Thanks for being patient with me. It feels weird to be sitting at a computer typing out a blog post- but here I am. We’ve had so much happen in the past few months, but now things are simmering down and I hope to get back to my devotional study. Our next topic is going to be ‘The Husband- Wife Relationship’… so stay tuned for that! 🙂
Today, I wanted to talk about sleep-training! I feel like a know a lot of new moms or soon-to-be moms that could use this information, so I wanted to gather everything I’ve experienced and put into practice into one blog post in hopes that it will help someone out there. Here goes:
I have two children now: a 19-month old and a 7-week old. But, my sleep training goes all the way back to my babysitting/nannying days. I’ve seen a lot of methods to get kids to sleep…some that worked, some that didn’t…but this is our experience, and this is what worked for us. Every baby/child is different, so take what you can use and leave the rest!
When I was pregnant with our son, I read a lot of books on sleep-training. I came across ‘Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child‘ by Marc Weissbluth. I read it front to back and really liked the basic principles of his way of sleep-training. His is one of no crying-it-out (though that method is in the book, it isn’t the basis for getting your child to sleep) and he also doesn’t focus on getting the child to sleep through the night when they are younger than 4 months old. Let’s face it- babies need to eat. Often. I didn’t think it was realistic to expect my newborn to sleep through the night, and the author seemed to agree. So those were two points that led me to choose this method of sleep-training.
After being born, my son would sleep anywhere, anytime. Newborns don’t have a nap schedule, they just fall asleep.They do have preferences, however. And my son really liked sleeping on me or his dad. His second choice was motion. He loved being swayed, bounced, or rocked to sleep. The book let me know that this was typical behavior, so I complied to whatever seemed to make my son happiest.
Around six-eight weeks, we began to change things up. I began using the swing less and less with every passing day. Instead, I would pay attention to his sleep cues (the book goes over this too). I knew that children that young should not be awake more than two hours at a time, so after about an hour of being awake, I began to watch him and his behavior to see if I could tell when he was getting sleepy.
When Joseph began getting sleepy, he would make less eye contact with me. He’d look away or stare off into the room for a long period of time. He’d kick and wiggle less. He’d start to yawn- BOOM! Number one sign, right there! With the yawn, I knew it was time to put him down. I found that if I waited until he was fussy, cranky, or even crying- that I’d waited too long, and that would result in a short, light nap or no nap at all. Some older children will not do these things when tired, but will become defiant or “bratty” (I hate using that word, but it’s the only one I can think of!) instead of yawning and whatnot.
So, I began putting him in the crib whenever he would get tired, most of the time that was only after an hour of being awake. I’d put him in the crib (sometimes in a swaddle, but he never seemed to like being swaddled and would bust out of it if I did it) tired but still awake and leave the room. He fussed for the first few days, but not for very long. It was more of a whine than a cry- that’s how I knew he was okay. Mothers know their child’s cries! After a few minutes of whining, he’d drift off. I should mention that I started sleep training with one nap a day. He still slept in the bouncer at night because I wanted to get the naps down first, so nighttime would be an easier transition.
At 3-4 months of age, I noticed a pattern to these naps. He woke around 8, and took his first nap at 9 (sleep for three hours), another nap around 2 , and then again at 5. He went to bed at 8 or 8:30. Once I noticed a pattern, and once he was taking regular naps in his crib, then I transitioned him to his crib at night. The transition was actually really smooth (thank goodness!). I thought for sure there would be fussing and crying, but he was familiar with it, so he went down with no problem.
It was also when I noticed a pattern with his naps that I introduced a sleep routine. A sleep routine helps your child know when its time to sleep. It gives him the cues and tells him “This is what we do before we go to sleep.” It’s a routine that lets your child know sleep is coming.
Our routine looks like this:
- Change diaper and close the curtains
- Find “lovie” and go sit in the rocking chair
- Rock and sing “Jesus Loves Me”
- Read “The Going To Bed Book” and “Goodnight Moon”
- Hold hands and pray together
- Turn out the lamp
- Put him in his crib, cover him up, say “I love you”
- Leave and shut the door
I shorten this for naps. We only read one of the books for nap, and I recite it in the dark without actually looking at the book. At nighttime, we do the whole she-bang 🙂
There came a time around 5-6 months of age, when I knew that three naps was too many. His bedtime was getting all wonky because he took that evening nap. So, I began to transition him out of the third nap by moving his bedtime earlier. It took about three days for him to get used to this, but I found that when I took out the third nap, he went to bed more easily and woke up in a better mood. So, his bedtime became 6:30 instead of 8 pm.
He now only took a morning (9-11am) and afternoon nap (1-3pm),and it stayed that way until he was thirteen months old. He dropped the morning nap on his own. And in order to keep him happy and able to make it to his 6:30 bedtime, I had to morph his one nap a day. Children this age should be up for no longer than four hours at a time. Since he was waking at 7, I knew that his nap needed to happen around 11. I still looked for sleep cues as well…I began doing his nap routine around 11. Now he sleeps from 11 or 11:30 to 1:30 to 2:30.
He will eventually drop this nap on his own too. Kids typically stop napping altogether between the ages of 2.5-3.5 years old.
As he’s gotten older, I’ve not only had to modify his sleeping times to best suit him, but also the routine a bit. For example, the old routine isn’t enough for him anymore. He seemed to go to bed a little wired, so I began to add “Body Slam!” to it 😀 I cradle him like a baby in the air over his crib, count to 3, and drop him into his crib while yelling (in my best wrestler voice) “Body SLAAAMMMM”. And then I tickle him until he cant breathe and is exhausted. But he goes to bed happy and smiling, and I don’t hear a peep until he’s up from his nap a few hours later. It works for us 😀
With my new little one, she’s a bit different. She enjoys being swaddled and won’t sleep on her daddy for anything. The first few weeks, she only wanted her mom. We’re using the same method with her. Right now, we are in the process of getting the naps-in-the-crib part down, and then we’ll transition her from the bouncer to the crib at night. She’s up to two naps in the crib, the third is usually taken on me, in the stroller, or in the carseat…because, seriously. I have a toddler and cannot sit around the house all day, haha! You do what you can!
Here are some other tips:
- Learn when the growth spurts happen in babies and children, and know that this usually interrupts sleep. — with our son, he became really fussy at night from six to twelve weeks of age. Nothing we did could soothe him, and we tried everything. Then one night my husband brought in a paci, and we used it for those six weeks. It was like a magical sleeping truck had hit him! The fussing stopped as soon as the paci was in his mouth, and once he was asleep, I’d remove it from his mouth or crib. (I was determined not to use a paci, but it was a life-saver for those six weeks!)
- BE CONSISTENT.You will have days when your child doesn’t want to go to sleep, skips naps, or takes a weird, unplanned nap…but still. Once you have a routine, stick to it no matter what. There will be days when the naps get out of whack, or he’ll miss one, but the very next day, get right back on track. For us- this happens on holidays and vacations. I try to keep to his schedule as close as possible, but sometimes it just isn’t realistic. But once we get back home or the holiday is over, back to the routine it is.
- Unless my child is hurt, has pooped his diaper, or is in serious trouble, I do not go back into his room until at least 1.5 hours have passed. There are the rare days when Joseph sits in his crib, babbling to himself. If he doesn’t feel like sleeping- that’s fine, but I never go get him until most of his naptime is over. Sitting in a quiet, dark room without much stimuli is still a great way for them to rest their minds and refresh. (I would advise anyone starting a sleep routine on an older child to do this- if they are whining or crying, unless there is something seriously wrong, don’t go in there. Day after day, they will get used to being put down at that time and it will be less of a struggle as the time passes…)Which brings me to my next point:
- Put them down with confidence. I know this sounds funny…but I always put my kids to bed as if I EXPECT them to go to sleep. I’m not shy or scared about it. I don’t pace in front of their door, listening for every noise. I don’t plead with them to take a nap, I just act as if they’re going to. I put them down and walk away. Know that it typically takes a child anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to fall asleep. That means there will probably be some talking, some rolling around, some whining or crying…but I don’t act as if I’m going to be close by when I put them to bed, so they know ‘Mom’s leaving and she won’t be back for a while.’ This gives them the freedom to rest and fall asleep.
- “If they wake up crying, they’re not ready to wake up.” If my son wakes up in a bad mood, I do not make that moment the start of his day. I go to see what’s the matter (ex: poop diaper, dropped his lovie, his socks came off, etc) fix the problem, and cover him back up to go back to sleep or let him rest until he’s happy and ready to start his day. Sometimes he wakes in the middle of the night because of one of the problems mentioned above- in that case, I use a dim hall light ( I never turn on his room light at night), I speak to him in a whisper and don’t make eye contact. I don’t want him to think it’s time to play or to begin wanting attention from me at that hour, again…it’s all about setting that expectation: “Here’s your lovie sweetie, I love you, goodnight.”
- Vacation- Sometimes, before long trips, I would schedule our leaving time to coincide with his naps, so that I’d be doing the nap routine in the car. It worked like a charm and he’d sleep almost the entire car ride to our destination. I try to keep his nap schedule as much as possible while on vacations, but sometimes it doesn’t work out. Instead of two naps, he’d only take one and be really tired come bed time. Sometimes that nap would be in a stroller or in our hiking backpack…but these are special occasions..and I knew we’d get back to a routine once we were home.
- Invest in some black-out curtains for their room.
- Get your child used to noise while they nap. From an early age, once those naps became regular, I’d vacuum and go about my day, making any noise I needed to in order to get things done. I never tread lightly in fear of waking them up, I wanted them to be used to sound and commotion while they nap, and I definitely didn’t want to have to keep super quiet in order for them to sleep.
- Children don’t know when they need to sleep. It’s much more fun to be up playing with mama or going outside! But getting good sleep now helps to establish good sleep patterns for life. Think: You and your husband finally enjoying some alone time on the couch, when your fourteen year old comes downstairs to ask for another glass of water or just to chat. Um- no thank you! Haha, GO TO BED.
I think that’s all I know about sleep-training. We’re in the thick of it now with our daughter, and it’s going pretty well. She’s adapting easily to her crib for her first two naps. She still seems to prefer being held during her evening nap, and being in her bouncer for bedtime, but we’ll get there!
I hope this helps someone! See you next time,