Tuesday, June 21, 2016

On Sleep Training

I don't typically offer much parental advice here because of my fear of coming off like an authority on something I feel, to certain degrees anyway, I'm still figuring out (and questioning) sometimes daily. And while I certainly never claim to have all the "answers" in regards to child rearing - with four kids now to count as "proof" over "fluke" - in way of "good sleepers," you could say it's an area that I'm passionate about it. And I realize anything that involves the term "training" these days is not so popular. I'm just here to say what's worked for us. And how taking control of the quality of our sleep, as well as children's, has been a positive impact in so many ways. Establishing an early pattern that your family can routinely depend on means existing in a household anchored by well rested moods and happily adjusted children serving as the dividing force between sanity and self defeat. I mean, we all know how hard it is to call on our better selves in the face of such ragged exhaustion, right? And boy how a couple kids will do that to you real quick.

Sleep training is something I've been meaning to expand on here for awhile now but found perfect reason in pairing up with Bleep Bleeps this month to help spread word of their latest invention: Suzy Snooze, a brilliant little contraption who's Kickstarter campaign debuted today in hopes of pushing it into regular production to serve as a warm glowing sleep trainer and night light to kids, and baby monitor for parents. It's a sweet and practical concept behind this product which I'll be reviewing here in greater detail again once it arrives and we get to test it out ourselves, in our own home. In the meantime, you can learn more about how it works by visiting their website here. Because if luck has it, it will be readily available to us all soon here after.

A Nightly Reconnection

First off, there are three reasons I don't want my kids in bed with me. And yes, I realize how jarring that is for some to hear. But it's the honest truth.

One, I like the idea of a nightly reconnection. That comes at the end of a long day and belongs to just us. I love putting the boys to bed, turning out the lights and heading to my bed where the time is ours to indulge in adult conversations. Share things about our day or simply read in silence side by side if that's what we need on certain nights instead. I like the quiet that's kept there. By 8:00 most nights my patience is worn thin and I'm desperate to be "off the clock." I need that hour after to unwind, relax and recharge. So it's important to me that we keep that space, slim as it is, sacred that way. Two, I don't sleep well with them next to me. I have one kid who sleeps straight as a solider beside me when he sneaks in, but all the rest are like machines of jerking limps and shin kicks, which I really can't stand. Three, I like that each of them come to appreciate their sleep space the same way I do. To trust it as their own, and find self soothing means to aid in slumber, however it might come. Alone. Where I believe they build confidence in autonomy in doing so.

Starting Early

First off let me just say that as much as I know some people enjoy the perks of Attachment Parenting, it just was never right for us. After Leon was born I was feeling worn out and painfully tired most of the time. Actually, I was miserable. Arlo was still climbing into bed with us at that point and breaking up our nights, and Leon still waking sporadically in the middle of the night long after I knew he really needed to be. At a certain point I decided I couldn't take it anymore and dedicated myself to finding a new way to keep Arlo in his own room, and getting Leon to sleep through the night.

With Arlo we found a night light really helped. As well as being stern (and consistent) in denying him our bed space, even when it was more convenient in the moment to simply let him sink in. When I found out I was pregnant again, I was too tired to consider many more options for Leon so one night, out of sheer surrender, I shut booth his door and mine, and simply failed to hear him crying through the night like he was prone to, and found two days later, under the same circumstances, he was sleeping soundly through the night. All it took was me breaking the routine of answering his cries when I knew good and well he wasn't wet or hungry. Again, some will argue this method but all I know is that a full night's rest makes me, altogether, a better person in general so harsh as it might come off the results I know are evidence in their own right.

Third time around I was much more adamant about instilling early sleep training methods with Rex. He slept beside my bed for the first two months at night but I was good about laying him down for naps in the morning and afternoon when we were home at the same time every day in his crib to secure a sense of familiarity, and show him how to soothing the space could be. I didn't always nurse or rock or read him to sleep, because I wanted him to learn you can fall asleep on your own without them. And before long he was sleeping easily on his own within a matter of weeks. By the time Hayes came along we had it down so he was quick to respond to the routines we set up. So camping with a newborn, then a baby, and now a toddler, has always been pretty manageable because our focus has always been directed at creating flexible sleepers who can nap in situations where all the routines we know at home aren't available. Without that, our lifestyle would be seriously hindered. There would be no road trips, or beach days, sleep overs and hotel stays. And with four kids, one thing I've learned is that we are the ones in control. And sometimes decisions are better made from a place of intuitive choices, rather than suggested rules and guidelines.

Napping Without Options

I know a lot of my friends curse the fact of their children refusing or outgrowing naps prematurely, and maybe I've just been "lucky" but all of my boys napped routinely until they were 4 or five without option or choice. The thing is, even now, when I see they are considerably exhausted or in dire need of a little down time, I'll still make them need to lay down in their room for any given amount of time with the only instruction being "to rest" and nine times out of ten they will still fall asleep even at this age, under much looser orders.

As toddlers though I was a stickler. Nap time was the only time in my day I was able to get things done so there was never an option. Getting out of bed or refusing naps at that age wasn't something I entertained so eventually they stopped protesting. Children enjoy sleep just as much as us, they just hate admitting to it. And I would even argue that creating confident sleepers, who find relief and comfort in their own sleep space, is one of the greatest gifts I've given myself as a mother.

Napping With Noise

Another major aspect of sleep training is the inclusion of noise. This, is one thing I utterly swear by. Not getting your baby accustomed to silent sleep conditions means they are more apt to snooze in real life settings. Through vaccum cleaners, music, quarrels, visitors and traffic. What I learned to do in the beginning, when they are new and easy to sleep regardless of what's going on around them, is leave the door of their room wide open to the regular sounds of the house so it becomes common white noise as opposed to startling reasons for waking. The more noise they know early on, the better. My boys have been known to sleep through anything from a neighbors jack hammer, to a movie in the theater, to a concert in the park. If you don't teach them that sleep is only connected to quiet, they'll be much more flexible nappers. And that allows for much more freedom as a family.

Sleep on The Go

One major issue we have as an active unit who's constantly on the go, is implementing naps even when we're not at home. One thing I've learned is being consistent with the hour helps. As well as using the same bed space they come to associate with rest, when you can. Which is not to say we haven't been inventive at times when we needed to. I know Hayes, being fourth born, was trained to sleep anywhere we placed him. Given it fell in the range of his regular nap. Sleep space that has seen anything from a folded quilt in a bath tub, to a low sided card board box, to a walk in closet, and rubber flea market cart with the only key lesson being, regularity. Enforcing naps even in places or situations where maybe it's not as convenient for us to implement, but detrimental to how the rest of your day plays out, is a game changer.

When we were more prepared though we always stocked a lightweight fold away cradle in our car for newborns while we camped or visited friends that we could stick in a dark corner, or somewhere semi quiet, then graduated to a $30 pack and play we've always used up until they're old enough to climb out. At the beach we stick it in a big teepee, tent, or even under a shady palm where we are just out of sight and sound. All of which have proved successful means to alternative napping confines when we're out. Basically because they associate whatever space we've acquainted them with, with naps. And therefore learn - for better or worse - to eventually embrace it.

Sticking With the Crib

Lastly, the crib phase makes this all much easier. Once you make the jump - and we did way too soon with Arlo because we were excited to see him in his "big boy" bed - it gets a lot tricker. I say keep them in there as long as they are not climbing out. For me I always think of it, for lack of a better comparison, to a dog's crate. A space where they are confined, safe, and content. Aside from Arlo, all three of my boys were in a crib until they were three or over because it was so easy to keep them where they aren't able to up and roam because once they figure out the power of their will, everything changes. And then it's all new tricks attached to the next phase of the good ol' "sleep game."

In other sleep related topics, you can read my views on shared rooms here


  1. As a first time mom, I learned the hard way how important sleep is with a baby. When our son was born, we heard all the cliché (but well meaning) advice about holding them while you can and enjoying every moment, even the middle of the night wake ups. So I did just that until it just wasn't working anymore. I was extremely hesitant to tell people we did sleep train because there is such a huge stigma attached with it, but I honestly don't regret it. I knew it was best for him and his health, not to mention how helpful it was for my husband and I. So thank you for sharing this! I'm sure if more moms and dads saw stories like these, they might be more inclined to look into other options.

  2. Oh how I needed to read this post today! Last night I decided to, as you did with Leon, close the door. I am happy to hear that this was a positive outcome for you. Cheers to kids learning to fall asleep on their own!
    Thank you for being so real x

    1. I'm happy to hear I'm not alone, Christin. I know sometimes the phrase "sleep training" is easily frowned upon, but for us it's been such a positive thing. Like I said, a true gift to myself as a mother.

  3. Ah happy to read this! And always interesting reading how others have sleep trained. Didn't do it with baby number one and caused me a lot of misery, anger - a whole load of negative emotions due to crappy sleep for 3 years and not knowing what to do. Lots of tears for her and me, worse me losing my temper and the plot regularly. Getting so angry wth her and myself and knowing only had muself to blame as it wasn't her fault.

    Did do it for baby number 2 and gosh it's a different story - I know I'm going to get my breaks and more importantly when he is tired, he can sleep happily, on his own!! Not on me!! and I just adore him, cannot get enough of him. It took longer than I expected but that was due to starting off with bad bedtime habits to start - worth mentioning as by this point we had sleep trained our older child and meant to do so with the baby BUT birth with complications that left him unable to breathe lying down, with him then contracting pneumonia at 1 month followed by colic meant we pretty much held him upright for 3 months day and night! (He's super healthy and fine now). Plus we have beighbours that hear everything so couldn't be consistent at night when he woke so that delayed things. It took him a while which was hard to handle (but easier to actually do as had older exhausting child and couldn't bear a repeat of her sleep patterns and feeling so guilty I hadnt established good sleep routines with her) but oh my when he got it, heaven!!! Now he loves his bed, his simple routine, his doggy he sleeps with and he asks to "faire dodo" (go sleep), he's 18 months and has been sleeping well since he turned one. The key thing for us was putting him in the cot awake and getting him used to falling asleep on his own. We read buckets of sleep training advice for our daughter, the two things that really seemed to work for both kids was obviously consistency and being firm, but also positivity and confidence! Saying its sleepy time with a smile and like it's the most amazing thing ever "you get to sleep with doggy, wow!" - that positivity seemed to make the biggest difference fastest. And keeping it all simple, clear instructions, not too many words etc. My spanish mum is constantly shocked by how much Anglophones ️ask questions to their kids when they actually mean to tell them what to do - like "would you like dinner now?" "
    Shall we go now?" When they don't really mean to ask but tell the kid "it's dinner" etc. In both spain and france the "command" tense is used a lot with kids and makes a lot of sense - it's not bossy and perfectly polite, much clearer all round esp when the question isn't actually a choice for the child!!

    1. This last part, yes!! I think so many parents think they are being polite and kind by asking questions in order to give directions but neurologically they aren't developed to handle this -- it gets them all kinds of confused and then they feel "unsafe" because the parent seems like they are not in control

  4. I totally agree. We don't do much of that around here either. Sometimes parents get to be parents. And that's not really something to be ashamed of.

  5. Stick with the crib! I totally agree. We pushed to three and 2 months. Can't understand what the rush is to get toddlers out of a crib.

  6. Babies have very sensitive hearing, this is why they are sometimes startled awake by noises in and around the house. Both my children have white noise machines in their room, making them to get a restful nights sleep. They sleeps better once we started using the white noise.

  7. This is so interesting! I have read your blog since Hayes was born. And I would never ever in a million years thought of you as a sleep trainer. I sleazy thought of you as a attachment parent because you were always wearing Hayes. I have been a mixed bag with sleep baby 1 yes, baby 2 no, baby 3 no need. Same with co sleeping, some of my kids needed it, and some could only sleep in the crib. You should write more parenting articles I enjoy reading them, and seeing how you tackle 4. This one had some advice I wouldn't have thought of.

    1. It's supposed to read "totally" not sleazy. And also...sleep training not sleep.

  8. Oh wow funny how these posts pop up just when you really need them! We're in sleep deprivation hell... again! I swore after the first one we wouldn't go down this road again but here we are. NOBODY in this house (including the dog) is getting any sleep, and here I am resisting putting my 10 month old in her own bed because I know she'll cry for a few days. Instead my husband has taken to sleeping on the couch, I'm in a rotten mood all the time because she feeds all night and my back is killing me, the baby is overtired, and our pre-schooler... well she's her usual chirpy self at 5am every morning :). I know from previous experience that my older daughter was so happy when at 15 months we finally gave up on co-sleeping and put her in a crib in her own room. But like I said, here I am again in this mess! Nico sleeps on my back in the ergo all morning, beside me in bed for hours in the afternoon (if I get up she wakes up), on my back again until I go to bed and then feeds all night to get back to sleep. I literally don't get a second of baby free time EVER and it doesn't bring out the best person in me! SO thank you for your post, I think it;s time to make some changes, starting tonight! xx

  9. Very interesting article. I know an added article from The Sleep Doctor that that will supplement your topic on developing healthy sleeping habits for your child. I hope this helps.