Understanding the Eat-Wake-Sleep Cycle

If I had to take a guess, I am betting you have heard about the “Eat, Wake, Sleep” (EWS) cycle before. It’s frequently recommended in books and across the internet as a way to encourage your baby to sleep more efficiently and thus return your sanity!

Although it may sound repetitive, there is a very good reason for the popularity - IT’S EFFECTIVE! IT WORKS! Let’s jump right to it so you can get this cycle going.

How the Eat-Wake-Sleep Cycle Works

E (EAT): When your baby wakes from nighttime or nap sleep, you’ll want to immediately feed them. The purpose of the EWS cycle is to break the association that “feeding time means sleepy time" and to encourage full feedings. To do this, make sure the baby is fed as soon as they awaken.

W (WAKE): During feeding, you want to keep baby fully awake from the start to the end of their feeding. Now, with very, very young babies the “keeping awake part” is a challenge! Your job is to try your best and know that it will improve with time (as they get older, they become less sleepy and much more awake during the day). Some parents encourage wakefulness while eating by getting the baby undressed or lightly tickling the feet with a wet washcloth. A fully-awake baby is going to take a more complete, full feeding compared to a drowsy baby, and this will help your baby last until the next feeding.

Once the feeding is complete, keep your baby awake until their next nap time. This time is important! This period should be full of interactions and playtime which will wear your little one out in preparation for the next stage of the cycle—sleep!

S (SLEEP): When it’s time to put your baby down for a nap, allow your tiny sleeper to fall asleep in any way that does not involve feeding. This may mean that they need to be held or rocked to sleep if they’re not yet sleep trained. That’s okay! Once they’re sleep trained, they will learn to fall asleep on their own. And yes, contrary to popular belief babies can do this!

Why the Eat-Wake-Sleep Cycle Works

The reason why this method encourages better sleep is simple! When babies are very young, they tend to fall asleep frequently while eating-- this causes them to take small “snack” meals. What does this lead to? Waking again quickly and hungry for another feeding soon after their previous feeding! If you direct your efforts to keeping them awake during feedings, you will see that they can take more complete feedings versus the frequent, “snack” feedings.

Plus if they eat when they’re supposed to, they’ll “play” more efficiently, and thus be able to nap and sleep well!

In addition, the EWS cycle sets a foundation for good sleep habits by disrupting the association between eating and sleeping. After 4 months, babies must learn to “connect” sleep cycles to sleep for longer periods. If a baby learns to fall asleep while feeding, they will often need to be fed again in order to get back to sleep at the end of each 45minute sleep cycle. By implementing the EWS method, they learn to fall asleep without feeding, which also helps them to put themselves back to sleep after a sleep cycle without feeding.

How to Implement the Eat-Wake-Sleep Cycle

Many parents simply cannot envision how their child who is used to being fed “on-demand” could ever use the EWS sleep cycle. The secret is: just do it! Try your best to encourage baby to get in a big, full feed when they wake in the morning and continue the EWS cycle throughout your day. They will adjust to the new schedule and will take larger feeds when feedings are offered less frequently.

A Note Addressing Concerns

Occasionally parents will express concern if they are unable to get their baby to take a large morning feeding which makes starting the EWS cycle for the day difficult. This is often because they are feeding too frequently overnight! To those parents, speak with your pediatrician to determine when it would be “okay” to cut out all night feeds or to just keep one night feed.

Additionally, there may be factors that make this simple cycle more complicated. For example, my son (now 22 months old) struggled with silent reflux during and after feedings, which made feedings much more frequent and much less efficient. In a scenario where reflux is suspected or feedings cannot be stretched to accommodate an Eat-Wake-Sleep schedule, please contact your pediatrician for personalized and specific advice.

 

Sara Negron

Sara is the founder of TinySleepers.net, a mom of a sweet 1.5-year-old, a Registered Nurse, and a wife. She’s passionate about many things…but teaching mamas how to help their babies sleep is by far her greatest passion! She created her blog as a place to help friends, family, and anyone that may come across the page to succeed in the baby sleep department. And guess what? It doesn’t cost a dime.

Sara is here to offer opinions, help, and resources for any mamas looking for someone to lean on during the journey of helping their little one sleep.


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