swaying your baby in your arms while standing, seated, or in a rocking chair. Using a carrier while lightly rocking or bouncing your baby can also be effective.
Automatic devices, such as swings, bassinets, and bouncers, can simulate manual rocking, bringing about the internal sleep rhythms needed to fall asleep. Regardless of technique, an even-paced, rhythmic motion can really quicken sleep onset for a baby, which can of course help you catch up on your own sleep.
When Should You Stop Rocking Your Baby to Sleep?
While there are many benefits to rocking a baby, some parents do not want their baby to become dependent on rocking. For many babies, their dependency on rocking will naturally scale down as they grow older, with longer sleep cycles and more deep sleep. For daytime naps, the rule is often “anything goes”, as daytime sleeping will seize between 2 and 3 years regardless. However, for the night-time sleep your little one will eventually need to be able to find sleep om their own. Every parent needs to decide for themselves what time is right. If you have a routine that works for all the members of your family, feel free to keep going. But if the sleep routines are becoming too much for you, it might be time to think about scaling back on the rocking and looking into some sleep training to help your little one find sleep on his or her own.
How Do You Wean Your Baby Off of Being Rocked to Sleep?
Every baby needs to eventually learn how to fall asleep on their own. One way to promote self-sufficiency when it comes to sleep is to only rock your child until he or she is drowsy. You can then transfer your baby to a crib to fall asleep on his or her own. The soothing rhythm will reinforce sleepiness, but falling asleep independently will help create a healthy sleep pattern.
Teaching your child to fall asleep on their own often entails an adjustment period, but consistency in both timing and behavior can help. At least in the beginning, it can be helpful to gently bounce your baby in the crib, sing a lullaby, or play soft music. You might also try introducing soothing aids like stuffed animals and blankets in babies over one year old, which can help ease the blow of parental separation.
Rocking your baby can be a very soothing ritual for both the baby and parent. Research shows that rocking is often a valuable tool when it comes to promoting sleep. It’s also important, however, to establish a nighttime ritual that allows your child to fall asleep on his or her own as they grow older.