Some of us don’t dream big. It’s the small things in life that make us happy. We don’t want fancy cars or big houses (sure they would be nice). We don’t even want to retire and live a good life (not at this point in time anyway). All we want is a good night’s sleep. Sound familiar to you? Before our daughter was born, sleep was something we took for granted. Long lie-ins and late nights were the norm. We didn’t know how lucky we were to have this blessed thing called uninterrupted sleep. Then my daughter was born and everything changed.
Why We Attempted Sleep Training:
You’ve probably already guessed, we had some serious sleep issues with our daughter. It wasn’t always like that. We were those annoying smug parents who would look at each other knowingly, whenever anyone would complain about their child waking up regularly (what? why doesn’t your child sleep through?!). Apart from the odd blip, post 9 months (colic issues/ more about that in another post), our daughter would mostly sleep through.
Suddenly, without warning, she started waking up. The first night I presumed she was unwell, maybe a stomach ache? She wasn’t the best communicator at this stage, so I soothed her back to sleep. But night after night she would repeatedly wake up. Now when your child sleeps through the night and suddenly stops sleeping, it’s like a sudden slap in the face. You’re ill prepared and you spend ages trying to figure out what went wrong. Night after night we tried various things to help her get back to sleep (hugging/soothing/comforters), but the problems just kept getting worse and worse. Every night she would be screaming, I would be on the verge of tears (I had no answers as to why she would cry) and my husband would be frustrated as all our methods would lead to nothing. We had no answers. We didn’t know what was wrong. We were snapping at her, snapping at each other, snapping at anyone really. The environment was becoming quite uncomfortable. We just wanted a good night’s sleep. Everybody kept saying ‘It’s part and parcel of being a parent’. It really didn’t help. Being a parent didn’t mean I had to be unhappy and sleep deprived or a mediocre version of myself. On week three I finally broke down. Tired, frustrated and at my wits end, I decided to try this thing called sleep training.
Before sleep training (it sounds like army training but I promise you it’s not as regimented!)I didn’t realise how many ‘bad’ bedtime habits we had built up during our bedtime routine. When I put my daughter to bed, I would sit next to her and she would sometimes hold/stroke my arm. I didn’t really find this a big issue as it would take five minutes and she would be asleep the rest of the night. Well those five minutes became ten, then 15, 20, 30 and eventually it would take up to 90 minutes to put her to sleep. I kept convincing myself it’s fine, as she would be asleep all night and it seemed like the least antagonising way for her to sleep (why fix it when it’s not broken right?). However, when the night wakings started, she demanded I repeat the bedtime routine of sitting next to her for 5-90minutes (at 1/2/3/4/5am?!) and help her settle back to sleep. Now, I don’t know how everyone else feels about this, but lengthy disturbances in my sleep for more than two nights, makes me an unhappy person. A very unhappy person.
How I Sleep Trained My Daughter:
I am going to tell you how I successfully sleep trained my daughter (remember every child is different there is NO one size fits all). The amount of times I googled ‘why won’t my baby sleep through the night?’ was countless. I have probably read every single technique, ever written/researched. I found so much conflicting advice I almost regretted googling the search term. Around 5 million results come up when typed in, so clearly I am not the only one. All my research on sleep training, has come from the most popular baby websites with prominent paediatricians and child researchers providing their theories and research. Because there are so many websites and theories, I have simplified the research and methods into picture form for you to download and print(here).
My daughter was 17 months at the time. Just a point to remember that ‘There are good times to sleep-train and periods when it may be less likely to work,’ says developmental psychologist Isabela Granic, Ph.D., coauthor of Bed Timing: The ‘When-To’ Guide to Helping Your Child to Sleep. ‘This is because infants and toddlers go through mental growth spurts that make them especially clingy, fussy, and prone to night wakings. They’re learning new cognitive skills and often don’t sleep as well.’ (www.parents.com) She goes on to recommend the best ages for sleep training (6– 16 months and avoid 17-21months as becoming independent). The 17 month mark was roughly when our daughter stopped sleeping through.
So, promptly ignoring Isabela’s advice (I needed some sleep to function as a human being, I had lost my patience), month 18 was when we began testing the methods. The’ controlled crying’ method (Richard Ferber) appeared to give the quickest results. So with a resigned sigh I prepared our first evening of sleep training. I set up the baby monitor (to keep an eye on any activity), did our usual bedtime routine (brushing teeth, reading book) and tucked her into her cot. The moment I moved away from her cot, the wailing began. When my daughter cries, it is not the cry of an average child. She progressively gets louder and louder, like an ambulance/police siren (you know that child that makes you turn your head when you’re out shopping/eating and they’re crying really loudly/embarrassingly so). So loud in fact, that the neighbours (sorry guys) and other family members would visibly get distressed after a few minutes. So our results are as follows:
Day 1: Incessant wailing/crying for one hour. Eventually calmed down and managed to drift off to sleep. I could hear her sobbing in her sleep (due to excessive crying) and felt extremely guilty. Convinced myself it will all be worth it long term. She woke up in the middle of the night twice, so we carried out the method all over again. Exhausted by morning.
Day 2: Only 45 minutes of crying today! Big improvement. One short night awakening. Seems like it’s working.
Day 3: 10 minutes of crying and out like a light. No awakenings at night. If it continues like this then she’ll be sleep trained by the end of the week…
Day 4: The day where it went horribly wrong. I thought she had gone to sleep after 10 minutes. No crying. No fuss. Unfortunately she was still awake (pretending to sleep?!). As soon as I walked in the wailing started. And it went on. And on. And on. 90 minutes and a headache later I decided to give up for the night.
Day 5: The crying would not stop. She attempted a Carl Lewis/ Greg Rutherford style jump from her cot. Luckily there were pillows to break the fall. Determined not to give up I placed her back in the cot. An hour and much screaming later, she decided to fall asleep. I could hear slight sobbing in her sleep and the guilt just kept mounting. Is this really worth it?
Day 6: We decided the cot rails were unsafe and removed them. Obviously we didn’t think this through. She kept escaping from the cot continuously and eventually we let her fall asleep by the door. We moved her into the cot after she had fallen asleep. At 3am I stirred lightly to find an 18 month old staring at my face and trying to hold my hand. Needless to say much screaming later (from me/ I was not expecting my daughter to be standing over me) we put her back in her cot and soothed her to sleep. I’m ashamed to admit I sat next to her and let her stroke my arm.
Day 7-14: The sleep saga continued. More wailing and crying. Sleep times of up to 90 minutes. The guilt just kept increasing. She would repeatedly ask me to sit near her. I did not know how to stop feeling guilty. There MUST be a better way.
After two weeks we just gave up. We decided this really wasn’t for us. The theory was great but it just didn’t seem to fit our parenting style and needs at this point in time. It is a good theory, and possibly would have worked had I not ruined it for myself on day 4. But I think day 4 became the point of no return for us and this method wasn’t going to be effective quickly after I put a great spanner in the works.
Method 2: Camping Out (The Infant Sleep eLearning Programme)
After a short break from the sleep training drama we decided to try again. This time I wasn’t looking for quick results. I was going to take it slowly and do it properly. Results below:
Days 1-3: Patted her to sleep. No resistance from my daughter. Only one night waking where I patted her again.
Days 4-7: I sat next to her cot listening to her repeated cries for my arm. It was not as distressing as I was present in the room. She kept asking for water and a nappy change etc but I left a water bottle in the cot and checked her nappy to make sure she was dry without actually interacting with her. On night 6 she eventually stopped crying and was falling asleep unaided.
Days 8-11: I was gradually moving further and further away from her cot. Each movement backwards was met with wailing and demands that I move back to my original position. I did not answer her or give in to her requests. After 30 minutes or so she would give in and fall asleep.
Days 12-15: I had practically reached the door at this point. She was less resistant now and would fall asleep quicker.
Days 16+: I actually left the room today to use the bathroom after putting her into the cot! She didn’t cry. She fussed in her cot and before I returned she had soothed herself to sleep. This happened a few nights in a row. She also stopped waking up at night as I think she may have learnt how to soothe herself back to sleep.
The camping out method worked really well for us. Although the results took a lot longer, in the end the goal of her sleeping through the night and sleeping by herself, was achieved. Now when I went to bed, I had so much time to myself. I didn’t realise how much I missed the little time to myself before bed. My quality of life after having a baby had improved drastically. I was getting more personal time and I was also getting my full sleep! I was a much happier person to be around and I got some sense of myself back. I can’t believe I didn’t try these methods earlier. I definitely will try not to make the same mistake second time round.
If you haven’t tried sleep training yet, I urge you to do it now! You will love having time to yourself and not having all your bedtime routine wrapped into your child’s routine. Just to make things simple I have created a picture guide to both methods. Download a pictorial guide to both methods mentioned here. If you want more detailed descriptions of the different sleep training methods (there is also a no tears method which takes longer, but a much better option for those who find it extremely difficult to see their child upset), visit the websites mentioned in the references below.
Keep me updated on how your sleep training goes and send me an email if you have any questions. If you like this post hit the subscribe button below!
Raising Children (Camping Out Method)
Dr Richard Ferber (Controlled Crying Method)
Baby Centre (No Tears Method)