Dorian has always been a good sleeper. I mean, I did my share of walking him around the living room in the middle of the night for the first several weeks. But around the time he was 6 weeks old, he began sleeping a consolidated 12 hours each night (and by “consolidated,” I mean that he woke up every 3 to 6 hours to eat, but always fell back asleep immediately, without me wearing any further tracks in the living room carpet). However, a few weeks ago, he started waking up more often in the night, like every 1 or 2 hours, and crying until I either fed him or rocked him back to sleep. I knew it was time for some sleep training. I had been reading Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. My short review of this book is that I learned a lot of valuable things from it, but from a practical standpoint it is very poorly written and the jewels of wisdom get easily lost in Dr. Weissbluth’s repetitive, indirect writing style. So, to save you the trouble of reading the book, here is what I learned from it:
• Sleep is very important for a baby’s development. Overtired babies (and children) are cranky, and they don’t learn as well as well-rested babies.
• A young baby (younger than about 4-5 months) will generally be happiest if he is awake for only 1-2 hours at a time. If a baby is fussy and has been fed and changed, check the clock–he probably just needs to sleep.
• Around 6 weeks of age, a baby’s sleep will start organizing itself into longer periods of night sleep and shorter periods of daytime sleep.
• Sleep begets sleep–meaning, a baby who is well-rested will be able to sleep better than one who is not. So the idea of keeping a baby up during the day in order to have him sleep at night is actually counter-productive.
• Babies need to learn to fall asleep on their own, because otherwise, when they wake up in the middle of the night (which we all naturally do, several times a night), you will have to get up to put them back to sleep. Even if you don’t mind doing this, it is fragmenting the baby’s sleep, and is ultimately not healthy for them.
• There are a few different methods of sleep training, including “extinction” (letting your baby cry without any consoling) and other more gradual methods. Every baby and every family is different, and you have to decide what will work for you. In my opinion, Dr. Weissbluth did not do a great job of explaining these methods.
Then I read Dr. Richard Ferber’s Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. Now, Richard Ferber gets a bad rap. He wrote this book in 1985, and since then there have been a lot of people who have criticized him for advocating a cry-it-out method. But here’s the thing: Richard Ferber doesn’t say to just let them cry! Dr. Weissbluth actually advocated the “extinction” method over any other, saying that it will work the fastest, even if it is the hardest. I tried it. Dorian cried for an hour and a half before falling asleep, and guess what? I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t face another hour of crying, so I picked him up the next time he cried, and put off sleep training another couple of weeks. So I don’t really know if extinction works. But what did work, like magic, was Dr. Ferber’s method. All you have to do is, after a nice bedtime routine (pajamas, story, song, kiss), put him in his bed awake, and leave the room. He will cry. After 5 minutes, you can go in and comfort him (but don’t pick him up), and then leave for 10 minutes, and then 15. After that you can check on him every 15 minutes. I admit, this is still a little hard, when you know that you could just fix everything by picking him up. But it’s so much easier than just letting him cry. Anyway, the second night, you increase the intervals to 10, 15, and 20 minutes, and so on, each night after that. You do the same thing for naps. Ferber says it shouldn’t take longer than a week. For us, it took one night. One hour of crying. I still feel like some kind of magic has occurred when I kiss him, tell him I love him, lay him down in the crib, leave the room, and he is asleep within 2 or 5 or 10 minutes. But that is how it happens, every time. And even when it takes him a little longer to fall asleep, he usually just fusses a little bit, and hardly ever cries. He is so happy to see me in the morning after a good night’s sleep (12-13 hours), and his naps are also longer now (he has settled into a schedule of 3 naps, usually totaling around 4 hours of daytime sleep), so he wakes up happy instead of cranky. Before I started the sleep training, I wondered: should I keep swaddling him before I put him to bed? I was worried that if he associated being swaddled with falling asleep, he would not be able to fall back asleep if he wiggled out of his blanket (which he does with some regularity). But I decided to keep swaddling him, until one day for his nap, Russell tried putting him down without being swaddled, and it worked. That was easy. Now we swaddle him, or not, depending on the temperature of his room. I also wondered if I should keep feeding him during the night, because isn’t the goal of this sleep training to get him to sleep through the whole night? I decided to take a gradual approach. For now, if he wakes up and it has been at least 3-4 hours since he last ate, and he doesn’t seem to be self-soothing, I will feed him, and we will work on stretching the times between feedings each night. If he doesn’t wean himself off these nightly feedings by the time he gets teeth, though, then I will take a more assertive approach. In the meantime, at least he is sleeping much better between the feedings, and I feel really good about what we have accomplished! Confession: I rocked him to sleep this morning when he woke up too soon. He seemed to be in some teething distress and I couldn’t resist. I do love holding that little guy. Fortunately, naptime went fine, so I don’t think occasional indulgence will ruin him...