Monday, August 30, 2010

Sleep Training: 5 ways to make it easier

6 weeks old
Every two to three weeks, my son's sleeping patterns change.  This was to be expected, so I didn't sweat it much.  After about 2 months, a general sleeping pattern emerged in which he slept from roughly 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM with about 3-4 hungry wake ups on average.  By the time he was 4 months, he was sleeping from 8:30 PM to 6:00 AM, sometimes through the night but sometimes with as many as 5 wake ups.  This was nice because it gave me a little time to work before I went to bed, and he took enough naps during the day that I could take a nap as well.  

At close to 6 months, however, a distressing change in his sleeping habits began to take shape.  He went from a nap every hour and a half or so (often very short) to 2-3 naps a day.  And he started going to sleep at night later and later.  He also started sleeping in later, so that wasn't bad at first.  

By his 7th month (today!), he got to a point where he took only 2 naps a day and sometimes didn't go down for the night until almost midnight.  This cut out all my pre-bedtime chore time, and I had to do as much as possible during his naps and while he was distracted by his toys.  Because he still wakes up a few times in the middle of the night, the later mornings aren't enough to make up for it.  The changes I'd been toying with in my head concerning my approach to his sleep routine were now too much to ignore.

Parenting books that mention sleep training say to put the baby down and comfort them every five minutes if they cry until they fall asleep.  I'd mentioned sleep training to my mom before, and she was always strongly against it.  I was worried about it not going well and the time or two that I tried it didn't go as planned.  Desperate for a reprieve, I decided to give it another shot.

When he woke up from his afternoon around 3:45 PM, I kept him up for the rest of day and too distracted to attempt the cat nap he's been wanting to take lately around 7:00 PM.  I waited until I knew he was very sleepy and would have a hard time fighting it as he usually does.   I tried giving him a bottle around 8:30 to get him in a bed time mood, but he didn't want it.  At 9:30 PM, he was still going strong, but I knew he was ready for bed.  I tried his bottle again, but he still didn't want it, so I sat with him in a quiet and dimly lit room for about 5 minutes.  Then I put him in his crib.

He was not thrilled about being put down, but he didn't cry so I left.  I turned the baby monitor on and gathered some crafty items to get ready to hunker down for the crying I just knew would ensue.  Then I waited.  Nothing.  A little whine here and there, but no crying.  After about 5 minutes, he got a little fussy but still no crying.  Then there was silence.  He was in bed before 10:00 PM and didn't require an hour's worth of holding and playing and soothing to sleep.

I have theory on why it worked so well this time when the one or two times prior ended up with me having to give up and pick him up until he decided to fall asleep.  This is what I did.

1) I didn't let him have any extraneous naps after 4:00 PM.
2) He was well-fed prior to falling asleep with a hearty dinner around 6:00 PM followed up by a generous serving of milk (he drank about 8 ounces) when he was ready for it.
3) At 8:00 PM, he had a bath (his first sitting up bath!).
4) Exercise:  After his bath, he played for about 15 minutes and actively rolled around in a generous play area.  When the 8:30 attempt at bed time failed, I let him have more activity time culminating in a 30 minute play session to his favorite Baby Faith video, which he prefers to Baby Einstein.
5) When we got serious about bed time, I took him to a quiet, dark room and snuggled with him for about 10 minutes to calm him down.

After that, he went out with minimal fuss.  I'm hoping for a repeat tonight.  With a little luck, I'll have good news about an encore performance tomorrow.