A Quick Guide For Tired Parents: What You Need To Know About Sleeping Through The Night.
When I was pregnant I read many books and articles on how to make sure that my newborn baby would sleep through the night. These books promised that by following a EASY (eat, awake, sleep, your time) schedule my daughter would sleep through the night in no time.
When Emilia was born these plans of schedules and putting my sleepy baby down drowsy but awake quickly faded away. My days and nights were spent rocking her to sleep, only to put her down and have her wake back up.
At this time I frantically tried to read everything I could about sleep training. Hearing her cry only made me feel more stressed out. So I tried methods such as “patting and shushing” and “pick up, put down” to help her fall asleep. These methods only seemed to wake her up more, and in the end I would end up rocking and nursing her back to sleep.
By the time Emilia was 3.5 months old we knew something had to change. Naps were essentially non-existent and the nights were terrible. It felt as though I would never sleep again. (This may seem dramatic but if you have been in this situation you will understand.) Sleep deprivation was getting the best of me, and I was feeling exhausted and hopeless.
It was around this time that we started reading up on the cry-it-out method. The research strongly supported it, and we felt confident that it could work for Emilia. After the last blog post on sleep deprivation I received messages and comments asking to outline exactly what we did to sleep train. The following steps will talk about exactly how we sleep trained and what we wish we knew before we started.
1. Track Everything.
This has to be one of the most important things that we did. Tracking all of Emilia’s sleep and feedings helped us know how much wake time she had between naps, as well as how much time she had between feedings. If we had done this from the first day we would have known that she was SO overtired at night and that is why she did not want to fall asleep. We also would have been able to realize that sometimes we were trying to force a nap on her when she wasn’t even tired yet! It’s no wonder she would get so upset with us!
To track her sleep and feedings we used an app called “Sprout”. I highly recommend this app to any parent looking to track sleep and wake times!
2. WAKE TIMES, WAKE TIMES, WAKE TIMES!
This is something we completely missed the mark on. Apparently keeping your baby up longer during the day DOES NOT help them sleep longer at night. In fact, good naps = better nights. As soon as we started tracking naps/wake times we found that she went down for naps SO MUCH EASIER. This was a total game changer for us and would have been great to know right away.
Right now Emilia is 5.5 months old and she can be awake for about 2 hours between naps. As soon as 2 hours hits, or if she is yawning/rubbing eyes earlier than this, I bring that sweet girl to her room, read her a book, and put her down for a nap. She may fuss for a couple minutes but she usually puts herself to sleep quite quickly.
Before she goes down for the night she is usually awake about an hour longer than she is between naps. Right now she is awake for about 3 hours before bedtime. When she is put down at the right time she usually falls asleep within a few minutes.
Here is a link to the wake time schedule that I use from the Baby Sleep Site.
3. Create a Bedtime Routine.
A big issue that we had created was that our baby had a ‘sleep association’. This meant that she started relying on me nursing and rocking her to fall asleep. She didn’t know how to connect her sleep cycles so when she went into a light sleep during the night she would wake up crying until I nursed and rocked her back to sleep. This would happen ALL. NIGHT. LONG.
What we learned is that we needed to create a bedtime routine that started with nursing and ended with putting her down awake. Putting her down awake allowed her to learn how to fall asleep on her own without me there.
Our routine is pretty much the same every night (with some variation here and there). It includes: Feed, bath, diaper/pajamas, books, prayer, bed. It takes between 20-30 minutes, and has become a favorite time of day for all of us. To create this bedtime routine we used information from the website Precious Little Sleep. This website is extremely helpful for all things sleep related and we highly recommend it!
If you are not ready to do any other part of sleep training, I would recommend tracking sleep, monitoring wake times, and having a solid bedtime routine. This alone can make a huge difference when it comes to sleep.
4. Teach Baby To Fall Asleep On Their Own.
If you have a unicorn baby who loves to sleep you may be fine with tracking wake times and having a solid bedtime routine. However, if you have a baby like mine who is stuck in a bad habit of needing to be fed and/or rocked to sleep, this step is going to be key for you.
Once the bedtime routine is over, and your baby has been awake for the correct amount of time, it is time to kiss that baby and put them down in their crib (while they are still awake).
You will not go back into their room until a set amount of time (we did 4 hours) has passed and they have fallen asleep on their own (this means that they are probably going to cry for the first few nights).
This method is known in the research on baby sleep as extinction and it has been shown to be the quickest and most effective form of behavioural training for baby sleep.
A disclaimer on this method – It is HARD (very hard) to hear your baby cry. It is the most difficult thing a parent can hear. However, babies learn quickly, and it usually only takes a few nights for them to learn to sleep on their own. Doing this method is helping your baby learn an invaluable skill that they will have for the rest of their life.
Now, most nights she goes down with minimal fussing and will fall right asleep. To be completely honest if it was an off day or we did not get her to bed soon enough there sometimes be some crying (however it’s never longer than 5-10 minutes). She always falls asleep independently, and I never have to nurse or rock her to sleep anymore.
5. Sleep Training Does Not Equal Night Weaning
Night weaning is an entirely different type of training that can be done after a doctors approval, usually around the 5-6 month mark.
For night feedings, she would be fed after the initial 4 hours in bed, and then if she woke up after that I would feed her if it had been 3 hours since her last feeding.
After she is fed, she is put right back down into the crib whether she is awake or asleep. She is never rocked back to sleep. When she is fed the lights do not go on, and I do not talk to her. As I say to my husband when he goes in there in the night: business only!
Sleeping through the night is a gradual process. At first she was still feeding 3 times a night. By 4.5 months she had moved to feeding 2 times a night. At 5 months she fed 1 time a night. And now at 5.5 months she has been sleeping through the night several times, sometimes waking once for a feed. This is just how our baby is, and every baby will be different.
6. Be Consistent
When you decide to sleep train, you need to be committed to it. Prepare yourself to hear some crying, and know that it will not last forever. All the research on the extinction method show it to be successful as long as parents are committed. It is difficult to stay committed when your sweet baby is crying, but again it is only for a short time.
It’s important to know that research done on cry-it-out has shown that there is no long term negative impact on the baby’s attachment or mental health. As long as you are attending to your child’s needs and giving them a stable loving home they will not have any issue with attachment from cry it out.
The research has actually shown that what is most concerning is sleep deprivation in mothers leading to high rates of postpartum depression (PPD). Mothers who had PPD actually had a more difficult time attending to the day-to-day needs of their children as well as taking care of themselves. Sleep training babies has been shown to reduce the risk of PPD as well as the symptoms of PPD in sleep deprived mothers.
TAKE HOME MESSAGE:
Before sleep training (which took a total of 5 days), my baby was awake every 45 minutes through the night and didn’t nap during the day. Now she is in bed for 11 hours every night and only wakes up when she needs to eat. She also takes 3 solid naps every day.
In summary the steps we took to sleep train our baby were:
- Track all sleep and feed times.
- Make sure she is put to bed after the correct amount of wake time.
- Have a solid bedtime routine.
- Allow her to fall asleep independently after routine is completed.
- Do not go into room until 4 hours after she is put to bed.
- Be consistent with this plan every single night.
The steps listed here are based off of research and not just my personal opinion. We wish that we had known these things earlier! Hopefully this will help some of you sleep deprived parents out there who messaged me after my last post!
Please share this post with any new parents who could use some sleep!
Here are some links to two key research articles:
Here are some of the other articles I reviewed when researching sleep training and the cry-it-out method!
Anders, T. F., L. F. Halpern and J. Hua (1992). “Sleeping through the night: a developmental perspective.” Pediatrics 90(4): 554-560.
Essex, M.J., M.H. Klein, E. Cho, and N.H. Kalin. Maternal stress beginning in infancy may sensitize children to later stress exposure: effects on cortisol and behavior. Biol Psychiatry. 52(8): p. 776-84. 2002.
France, KG, and Hudson, SM. Behavior management of infant sleep disturbance. J Appl Behav Anal 1990;23:91-98
Goodlin-Jones, B. L., M. M. Burnham, E. E. Gaylor and T. F. Anders (2001). “Night waking, sleep-wake organization, and self-soothing in the first year of life.” J Dev Behav Pediatr22(4): 226-233.
Karraker, K.H. and M. Young. Night Waking in 6-Month-Old Infants and Maternal Depressive Symptoms. J Appl Dev Psychol. 28(5-6): p. 493-498. 2007.
Kuhn, BR, and Elliott, AJ. Treatment efficacy in behavioral pediatric sleep medicine. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 2003;54:587- 597
Middlemiss, W., D.A. Granger, W.A. Goldberg, and L. Nathans. Asynchrony of mother-infant hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity following extinction of infant crying responses induced during the transition to sleep. Early Hum Dev. 88(4): p. 227-32. 2012.
Mindell, J. A., B. Kuhn, D. S. Lewin, L. J. Meltzer and A. Sadeh (2006). “Behavioral treatment of bedtime problems and night wakings in infants and young children.” Sleep 29(10): 1263-1276.