So….what exactly IS a sleep association


So… What exactly IS a Sleep Association?

A Sleep association is anything that your little one identifies with going to sleep. It can be anything that they associate (Duh!) with sleeping. And before we go any further, let’s get one thing out of the way; I’m not here to tell you what is a good or bad sleep association. 

Got it? I’ll break down what requires more work on your part and guide you with which ones allow you the most freedom when your baby goes to sleep, but I understand how this can be a personal choice.


The Different Types

Whoever thought up the name for the two types of sleep associations clearly didn’t think it through. So while their names are not my favourite, I’ll say what they’re called because, well, that’s what we all know them as. We classify sleep associations by positive and negative sleep associations. 

Now before you get upset, let me be clear. Negative sleep associations aren’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means that it’s something they rely on and can’t do themselves, so you’ll need to be more involved when it comes to your baby falling (and staying!) asleep. Here’s what I mean: 

Positive associations: 

Putting on pjs

White noise


Getting into sleep sack

A dark room

These are things that your baby recognizes as preparation for them to go to sleep. Doing these consistently lets them know that bedtime is coming up! You’ll notice that many of these are also mentioned in my Creating the Perfect Sleep Environment post that you’ll find waaaay in the archives. Most of these are great because even if your babe wakes in the night, they’ll know that it’s still time to sleep. 

Negative associations:

Feeding to sleep

Replacing the soother

Constant rocking

Just to drive this home one more time, these are not bad things! There’s nothing wrong with doing these, but I guarantee that it’s going to cause hiccups if you’re looking for a solid, independent sleeper that won’t cry out a dozen times a night for you to pop their soother back in. Do what you want here, but know that going this route will mean going into your baby’s room multiple times in the night. 

Laying The Association Foundations

The key to easy sleep associations is to stick to the positive ones without introducing the negative ones. Steer clear of them from the start, or work towards parting ways with them quickly. 

Here’s how to start off on the right foot:

Don’t dawdle - It’s not too early! It’s a lot easier to introduce positive associations right away than it is to break the negative ones later. 

Include it in your routine - This one does double duty because routines are also a positive association! Only including the positive ones means fewer hassles down the road, and less confusion for your little.

Ditch the negatives - It might be hard for a bit, but streamlined sleep is definitely worth it! This might mean not having a pacifier when it’s time to sleep, or tossing it altogether. Or introducing another way of soothing that doesn’t involve rocking to sleep - think shushing, patting, or specific affirming words as they go to sleep. 

Still slogging through sleepless nights? You don’t need to! If you’re deep in the newborn days, my newborn sleep guide is raved about! And if your little one is 14 weeks adjusted or older, I can help you in all kinds of ways that make sense for your needs and comfort level. You deserve to feel human again, and get the sleep to handle alllll the things we have to deal with on a daily basis. I’ll show you how!