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.
We had never been very consistent with Meg’s bedtime. We would put her to bed when she appeared tired (rubbing eyes, yawning), anywhere from 7:00 to 7:45 p.m., but occasionally even later. It usually took her between fifteen and thirty minutes of crying to fall asleep. I thought this was normal. She had always gone to bed rather late, and she had always taken a while to fall asleep. At Meg’s 9-month appointment we asked Dr. Weissbluth about her night waking. He made a very simple suggestion. He told us that we should put Meg to bed twenty minutes earlier at night. He said that her night waking would disappear and she would still wake up at a normal hour in the morning. I told him that we had been putting her to sleep when she appeared tired, at around 7:30 p.m., give or take thirty minutes. He said that once she appears tired it is too late and she should already be in bed. The first night we put her to bed at 6:45. We were very skeptical. We were sad to put her down so early when she seemed so wide awake and happy. She cried for about five minutes and then fell asleep, and with no night waking! The same thing happened the next night—about five minutes of crying and then asleep until morning. Sometimes she would wake up as early as 5:30, but we would give her a bottle and she would fall back to sleep, sometimes until almost 8:00! It has been almost four weeks since our 9-month appointment. Bedtime is an absolute joy. Meg eats dinner, takes a bath, and is in bed about 6:30 p.m. Sometimes I hesitate to put her down so early when she seems to be in such good spirits, but she cuddles with her blanket and her doll, sucks her thumb, closes her eyes, and sleeps till morning. It’s the sweetest thing I have ever seen.
Sophie has always been inconsistent when it comes to napping. Some days she would sleep for half an hour, others she wouldn’t sleep at all. And if I was lucky, she would take an occasional hour nap. I decided it was time to get help before the situation became worse. Sophie was 13 months old when I met with Dr. Weissbluth. She was sleeping for thirty minutes in the morning; her midday naps were unpredictable. At night, getting her to sleep was even more frustrating. Sophie had always been a great nighttime sleeper. Then, all of a sudden [cumulative sleepiness], she was waking up several times throughout the night. Not only was her mental state unbearable, but physically she did not look well. As for me, I was becoming mommy the monster. There were days when I thought I was going to lose it. I blamed myself for her sleeping disorder, even though I was doing everything right—putting her to bed early, keeping a consistent nap time, and putting her down in her crib for her naps instead of allowing her to sleep on the go. After looking over Sophie’s sleep log, Dr. Weissbluth gave me several options: Try an earlier bedtime (5:00 p.m.), lots of stimulation when awake, and soothing her longer at night. The goal was to allow her to catch up on her sleep. My husband and I put the plan to work. He supported the decision of an earlier bedtime, even though his time with her was already limited. Unfortunately, Sophie’s sleeping did not improve. She continued to take one nap for thirty or forty-five minutes and then skip her midday nap. She and I were both exhausted, and my frustration level was sky-high at this point. During our follow-up conversation, Dr. Weissbluth asked if I would consider dropping her midmorning nap. He recommended the continuation of an earlier bedtime (5:00 p.m.), which, surprisingly, she welcomed. Although I was hesitant to drop her midmorning nap, I was determined to get my happy child back. So I put plan B to work. For the first several days, Sophie could barely keep her eyes open past 10:30 a.m. I was able to keep her up until 11:00 a.m. and then 11:30 a.m. for the next several days. She continued to take thirty-minute naps. I called Dr. Weissbluth and he reminded me that she was still trying to catch up on sleep, that it would take several days for her to feel rested. After day four, she was staying awake until 12:30 and sleeping for an hour. And she was sleeping through the night—no more nighttime waking. By the end of the week, she was starting her nap at 12:30 and waking up at 2:00 p.m. And Sophie and Mommy were happy.
My friends and family look at me in disbelief when I tell them my 14-month-old daughter goes to bed around 6:30 on her own (without a bottle or rocking or crying) and sleeps soundly until 7:00 the next morning. The training exercise of putting the baby to bed drowsy but awake so they can learn self-soothing is the key. The crib, her bedroom, naps, and bedtime are a place and time of relaxation and enjoyment for our daughter and for us! No crying, no anxiety. I will admit it wasn’t always easy and there were trials and tribulations . . . but once you get over whatever humps are your challenges, it’s relatively smooth sailing. My experience this past year can be described as follows: 0–3 months is unnerving and exhausting, especially for the first-time parent; 3–6 months is anxious, wondering if you are doing the right thing; 6–9 months is more rewarding as you start to see your efforts really paying off; 9–12 months brings a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment; and 12 months and over makes all the training worth it.
At 18 months it became apparent that Anna was ready to make the transition from two naps to one, but would need some help because she fought the midmorning nap. We began, as Dr. Weissbluth suggested in his book, by gradually delaying the midmorning nap till 11:00 or so. Over a two-week window we were able to continue to push back the nap to sometime between noon and 1:00 p.m. In his book, Dr. Weissbluth suggested an earlier bedtime to help prevent night waking or early-morning waking. Anna was going to bed at 6:30 p.m. and sleeping until 7:00 a.m., so we really questioned this theory. My husband and I agreed that Dr. Weissbluth’s advice has always been right on the money, so we decided to put her down an hour earlier. We feared that she would wake up at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. after her usual twelve or thirteen hours of sleep. To our surprise, she awoke at 9:00 a.m., and she was in the most cheerful mood to date! Family, friends, even strangers constantly tell us what a happy, cheerful child we have. The reality is that she is a very well-rested child.
When we met with Dr. Weissbluth, Jared, now 19 months old, was waking up every hour and a half to two hours during the night. He would have to fall asleep while we were walking and carrying him on our shoulder. When placed in the crib, Jared would awaken and abruptly “pop up.” He would only sleep in the bed “nest” we created for him on the floor of our family room. We endured three months of the night waking before we consulted Dr. Weissbluth. We were instructed to place Jared in bed in an awake state between 6:00 and 7:00 P.M.in the evening and that we should leave him there until 6:00 in the morning. Our initial reaction was that Jared would carry on relentlessly when placed in his crib so early, and that the recommended approach was too strict and would never work. Much to our shock and delight, the first night we tried the new routine, Jared was asleep after five minutes of crying, and remained asleep for eleven hours, not waking until 5:30 the next morning. During the next two nights, Jared went to sleep on his own, with no episodes of crying. On the fourth night, he lay down in the bed with his favorite stuffed animal under his arm, as he has done since. Our baby was clearly overtired from going to bed at 8:30 p.m. and not being allowed to relax and go to sleep without interference. We never expected it to be so simple and provide such an immediate result. Jared wakes up happy, energized, and ready for a day full of adventures. Now, several months later, Jared is most happy when going to bed at 6:30 p.m., and will go to his bed himself if he is tired.
One family instituted this five-step program when their daughter, Nicole, was 26 months old—after 26 months of poor sleeping. She had always had difficulty falling asleep and difficulty staying asleep. Nicole always wanted to, and did, get out of her bed and go into her parents’ bed. After the birth of Daniel, her brother, her parents decided this had to stop. We used Sleep Rules and Silent Return to Sleep.
Their record showed the following results:
Night 1: Between 8:13 and 9:45 p.m.—69 return trips to bed. Slept until 8:30 a.m. with one brief awakening at 2:15 a.m.
Night 2: Between 8:20 and 10:30 p.m.—145 return trips to bed. Slept until 7:20 a.m. with one brief awakening at 2:15 a.m.
Night 3: After 9:14 p.m. (bedtime)—0 return trips to bed! Slept until 7:40 a.m., awakening once at 3:20 a.m.
That’s it! An important point to note is that almost all of Nicole’s getting out of bed occurred within the first hour or two of the night. Many children follow this pattern, so don’t expect that you will necessarily lose a complete night of sleep during this training period.
(To be continued)
Looking for some qualified baby sleep advice? My name is Marc Weissbluth and I’ve been a pediatrician since 1973. Subscribe to my baby sleep blog for helpful weekly content that will help you with your own little one.