Sleep Training

We’re sleep-training Sophie, again, and miracle of miracles, it seems to be working. Last night she slept in her own crib all night long, from 8:30 pm to 7:45 am (that’s a very late morning for her, a very nice morning for me) — and she had only one major wake-up around 2 am. Then she went down for a nap today at 9:45 am and is still sleeping while I begin typing this, almost two hours later. This is amazing. She needed her sleep. So did I.

Unless you are a parent who has gone through eleven months of sleep-deprivation (or maybe a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay) I’m not sure you can understand what this feels like. Last week, she was starting to wake up six or more times a night, and by 5am I was crying too, so we decided that enough is enough.

We had tried to train her, back when she was five months old. We read every sleep book we could get our hands on. It got to the point where, when we read sleep advice, it simply repeated what we already do. We have a good, calming, consistent bedtime routine. We feed her well during the day. We have a more-or-less consistent daily nap schedule. We have taught her multiple ways of falling asleep (nursing, walking, in the car, in the stroller) – although we have failed to teach her to fall asleep on her own in the bed, despite many many tries. Fortunately, her daycare lady somehow taught her to sleep on her own. Her daycare lady is a saint. We have given Sophie a lovey, a reassuring stuffed animal that she holds while nursing & sleeping, to soothe herself. We have good lullabies, comfortable pyjamas, a dark & calm room, and even code-words that we’ve trained Sophie to associate with sleep. Ben wanted the code-word to be, “Check the oil,” but what it has become is me saying, “Sleeeep, sleeeeep, wonderful sleep.”

We have done everything except let her cry it out, and we even tried that back when she was 5 months old. It just didn’t work. She would spend up to 90 minutes crying herself to sleep, then whenever she woke up, she’d still be panic-crying. It was torturous for all of us, but we kept it up for weeks, until finally we just decided to throw out all the theories that were making no difference anyway and just follow our instincts to hold her and soothe her. I resigned myself to frequent night-wakings. As long as she sleeps for four hours at a time, I get my deep REM sleep and can almost function okay in the day – but still, this wasn’t sustainable. Especially not last week, when her night-wakings got so frequent I could barely count them.

So now we’re trying again. Here’s the new system, thanks mostly to Sarah. We moved the crib out of our room, so that Sophie has total privacy – and we get our bedroom back. That alone is good. Then we get to soothe Sophie to sleep in whatever way works. For us, that’s a bath, then massaging with baby lotion, then nursing  and rocking in the rocking chair in the dark, with her cozy green fleece blanket and her lovey bunny. If she still needs more, we walk around the block singing Raffi’s song, “Thanks a lot.”

I don’t know if its the sibilance or the droning repeptition, but it works. I have composed my own verses to “Thanks a lot,” and it goes on and on and on until she is solidly asleep. Ben says if he hears one more chorus of “Thanks a lot,” he may have to shoot someone, but I don’t care as long as Sophie is asleep.

Then when she wakes up at night, we let her try to put herself back to sleep. We let her try for up to an hour. She cries, but it’s not a desperate cry, it’s just a sort of announcement that she’s reaching for sleep & can’t find it. After an hour, I nurse her down, but I don’t succumb to the temptation to let her sleep in our bed. We’re keeping her in her crib all night long. If she wakes up again, I may go to her sooner than an hour – but after having that first hour struggle, she seems to stay asleep longer. I think she is learning to solve the little night-wakings before calling for us.

I’m worried she is losing trust & a sense of security, but then I see her in the morning, grinning & so happy & finally rested, and I know that she knows we love her. Getting to sleep at night lets me be more joyful with her in the day.

That’s the whole system: soothe her solidly to sleep, but ignore her cries in the night as long as possible.

It’s working, so far. Knock on wood. It can’t possibly be this easy, so quickly. We’ve been trying this for three nights, and each night there’s fewer wakings and longer sleepings. Sarah says that sleep-training usually takes one night for every month of a baby’s age. Sophie is advanced, so I’m planning on longer than 11 nights. But we’ll see. If every night is like last night, I will be singing alleluja all day long. I am singing, most of today.

But I probably jinxed it by posting here.  We’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.


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