Sleep is one of the most stress-inducing topics for parents. Well, for first time parents. I imagine that, baring some medical conditions, once you’ve figured out how to get one kid to sleep through the night, you can reapply the template over and over. I think one of the reasons sleep tends to be so stressful is that parents are so gosh-darned competitive. It’s ridiculous, but every parent is in a competition with every other parent. People like me are cognizant that this is stupid and don’t do it consciously, but my mind is always playing on my parental fears and bringing it up. “Hey, that kid can walk/talk/insert skill and is the same age as Scarlett so why can’t Scarlett do that?” Other people do it on purpose – it’s how they get their sense of worth – their kid is better than those around them. These are the same people who will be asking in 18 years what college Scarlett is getting into – not because they care but because they want to tell me what school little Dylan got into. And sleep is one of those activities where the parents actually have some control (unlike their mental skills) and so it’s seen as a sign of bad or weak parenting if you can’t get your kids to sleep through the night.
Of course, it’s also stressful because we need sleep to function at our peak. Without sleep people argue, make mistakes, even crash cars. From about 7-10 months old Scarlett was waking up randomly throughout the night and our fuses were getting cut short. We snapped at each other; we forgot things we were supposed to do. So around 10-11 months I started doing a bunch of internet research to try and figure out what the best method would be. Again a lot of stress because there appears to be very little scientific research and a LOT of anecdotal evidence. In the end I just called my mom because I’m doing OK by my standards – I got Bachelor’s of Science, I have a professional job, and a marriage that had been going pretty well for seven years – so I figured however she got me to sleep it didn’t traumatize me or screw me up; if Scarlett ends up in the same situation as me, I’d be pretty happy.
Before I describe the technique, there are two things that are important to remember. First of all, a full night’s sleep for a baby is not the same as it is for us; especially because babies usually go to bed way earlier than we do. Second, remember that Scarlett was nearly a year old. The older the baby is, the better she’ll be able to understand what’s going on. A lot of people try to sleep train their kids when they’re like 3 months old and then frustrated that it doesn’t work. As for the technique, I’m not 100% if this is an accurate way to describe it because the Internet has a lot of conflicting info on this topic, but I think it’s essentially a modified Farber Method. From what I understood online about Farberization – it involves putting your kid to sleep and letting him/her cry until they fall asleep and then repeating that for a few days until it’s no longer an issue. We thought about this, but everyone online claims (again, no real research) this is traumatic to the kid and all this other stuff – they might scream so hard they’ll pop a vein and get hurt. I’m sure there are some kids who have conditions they’re born with that make that true, but it seemed a bit dubious. My mom’s technique is to get the baby ready for bed. Then – don’t rock them or whatever until they sleep – you’re trying to remove that dependence on you so they can fall asleep on their own when they wake up in the middle of the night. This was one of the biggest problems we had – we’d already gone beyond the phrase where she’d wake up as soon as she was out of our arms, but if she woke up in the middle of the night she needed to be rocked or have her back rubbed. (Another motivator for us to do this at this time was that she was getting tall enough that we needed to lower the crib, but Danielle couldn’t rub her back at that lowered level) You also don’t want them to fall asleep at the bottle because as they get more and more teeth – you need to be careful with baby bottle rot.
So you get the baby ready for bed and put her/him into bed. Then you tell them “night-night” or whatever phrase or language you want to use. It’s about associating the words with sleep. As you do this you back out of the room, facing the baby so they don’t feel abandoned. The way we do it is to keep repeating “night-night” as we leave the room at a nice, relaxing cadence. When you get to the door you turn off the light and leave. The baby will start crying anywhere from as soon as you put her into bed to the time at which she can no longer see you. Now you take note of the time or use a stopwatch. Wait 10 minutes. Depending on the kid, she might still be crying. If this is the case, re-enter the room and put her into the sleeping position again. Say “night-night” or whatever as you leave again. Keep repeating as long as it takes in 10 minute intervals. If it goes to 30 minutes the baby might have agitated herself past sleep, so pick her up, get her calm and start the ten minute count again. The first night took around 20 minutes. The second night was 15. Then 10 minutes. Then a bit of a retraction as it went back to 15 minutes. But inside of a week she was no longer crying. Now, she’s 15 months old and she doesn’t have any problems. Worst case scenario she protests for about 1-2 minutes – but that happens maybe once every two weeks.
When the baby cries in the middle of the night – you pretty much do the same thing. Wait 10 minutes to give her a chance to fall back asleep on her own. At first she’d wake up at scattered times throughout the night. But as the weeks passed she stopped doing that. So, pretty much the only kink in this plan has to do with teething. Whenever Scarlett has new teeth coming in – she tends to wake up in the middle of the night crying – anywhere from 1 AM to 4 AM. (Her normal wakeup time is around 6AM) In those cases, if she wakes up before 5AM we let her cry until she falls back to sleep unless it goes 30 minutes. Then we try calming her before putting her back into bed. We don’t use any medicines for her teething – not for random “it doesn’t feel right reasons” – but because Danielle used to work in a lab doing toxicology studies – she knows what drugs do over your lifetime to your various body parts, especially your liver. The teething is where people fall into a trap, they don’t let the kids cry back to sleep and so the kids fall out of their sleeping patterns. You can see it on all the parental boards – people complaining they gave their kids special treatment when they were sick or teething and the kids “forgot” how to sleep. In my experience, from having taken week-long vacations with Scarlett after her sleep training started, whenever you do something you like you just need to reset the sleep training. With time it gets both easier and harder – easier because they already know how to do it and you’re just reminding them; harder because as they get older, they get more stubborn. (I can see a new fight coming when Scarlett transitions to her first real bed and isn’t kept in bed by the bars)
This has been a lot longer than I thought it was going to be. I thought I was originally going to just write about how you shouldn’t worry about what parents think and just worry about what your doctor says, but the words just started flowing and I went along with it. Basically, just do your best and don’t worry about others. My mother’s method might work for you or you might find it barbaric. Maybe you are ok with your kid in your bed (or room) until they’re 3 or so. Whatever! Don’t let people judge you and do what you think is right. If you aren’t sure – talk with your doctor – it’s all you can ever do as a parent.
2 responses to “Sleep”
I have to say – as a non-parent – I totally had no idea that your child’s sleep was something you could control. I just always chalked it up to either you have a fussy kid or you don’t. Kinda like I accept the fact that I wake up every two hours when I sleep. But once you explained training your kid to fall asleep on their own, it makes a lot of sense. Learning new things every day!
Like everything with kids – there’s some amount that has to do with the kids. I even learned on NPR that this kid who’d had some kind of mental issues -one of the symptoms was that he had trouble sleeping. But, yeah, everything’s about managing/breaking your kid’s will. We’ve been way more successful with that in the sleeping arena than in the food arena. Probably because she’s underweight so we’re just happy she eats anything.