Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
59
The Weissbluth Method: Q and A (2 of 2)
December 27, 2021

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

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A Step-by-Step Program for a Good Night's Sleep

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

5th Edition: 
Chapter 1 (only 16 pages!) outlines everything you need to know about your child's sleep.

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Introduction

A Healthy Child Needs a Healthy Brain, A Healthy Brain Needs Healthy Sleep

If you have not already done so, please read Blog Posts 1 through 5 that describe how sleep is important and beneficial. I will post specific information for parents and children based on my book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.” Please do not be put off by my book’s length. This is a reference book. Read only the topic of interest to you.

Blog 59The Weissbluth Method: Q and A (2 of 2)

The Weissbluth Method: Q and A

(Continued.)

Q: What is your top tip for how to get a baby to sleep?

A: The single most important word is timing. You are using your child’s natural sleep rhythm as an aid to help her sleep well. You watch for drowsy signs and when they appear, you begin your soothing to sleep efforts and bedtime routines. Good timing prevents a second wind. What happens when you skip a nap or the interval between naps is too long or the bedtime is too late?

When you are short on sleep, your body reacts in a predictable way. You get keyed up because your body produces stimulating chemicals such as cortisol, adrenaline, and noradrenaline to fight the fatigue. This results in a burst of energy commonly known as a second wind. When you catch your second wind, you are in a state of higher neurological arousal. You might feel more wired, turned on, or full of nervous energy. The higher state of neurological arousal makes it more difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep or both. Understanding how sleep deprivation causes a second wind that makes it more difficult to easily fall asleep and stay asleep also leads to a deeper appreciation of the opposite situation: being well-rested allows your child to more easily fall asleep and stay asleep.

It’s a virtuous circle: sleep begets sleep. It’s also a vicious circle: sleeplessness begets sleeplessness.

Q: At what age should you start the Weissbluth Method?

A: It is never too early to start to help your child sleep better. Start with your newborn, or as early as possible to help your child sleep well because:

  1. Keeping the intervals of wakefulness between naps brief and protecting early bedtimes avoids the overtired state which makes it easier for your child to fall asleep and stay asleep. Your soothing efforts and bedtime routines help your baby transition from wakefulness to sleep. As time passes, because your child is well-rested, your child is more able to learn self-soothing and develop healthy sleep habits. Learning good habits early is easier than breaking bad habits later. The benefits of healthy sleep accrue and sleep problems are prevented.
  2. Healthy sleep may enhance neurodevelopment of the brain just as healthy foods build strong bones. Brain development is extremely rapid during infancy and the first few years of life. Starting early with healthy sleep optimizes healthy brain development and may prevent adverse outcomes.

It is never too late to start to help your child sleep better because:

  1. Brain development continues during the first two decades.
  2. A small number of extra minutes of sleep, even only 10-20 minutes, over time, make a big difference. Perhaps, just move the bedtime a little earlier.

Q: How does daytime sleep differ from night sleep?

A: Naps are not little bits of night sleep randomly intruding upon children’s waking hours. Naps have their own rhythms and specific purposes.

Why Naps are Beneficial:

  1. Naps reduce stress: During a nap, levels of cortisol dramatically decrease.
  2. Naps enhance emotional- and self-regulation: After a nap, children show more joy and pride; less worry/anxiety.
  3. Naps modulate temperament: Napping is associated with more positive mood, more adaptability, and longer persistence.
  4. Naps consolidate memories: Naps following learning enhance the memory of what was learned.
  5. Naps enhance executive function: Naps improve attention in the presence of conflicting information.
  6. Naps contain REM sleep and REM sleep helps direct the course of brain maturation.
  7. Naps and night sleep interact with each other: When children nap well, they remain at a lower level of neurological activation that produces a virtuous circle of healthy sleep during the day and healthy sleep during the night. When children do not nap well, they are at a higher level of neurological arousal resulting in bedtime resistance, night wakings, and short night sleep durations. Subsequently, waking up short of sleep, naps become more problematic: a vicious circle.

Q: Does the Weissbluth Method work for all age groups?

A: Yes.

For children of every age, the brain naturally alternates between wake and sleep outputs. This is an automatic process over which we have no control. If you try to fight this circadian rhythm, you will lose because the ancient and powerful force behind this biological process is the rotation of the earth on its axis creating day and night. As the earth rotates, dawn and dusk separate day and night. Dawn and dusk are twilight, or in-between states. Not fully day and not fully night.

The brain automatically shifts into the drowsy state which is also an in-between state: not fully awake and not fully asleep. As your baby starts to become drowsy, begin to soothe your child to sleep. Healthy sleep occurs when the sleep period is in synchrony with the occurrence of the brain’s output for sleep both during the day and night. When you put your well-rested child to sleep at the beginning of the drowsy period, because the baby’s brain is naturally drifting into a sleep state:

  • It is easier for your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • No crying occurs before your child falls asleep.

Although some adults have an eveningness preference (owls) while others have a morningness preference (larks), research in children shows that between birth and 8 years of age, evening types (owls) occurs in less than 2 percent of children at every age.  In separate research, using objective measures of sleep and salivary melatonin, at 30-36 months of age, the number of definite evening types was zero. So, the vast majority of babies and young children are larks (become drowsy early in the evening and wake up early in the morning) and thus benefit from early bedtimes.

My name is Marc Weissbluth and I’ve been a pediatrician since 1973. This baby sleep blog will help you create a healthy sleep schedule for your child. My baby sleep advice and sleep training will teach you how to get a baby to sleep through the night. To stay updated with my latest baby and child sleep blog posts, be sure to subscribe today.

Comments

  1. Hello,

    Hoping you might be able to help. I feel quite lost. I have a 5 week old (6weeks per due date). I can’t seem to find a rhythm or get her naps on track. I’m a bit confused by the recommendations.

    She goes to sleep around 7pm “for the night”. I try to wake her for a dream feed around 9:30/10. She’s able to fall asleep quickly by rocking at that time. Then she’s up anywhere from 12-2a. If it’s on the earlier side she goes down easy but then wakes around 3 or 4a to feed again but this time is wide awake and I won’t be able to get her to sleep for an hour, sometimes longer. Then she’ll sleep till 7ish. If she wakes up at 2 am, I can usually get her back to sleep within an hour. Then she’ll wake around 4:30/5 and may go back to sleep after that until 7 or 8. Issue#1 – I’m not sure what to count as her “wake up for the day time”

    Her first nap after waking is easy to catch and usually occurs within an hour or so of waking, but then after that it’s so difficult. I try to feed her upon waking, play for a short amount of time, then put her down she she’s drowsy. I feel like I catch her cues – usually heavy lids, slow blink, and can start to get her drifting off, but the slightest thing can wake her. A creak in the floor boards, stopping patting her back, definitely laying her in her back. The only thing guaranteed to get her napping is nursing her to sleep then keeping her in my arms or wearing her in a wrap carrier.

    Which leads me to issue #2 – I try lying her down “drowsy but awake” but she wakes up completely and then I can’t soothe her to sleep again. She often skips a nap. Yesterday I tried with each nap and she barely napped all day. It’s even difficult if I soothe her to sleep in my arms and then lie her down fully asleep. As soon as she’s flat she wakes right up.

    My third issue is that sometimes after she wakes up and feeds (usually in the morning) she is calm alert and I can play with her and then notice her drowsy cues, however, as the day progresses she sometimes wakes up fussy, fusses on the breast, and then fusses on and off. My instinct is that she’s tired (and I find myself wishing she would have napped successfully earlier) and I start soothing her right away. I find myself fearful and knowing that in her fussy state she won’t go down drowsy but awake and will even wake up if I rock her to sleep and then lay her down (based on experience and fear that it might wake her up and she’ll skip the next nap completely).

    I find myself feeling guilty all the time. I’m always trying/doing something different. I’m afraid if I’m letting her fall asleep on me I’m setting her up for failure, but when I try the 5 S’s and try to put her down drowsy but awake she doesn’t sleep and skips naps.

    Am I putting too much pressure on the situation? Is she still too young to successfully self soothe and this is all just practice or am I doing something wrong? Is it ok to let her fall asleep on me if putting her down drowsy but awake doesn’t work? Should it start to work in time?

    Sincerely,

    Ariana

    1. Peak wakefulness, fussiness, and inability to nap well occurs at 6 weeks of age, so relax. Everything you describe is age-appropriate. Bedtimes drift earlier at 6 weeks of age, so experiment with a super-early bedtime. If she appears drowsy around 5:00-5:30pm soothe her to sleep. This might be a nap or it might be her bedtime. Read, or have your husband read, the age-appropriate sections of my book for an organized discussion of all the issues you describe or read the appropriate Blogs in ‘Blogs by Topic’. Your goal now is to do whatever works to maximize daytime sleep and minimize fussiness/crying during the day. Does this help.

  2. We have an overall great sleeper. Most of the time, he’s been doing 12 hours a night (in the snoo, we’re cheating, I know….) and we follow consistent wake windows, but he HAS to be held for naps! He’s almost 4 months and we’ve read the book and plan to use your method to sleep train soon. Is it possible to just do this for naps? I don’t really want to mess with nighttime since it’s going so well. Or should I just go ahead and rip off the bandaid and transition him to the crib and train for naps at the same time?

    1. How old is he? Perhaps he lacks self-soothing ability (Snoo at night holding for naps). What time does he fall asleep at night? Maybe, for now, follow the ‘Nap Drill’ in my book.

  3. Thanks so much for your reply! He is 15 weeks (16.5 adjusted) and going through major changes- dropped a nap on his own, standing for a minute or two/sitting for longer periods/rolling – all with some assistance- so I definitely believe this is developmental.. You are correct, he definitely lacks self-soothing ability 🙁 He had colic due to extreme gas pains (turns out he was allergic to something in my breast milk, spent 8 weeks with a breastfeeding nutritionist trying to figure out what it was and finally gave up and put him full time on hypoallergenic formula and has done a 180!) so we held him ALL the time to help him through this period of kicking and crying in pain for sometimes 8 hours a day so, it’s true, now he has no ability to self-soothe which is why I think we need to start sleep training. Just not sure if we should go for full sleep training, messing with our (mostly- he has a few bad ones here and there since the regression started) good nights, wait a bit till the regression settles out and just do what we have to do till then with naps so we’re at a better place developmentally, or just nap train now and do nights later? Here is our schedule:
    own during this regression period, so now
    6:30 wake feed
    8:15-9:30 nap
    9:30 feed – play
    11:15-12:30 nap
    12:30 feed – play
    2:15 -4:15 nap
    4:15 feed -play
    6:30 bedtime routine, feed
    9:30 dream feed

    Thank you!!!

    1. Read, and make your husband read, the section on colic, extinction, graduated extinction, and check and console in my book. When you have an agreement and a firm commitment on how to help him, tell me your choice and why you made your choice and I will gladly advise you.
      Gas pains regarding colic and sleep regressions are fake news.

  4. We are both on board to do extinction training as we feel it’s the only way to get a result with him and that it’s the fastest method.

    He is overall a very happy baby and loves going places, but he HATESSSSSS the car seat. He screams almost the entire time he’s in it and absolutely nothing helps distract of comfort him… He will eventually cry himself to sleep after about 30 minutes, so we’ve sort of seen it in action already.

    I’ve tried going in to comfort him with some gentle pats/shushing/reassurance when he wakes and it seems to make him even more upset as he just wants to be held! I don’t believe he’s in the extreme fussiness category, but we still think extinction is the only method that will be effective for his personality.

    I think graduated extinction and check-and-console are really for the parents, not the baby, and we are ok to let cry to get the end result of self-soothing as soon as possible.

    Since we last communicated, our nights have gotten bad again. We had a few really bad nights after Christmas that we had incorrectly attributed to the regression then hunger then teething but he then went back to sleeping relatively well but the last few nights he’s been waking every 30min-1hour starting at 3am and the snoo cannot even comfort him at times. So, I think we are ready to rip the bandaid off and do full sleep training at night as well and get him out of the snoo and into the crib.

    Do you recommend we try to get him to drink the extra ounces we were giving him during the dream feed during the day or should we keep it through the extinction?

    1. Look at Blog Posts 36, 37, and 90A: Dream feeds, regressions, teething, and many other myths will only confuse and distract you from success.
      Implement extinction on a Friday night so both of you are available on the week-end to support each other and do some tag-team parenting and sleeping.
      Do not start unless you can commit to a very early bedtime and a trial of 3-4 nights during which you will be 100% consistent.
      Re-read the section on ‘extinction’ to absorb all the details.
      Keep me posted and Good Luck!

  5. Hi! Just wanted to check back in and let you know he’s doing GREAT in his crib with extinction training!! Only cried 30 minutes the first night, woke up a few times but put himself back to sleep quickly and slept better than he had in weeks! Second night was 15 minutes, last night was 5 and he’s sleeping 6:30-7 like a champ. Naps are a bit harder, but we know that’s totally normal and will take some time. He’s crying about 15 minutes at the start and then taking a long time to re-settle when he wakes up after 30 minutes, but will sleep for another 30 after that.

    I feel like a totally new person and we’re only on Day 3! I have time to shower, eat, workout…. You know, have my basic human needs met instead of holding him in the dark all day and my husband and I both feel like a million bucks getting full nights of sleep again!

    So glad we didn’t wait any longer and did what we needed to do for all of our sake! Thank you so much for your help!!

    1. Congratulations! Would it be possible to write a detailed narrative report describing your actions and your feelings about what you did that I would publish as a ‘Blog Post-Mini Consult’? If so, please include your husband’s role. Also, if so, should it be anonymous?
      Sweet Dreams,
      DrW

  6. Hi!

    We are very happy to share our story! It doesn’t have to be anonymous, we are Yuri and Amira Melnichenko and we are so thankful for your help!

    We did full extinction training starting on a Friday night as recommended so my husband could be there that weekend to help. We put him to bed at the normal time, 6:30, with our normal nighttime routine- feeding about 30 minutes before, then a massage, change clothes/put on sleep sack, song, book, and gave him a big hug and told him that we love him very much and it’s time to learn how go to sleep by himself now.

    Then, we went outside where we can’t hear him and turned the sound off of the monitor and distracted ourselves. We actually had my best friend in town that night, she was leaving the following morning but we all decided to go ahead and do the first night with her here to be able to do it on a Friday (she has small children so she understands) and I’m glad we had the extra person to keep us distracted. He cried for 30 minutes, just like he does in the car, and then fell asleep. We can’t hear him in our room thankfully and we kept the sound off the monitor all night long, but my friend could hear him which made me feel more comfortable and he only woke up twice and cried for about 5 minutes each time. He slept until 7am the next morning!

    The next day I had to leave for a few hours and my husband handled the first two naps. Things were difficult, as expected. He laid him down for his first nap at the normal time (1.5 hours after wake up) and did the routine of a fresh diaper, song, sleep sack, and then just placed him in the crib. He cried for about 15 minutes before falling asleep. He woke up after 30 minutes (what he always does, even with the contact naps) and cried for 30 minutes 🙁 before going back to sleep for another 30 minutes. The same thing happened for the next two naps. Then, bedtime came and he cried for 15 minutes, but slept until 7 again!

    The next day, the same thing happened with the short naps, but he fell asleep within 15 minutes after re-waking from his naps and he fell asleep within 5 minutes at bed time!

    It’s been 9 days now and he’s been doing phenomenally at night. Only crying for about 3 minutes and then waking up a few times with a quick little vocalization and then immediately going back to sleep!

    Naps are still a process, but honestly I’ll take a few minutes of crying vs sitting in the dark in a recliner all day holding him. It was getting very depressing and I have so much freedom now and am really enjoying our time together, compared to when I was rushing to try to get anything done while he’s awake because what should have been my free time was spent nap-trapped!

    He’s usually able to fall asleep within 5-10 minutes and has slept for up to an hour or more in one session a few times, but does often still wake up after about 30 minutes and take 10-15 min to get back to sleep.

    It’s, of course, extremely difficult to hear your baby cry, but I just kept reminding myself, just like in the car when he’s wailing… he is safe, he is full, he is dry, he doesn’t need anything. He’s just not happy right now and that’s ok. This is a skill we are teaching him and crying is his only way to communicate, but it doesn’t mean anything is wrong.

    I was, of course, a little nervous at first and had some anxiety the first day as we were preparing to start the training, but I’m so thankful that we went through with it. He’s shown us that it’s what he needs! He was done with the snoo and done with the transitional swaddles and done being held! He’s a very tall boy – was in 9 month clothes at 3 months- and think he craved the space in addition to the freedom of sleeping without our help as he’s sleeping so much better at night and he sleeps in a T shape now with his arms all the way out wide.

    He wakes up as happy as a clam, smiling ear to ear and cooing- not ever crying- both in the morning and even after a nap where he spent 30 minutes crying in the middle of it, so we know he’s doing great! For those of you that have been debating sleep training, just do it! It’s a gift for your entire family… your baby, your spouse, and yourself!

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