What is Sleep latency, and how might it affect your child's sleep? Sarah from Motherof.ie explains...
Sleep latency is something that I never really thought about until the day when my son decided to no longer breastfeed to sleep. He was four months old and I must say, I was a little shocked. It had been our thing since the night he was born, he would have a feed and go to sleep. I didn’t really know what to do that night, he finished his feed and just looked at me for ages, so I popped him into the side sleeper cot and watched him fall asleep. It took about 15 or 20 minutes, and it's happened like that pretty much every night since then.
So what is sleep latency?
In simple terms, sleep latency means the amount of time it takes to fall asleep once you are in your sleep space, so for babies and children, how long it takes them to fall asleep once you place them into their cot or bed.
To be honest, it is something that has endlessly stressed me out as my son has always fallen on the longer end of the scale, sometimes outside of the scale, and no amount of reassurance that he is fine and all is well can ever ease my mind about it. Even as a sleep consultant who has read many, many articles and research papers about the subject. There, I’ve said it, I am a worrier. I never thought that I would be one to get anxious over the little things with my own baby, having worked with babies and children for so long, but I do. And I know I am not the only one!
So back to sleep latency...
The ‘ideal’ amount of time for your child to fall asleep when they are in their sleep space is between 10 and 20 minutes. Unfortunately, this is where it can get confusing. Children who fall asleep too quickly (under 10 mins) can be overtired, but if they are falling asleep too slowly, say over 30 mins, they can be either under tired OR overtired.
Under tired children:
- Very long sleep latency, such as over 30 mins, which I am sure a lot of children experience around the the clock change times each year, as their little rhythms are confused.
- May be playing, chatting or singing in their sleep.
- May also have what is known as a ‘split night’, this is when they are awake and fully alert for a prolonged period in the night time.
- May wake on the early side of ‘normal’ because their sleep tank is essentially full, but will be alert and happy.
- Very short (under 10 mins) or very long (over 30 mins) sleep latency.
- If it’s a long sleep latency, they are more likely to become upset during this time.
- May then suffer what is known as a ‘false start’, which is when your child wakes fairly shortly after going to sleep initially
- May have multiple night wakings.
- May rise on the earlier side of ‘normal’ or earlier, pre 6am and will appear cranky and still sleepy.
The figures given above for the ‘ideal’ amount of time are of course, averages, there are always going to be children who fall outside of these averages, so the aim of this article is not to create worry or stress for any parents out there. But if your child is falling outside of the ‘ideal’ sleep latency time, and are also showing the signs listed above for being either under or overtired, some things you may want to look at would be the timings of their naps and if their bedtime is too early or too late.
Children’s sleep is not linear, they love to shake things up for us just when we feel they are settling into a nice rhythm, their sleep needs will change and adjust over their entire childhood and some children will have much higher sleep needs than others, so it’s best not to compare them to one another.
My name is Sarah Verso-Ryan, I am Certified Family Centred Sleep Consultant and a Childcare Professional with over 13 years’ experience working with children and their families in a professional and caring capacity. I live in Dublin, Ireland with my husband and young son.