Sleep is one of the biggest worries on a parent’s mind. Most days (and nights) we wish we had more of it.
I read up on sleep training and the cry-it-out (CIO) method a few years back when I had my first child. But I decided it wasn’t suitable for us. I distinctly remember trying to let Vera cry it out once, and after one whole hour and lots of sweat and tears later, we were both crying. I truly felt like a horrible mother.
Fast forward to today, and I can say that Josh, our youngest, has been quite an easy baby. Yes of course he cries when he needs something or someone (usually me), but on the whole he’s quite happy and contented. Since he was three or four months old, I noticed that he was easily settled, and even fell asleep on his own on good nights.
He’s now seven months old. A few weeks back, he started to sleep poorly. That means that I had to rock him, and after being put down to bed for the night, he’d wake up crying for help to go back to sleep again. On bad nights, there would be constant waking every one or one and a half hours.
At first, I just put it down to temporary regression, perhaps due to him making a developmental leap. (He was learning to sit up, and also crawl around the time.)
But as the nights drew on, I got more tired and frustrated. I thought about sleep training him, but hesitated. The final straw came when my helper had to leave. Without a helper, I felt I needed to make some improvements in a hurry, so that I can be freed up to get proper rest, and to take care of my family. So I finally took some action.
I moved Joshua from my mattress back into his cot, and gave him three nights to adjust back to sleeping in the cot.
Once he was comfortable in the cot, I let him practise crying for five minutes the first time he woke after being put down to sleep, then 10 minutes the next time we woke again. After each time, I would go in and tell him, “Okay okay, it’s sleeping time.” I also picked him up to soothe him for a few minutes.
After about two nights of waking and crying between 7pm and 11pm, I thought he had finally got it.
The next night, he stirred and cried for a few seconds. And then quiet. I didn’t even go into the room to check on him. Then after a while, he woke again. And the same thing happened. After a few cries, he was quiet again.
Compared to several wakings between 7 and 11pm, and during the night, this was a lot better and I was a lot happier! I was also thankful that I did not have to put up with long periods of crying and fretting during the mini training sessions that he went through.
Here’s what I learnt from this experience:
1. Sleep training need not be so scary after all. It also does not need to be harsh or involve prolonged periods of crying.
2. If you choose to sleep-train your child, always make sure he is in a cot or a bed with secured sides.
3. Do not worry if everything goes goes out-of-whack for one or two nights. Tell yourself that you can try again tomorrow.
4. Get the support of your spouse or other care-givers so they understand what you are trying to achieve.
5. Work towards an early bedtime. Young babies are primed to sleep early, around 7-8pm. If bedtime is too late, they could be over-tired and more resistant to sleep or sleep-training.
6. Keep a consistent bedtime routine. Such as, bath, change into pajamas, song or story-time, and then a kiss or cuddle before saying goodnight.
For help on establishing routines, Gina Ford provides some helpful principles and guidelines. For gentle methods of sleep training, or weaning your child off sleep associations, you can try reading Elizabeth Pantley’s book The No-Cry Sleep Solution.
Have you sleep-trained your child before? What was your experience like?