In this episode, I’ll be talking about the difference between a sleep tool and a sleep crutch and how they impact sleep in babies.  I’ll be discussing what they are, the key differences, when to use them, and when to get rid of them.

If your little one relies on a sleep crutch to fall asleep, that could be why he wakes up at night!

Want to get your little one consistently sleeping 11-12 hours at night so you can be a functioning human?  Join my FREE training HERE!

Eva: (00:04)
Hey there. You’re listening to the My Sleeping Baby podcast, which is all about baby and child sleep. I’m so excited to teach you how you can get your little one sleeping so that you can sleep two and enjoy Parenthood to its fullest. I’m Eva Klein, your resident sleep expert, mom of three, founder of the Sleep Bible online coaching program, and lover of all things sleep and motherhood. If you’re looking for tangible solutions for your little one sleep woes or you simply want to learn more, this podcast is for you. For more information, check out and you can follow me on Instagram and Facebook at @mysleepingbaby.

Eva: (00:47)
Hi guys, so I’m going to be talking today all about sleep associations and sleep tools, namely, what is a sleep association and how it impacts sleep in babies, what a sleep tool is and how they impact your little one’s sleep and what you should do about them, because here’s the reality. A sleep association in babies should otherwise be known as a sleep stealer. Whereas a sleep tool is known to really maximize your little one’s sleep. So it’s important to understand the difference between the two of them and avoid one as much as you can and use the other one as much as you can. So, let’s talk about the sleep crutch first and namely what it is. So, a crutch by definition, it refers to something external, whether it’s an object or an activity of some client that your little one relies on in order to fall asleep, that he or she can’t replicate on his own.

Eva: (01:43)
So, some really common examples of a sleep association in babies are feeding, rocking, padding to sleep and lying down with your little one until he or she falls asleep. These are classic, very common examples of sleep props because it refers to something that your little one relies on and he can’t replicate on his own. And so if your little one needs to be fed in order to fall asleep, whether it’s by breasts or by the bottle, then the problem that you might find yourself in is that your little one is going to end up relying on that crutch to be able to fall back to sleep. And so when your little one has sleep crutches in his or her sleep routines, all bets are off in terms of what your little one’s night and naps might look like and let them get a geek out on you for a few minutes here and explain to you why from a basic sleep science standpoint.

Speaker 1: (02:44)
So, we humans by four months of age and onward begin to cycle in and out of deep and light sleep. And so, just for reference, an adult sleep cycle is typically about 90 minutes long. And an infant sleep cycle is about 45 minutes long. I believe a toddler sleep cycle is somewhere in the middle of 60 to 75 minutes. But what all of these sleep cycles have in common is a pretty typical pattern where your little one starts off falling asleep. And she’s in a very, very light stage of sleep by that point. And then she transitions into deep, deeper sleep. And then before, you know, it already begins transitioning into much lighter sleep. And then at that point, the sleep cycle is complete. And again, if you have an infant that sleep cycle is naturally going to complete by about the 45 minute Mark.

Eva: (03:41)
And so when the sleep cycle is complete, one of two things is going to happen either your little one is going to put himself back to sleep, or he’s going to wake up and you see if your little one is done sleeping, then I guess it’s only natural for him to wake up, but you see when your little one has sleep crutches involved with how he was falling asleep to begin with. There is a very high likelihood that your little one is going to wake up. Not because he’s done sleeping, but because he needs help falling back to sleep, he needs you to come and recreate those conditions. And re-introduce that sleep association in order to help him fall back to sleep because you see how we fall asleep initially is what sets the tone for the rest of the nights or the nap per se.

Eva: (04:35)
And so it’s absolutely crucial if your goal is to be maximizing your little one, sleep, to be avoiding sleep crutches, as much as you can, because as long as there is a sleep association with babies sleep in the picture here, all bets are off in terms of the number of night wakings that you might be looking at, or the duration of the naps that you might be dealing with. So that’s a sleep prop or a sleep crutch let’s differentiate and talk about a sleep tool now. So asleep tool is also something external that your little one may or may not rely on in order to fall asleep and in order to stay asleep. But the difference between a tool and a crutch is that your little one can help him or herself to that sleep tool or the sleep tool can easily be replicated without your assistance throughout the night.

Eva: (05:30)
So let me give you some practical examples here, a white noise machine that stays on throughout the entire night and throughout the entirety of your little one’s nap is a perfect example of a sleep tool of a wonderful sleep tool, actually, because it drowns out background noise creates a very calming and soothing sleep environment. And so your little one might to an extent relying on it so fall asleep, but for our purposes, it really isn’t an issue because as long as it doesn’t shut off and as long as it stays on for the duration of your little one sleep, then who cares if she relies on it to fall asleep. Because in, in reality, it ends up protecting your little one from waking up due to all kinds of background noise. So if you ask me white noise machines are a godsend. Another example is a Blinky, a lovey, a pillow.

Eva: (06:27)
And of course, these are all in the context of an older baby where it is safe to be introducing these objects. But for the purposes of this podcast episode, I’m just explaining that if your little one relies on a stuffed bunny in order to fall asleep, then as long as that bunny doesn’t grow actual legs and run out of your little one’s bed or crib, then that bunny is going to be in your little one sleep space throughout the night. And so you don’t have to worry about constantly having to give your little one back his bunny all night long, or if you do, then it might technically be a crutch, but that’s going to be for another day. Now, a lot of parents will then ask me, but Eva, what about a pacifier is a pacifier asleep crutch or asleep tool. And the reality is that when it comes to pacifiers, it depends.

Speaker 1: (07:20)
It’s kind of a gray area. It depends on the situation. And I want to preface my answer by saying that for the most part, I am a huge fan of pacifiers as a sleep tool for when it is appropriate. All three of my kids have taken pacifiers. In fact, my 21 month old still sleeps with one. They are wonderful. And so what differentiates asleep, uh, a pacifier as a sleep crutch versus a sleep tool is when your little one can reintroduce it and put it back into his or her mouth throughout the nights versus when she needs you to come back and put it back in her mouth. So when your little one is, let’s say eight, nine, 10 months and onward, the pacifier doesn’t need to be a sleep association for babies. Because by that point, the majority of babies have fine motor skills that are strong enough to be able to re insert the pacifier on their own.

Speaker 1: (08:24)
But you see, let’s talk about the younger babies. Let’s say the babies in the three to seven month age range, who are typically old enough and aware enough that they need the pacifier to fall asleep. And they are aware, oftentimes are aware when the pacifier falls out, but yet they don’t have the fine motor skills yet to be able to re insert it. And so in that specific situation, the pacifier can become a sleep crutch. And it really just depends on how big of a problem the pacifier is, these younger babies. And so if you have a baby who may be waiting one extra time a night, just for you to come and reinserted that pacifier back into her mouth, then you might say, ah, this really isn’t much of a problem. But if you are finding yourself, reinserting that pacifier over and over and over again, you can bet your bottom dollar.

Eva: (09:27)
That is absolutely 100% asleep crutch. And as a result, it’s stealing quite a bit of sleep from you. Now here’s one really important point that I want to make about pacifiers when it comes to older babies, just because your older baby, your 18 month old, for example, just because she has the fine motor skills to be able to re insert that pacifier on her own. It doesn’t automatically classify the pacifier as a tool because you might still find yourself coming into your little one’s room multiple times at night to put your toddler’s pacifier back into her mouth. And it doesn’t mean that it’s not a crutch in that situation. It absolutely a hundred percent is a crutch. It just means that you don’t necessarily, we have to get rid of the pacifier. If you want to remove the crutch, you just have to stop reinserting it.

Eva: (10:24)
So I’ll tell you with my three kids, all three of them took pacifiers as newborns. And it was really wonderful. And when my kids reached the four month age range, which is typically when a baby becomes much more aware of their environment and surroundings and how they’re falling asleep, the pacifier only really became a big problem with one of my kids. My second child, who by the way, is the reason I got into this business to begin with. So I was putting her down pretty awake with the pacifier from a few weeks on, in, in terms of, in terms of her age. But then when she reached that four month Mark, and she was aware that the pacifier had fallen out of her mouth, she would consistently wake up for it and, and need me to put it back in her mouth. And I kid you not, this was happening every 90 minutes, all night long at points.

Speaker 1: (11:23)
I thought I was going to lose my mind, right? And so it goes without saying guys that if you’re in, in this type of situation or something relatively similar to this, then you’ve got no choice in that situation. I mean, I felt like I had no choice in that situation, but to remove the pacifier from the equation and teach my little one, how to fall asleep without it, because I was gonna lose my mind otherwise. And I will tell you that when I did remove the pacifier and I taught her how to fall asleep without it, her sleep really did improve. Now, before I end off here, I want to make two really important points about sleep crutches and sleep tools. Point number one is that it is absolutely possible for you to have a baby that knows how to fall asleep without any crutches, without any prompts, without any assistance at bedtime.

Eva: (12:18)
So in other words, you can put your little ones down wide awake, say good night and leave the room. But for your little one to still have props, still we’ll have sleep crutches in the middle of the nights. And I find that that confuses a lot of parents because a lot of parents will say to me, Eva, I don’t understand my, my baby goes down wide awake at bedtime. Why does she need me to nurse her back to sleep throughout the nights? And the answer to that is that a sleep association with babies can exist independently in the middle of the night, from the way that she falls asleep at bedside. Alright. And so the fact that this, this little baby happened to fall asleep independently at bedtime time is a fantastic thing, but it does doesn’t mean it doesn’t guarantee that you’re not going to have any crutches that exist at nighttime independently of what’s happening at bedtime.

Eva: (13:11)
The second point I want to make, and this is a really important one. And that’s that there’s nothing inherently bad or wrong or harmful. If babies have a sleep association, I just want to make that very, very clear. I mean, this is a judgment free zone here, and I am all about doing what works for you and works for your family. And if you enjoy nursing your little one to sleep or walking your little one to sleep and it’s working, and you’re still able to get the sleep that you need, whatever that might be, and you don’t want to make any changes, you don’t have to. I mean, no one is forcing you to do anything and there’s nothing wrong with having a sleep crutch or asleep prop. It’s just that from a sleep science standpoint, if you’re not happy with your situation, because you’re dealing with so many additional unnecessary night wakings, where you find yourself constantly helping your little one fall back to sleep, there’s nothing wrong with saying, you know what?

Eva: (14:21)
This crutch, this prop, this, my routine is just not working for me anymore. And I want to make some changes. So to summarize a sleep crutch or sleep association with babies is something that your little one relies on to fall asleep, that you need to be replicating throughout the night. And that can cause a night wakings versus a sleep tool helps you maximize your little one’s sleep. And so if your goal is to be maximizing sleep, you want to be avoiding sleep props or a sleep association with babies, such as feeding to sleep, rocking, to sleep and holding to sleep. Because remember how your little one falls asleep at bedtime sets the tone for the rest of the night based on how we cycle in and out of deep and light sleep. And so this is why knowing how to fall asleep independently is such a crucial component of ensuring that your little one sleep is maximized.

Speaker 1: (15:24)
Thank you so much for listening. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, leave a review and share this episode with a friend who can benefit from it. I also love hearing from my listeners. So, feel free to DM me on Instagram at @mysleepingbaby, or send me an email at until next time have a wonderful restful night. 

Want to get your little one consistently sleeping 11-12 hours at night so you can be a functioning human?

Join my FREE Training Here!

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