What’s Your Baby's Sleep Personality?

July 20, 2023

Every child sleeps differently. That’s why one of the first things I always ask families when they come to me for help with sleep is to focus on their child's unique temperament. Like so much else in life, your child’s personality plays a huge role in how they sleep. 

Here are my thoughts on determining your child's temperament so that you can make positive steps towards better sleep.

3 Childhood Temperamental Types that Affect Sleep

Baby sleeping soundly in parent's armsBaby sleeping soundly in parent's arms

Through extensive research as a sleep coach (and in line with the opinions of other sleep professionals), I've discovered that there are nine temperamental traits that affect how your child sleeps, which can be grouped into three different categories. The three typical childhood temperamental types are:

  • Easygoing and laid back
  • Shy and slow to warm up
  • Intense and spirited

As you can imagine from the titles, each temperament is significantly different. So, of course children in different categories would have different needs and reactions to sleep. Being able to determine and understand your child's temperament is huge if you want to encourage good sleep habits. (Beyond that, it’s worth noting here that these temperaments don't only apply to children – you may recognize your adult self in some of these groups, too!)

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Easygoing and Laid Back

Surprisingly, most people fall into this category. What this means in terms of your child is that you’ll likely have an easier time when it comes to gentle sleep training and establishing good sleep habits. 

Easygoing children tend to reach all their milestones within the 'expected' range for their age and accept change very easily in general. A good early sign of a laid back baby is if they’re happy to be passed around from relative to relative without becoming upset or irritable. This temperament type is also pretty easy for you to spot as a parent – and others will often notice their temperament, too.

In terms of sleep, easygoing and laid back babies usually respond well to routine and structure, but they will also cope very well if you introduce changes, too. Many easygoing babies tend to sleep fairly easily and for longer stretches. That's not to say there won't ever be any issues you need to address, but these issues tend to be fairly easy to solve with gentle sleep training methods.

Shy and Slow to Warm Up

Fussy baby crying in their strollerFussy baby crying in their stroller

Babies who are shy and slow to warm up struggle a little more when it comes to changes in their sleep routine, whether they’re situational, like falling asleep on vacation, or permanent, like transitioning from a bedside bassinet to a crib in their own room. They tend to resist gentle sleep training methods a little more and show signs of being unsettled when their routine is disrupted or too much is asked of them. So, passing a shy and slow-to-warm-up baby from relative to relative may quickly become a recipe for disaster.

For shy children, transitioning from wake to sleep can take a little longer than it would for an easygoing, laid-back baby. They can often become overwhelmed, so it's really important to take breaks when needed. Winding down in preparation for sleep is essential.

Routine is also vital for shy and slow-to-warm-up children. Having that familiar structure helps to provide comfort and a feeling of security that enables them to relax and make the transition to sleep a little more easily. This goes for daytime, nighttime and naptime routines. Predictability is key!

Intense and Spirited

Wide awake baby lying in their cribWide awake baby lying in their crib

If you have an intense and spirited baby, you know it early on. Intense and spirited babies are often described as 'very alert' from a young age. Noises need to be explained. They're always looking around at their environment. They never seem to 'switch off'.

Studies have shown that a child who is intense and spirited generally has a harder time with sleep. Not what you were expecting? This is because a spirited child is typically always on the go, full of energy and wanting to do more and learn more (which is great for their development!). So, although it might seem like they should need to sleep more, they probably won’t want to.

Children who fall into this category rarely fall asleep in their highchairs or allow you to carry them from a sleeping position in the car to their bed inside the house without waking. Making that transition from awake to asleep is generally a lot harder, and it’s easily disrupted.

Your intense and spirited baby needs certain conditions to be met to relax and fall asleep at nighttime and for naps. It's important to ensure that your child's sleeping environment is perfectly conducive to sleep. Some tips for this include: 

  • Using blackout blinds
  • Ensuring the temperature is right
  • Removing distracting toys with lights and sounds
  • Avoiding intense activity before bedtime
  • Using a noise machine

When it comes to gentle sleep training, intense and spirited children will show more resistance to the changes you're trying to implement. You can still establish good sleep habits, but be prepared for it to take longer and plan to take much smaller steps.

Sleep Personality Isn’t One Size Fits All

You may find that your child falls into more than one category – and that's completely normal. Every child’s personality is different. 

The message here is that trying to understand and predict how your child will react to certain situations and which elements of their personality come into play can only make sleep training easier … for both parents and children! It takes time, but you know your little one best. You’ll figure out what works for them in time.

Feel like your baby is simply fighting sleep? I have some tips for that, too!

Rebecca Michi, Gentle Sleep CoachRebecca Michi, Gentle Sleep Coach

Rebecca Michi has been a children's sleep consultant for over a decade and has worked with hundreds of families all over the world. She loves supporting families as they work with their children to gently encourage easier sleep. Born and raised in England, she now lives in the USA with her husband, two teenagers and German Shepherd. Rebecca loves a good nap, fresh flowers and cups of tea. Learn more about The Michi Method for sleep at childrenssleepconsultant.com.