A Journey in Sleep Training

Conflicting advice from sleep training books and tips from friends, family, and even strangers can be overwhelming to parents of babies who sleep poorly.
A Journey in Sleep Training

The clock says it’s 9:58pm. “He’s about to wake up any minute”, I say to myself. I know, because he’s been waking around 10:00pm, almost consistently, for MONTHS.  I’m talking about Baby S. Who perhaps should now be called “Toddler S” having recently celebrated his first birthday. But he’s still very much my baby. And he still hasn’t- EVER- slept through the night.

If you’ve ever had a baby who was a poor sleeper, you know that it’s not just physically exhausting being interrupted all night long, but it’s mentally and emotionally exhausting wondering what you might be doing wrong in your quest to get your baby to sleep more than 2-3 hours at a time. The simple question, “Is he a good sleeper?”, asked by well-meaning strangers and friends, can elicit a swell of emotions. For some reason, how well your baby sleeps seems to have become some sort of parenting yardstick, where the ones whose infants are sleeping through the night at three months are the ones who’ve got it right, and the rest of us… well, we must be doing SOMETHING wrong! “Just let him cry it out!” the well-meaning friends and strangers say. Oh, if only it were that simple!

One of the biggest journeys I’ve taken as a parent has been this sleep journey. Which, it’s turned out, has been a quest not just to get some better sleep, but to understand where my own beliefs lie on this subject. Our oldest child, CK, is now three. He’s a cinch to put to bed in his own room: three stories and a cuddle and it’s goodnight for him. He rarely wakes in the night anymore.  But it didn’t start out this way, and we’ve bumbled our way along, with a combination of bed sharing (in his room and ours) and crying sessions that went on way longer than I’d care to admit. Looking back, there was no magic fix that I can pinpoint. That’s why, when our incredibly easy-going and independent-sleeping second son hit the three-month mark and started to sleep less and less at night, I began to read sleep books.

I realized that the experts seem to come from two polarizing camps: the “No Cry” camp (Dr. Sears, Elizabeth Pantley) and the “Cry it Out/ Controlled Crying” advocates.  Figure out which side you believe is “right” and you’ll be sleeping soundly in no time, right? Well, not so quickly, if you’ve got children like mine. So I’ve gone back and forth like a ping-pong ball, co-sleeping and feeling good about it, and four or five rounds of “controlled crying” when I’ve been at the point of utter frustration with the exhaustion and the undercurrent of pressure I feel to get him sleeping already. Baby S has not responded well to these attempts. When the books say the crying will lessen after a few days, he’s picked it up with more gusto, and then slept for shorter periods, to boot!

I wish I had the answer to help him sleep through the night. But I’m afraid I’ll continue to bumble along, hoping that by age three, Baby S will be as good a sleeper as his brother.  In the meantime, I remind myself that this too shall pass. And when I look at my three-year old and reflect on how quickly he’s grown, I know it to be true.


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21 thoughts on “A Journey in Sleep Training

  1. Thank you SO much for sharing your experience!! I have two children and neither were easy to sleep train. My oldest seemed to respond to the Pantley method at 10 months. However, once her little brother came and several moves in a short amount of time, her bedtime became a nightmare I dreaded every night. Her little bro was amazing until we did all our moves as well and at 14 months now goes to sleep on his own, waking once a night. Its felt exhausting in every way, including feeling like I’ve done something wrong. But seeing how my two have done it so differently seems like evidence that sleeping is a developmental learned skill that will come in time. Thanks for your post!

    • I’m so glad you related to the post, Danielle! Thank you for your comments. I am happy to report that since I wrote this, the little one (now 14 months) is sleeping ALOT better than he did for the first year. Some of it is things we’ve done, but I think it’s mostly due to his own development, as you say too.

  2. Go on you tube type in baby lullabies guarantee baby and toddlers will be sleeping in five minutes . thank God for soothing music my grandson was awful sleeper the first six months ..if wakes up in the middle of the night I hit play and he is out like a light ..it outs granny to sleep also :)

  3. My youngest slept for only 20 min at a time until about 4 to 6 months. It is a blur so I give the range, it may have been 4 months. But even after that she rarely slept more then 2 hrs at a time until close to a year. It was rough, more then rough. I was a zombie for the first 4 months. I barely functioned, my oldest certainly watched too much tv during that time! Fast forward to today, she is almost 2 1/2 and she still wakes up 1 to 3 times a night. I am sick of it but we have tried many things. She has severe reflux and I use that as an excuse when people ask about how she sleeps. We know that is part of the mix but not all. For the first 4 months of her life she slept in my bed on top of me. She still loves to lay on top of me. Eventually she will sleep, eventually they all day. She potty trained at 17 months, so I have that. She is a mess otherwise but at least she did that and is as cute as can be!

    • Carrie, that sounds incredibly tough! Thanks for sharing your experience; I’m sure if others in the same boat read your comments, they will at least know they’re not alone!

  4. I have a 3 year old who still wakes up every 3 hours. It sucks, but it’s him. He is well rested in the morning and a happy kid, so obviously it’s what his body needs. I put him to bed at nine, lay with him for a few minutes when he wakes at midnight, then I go to bed until three (when he crawls in bed with us until 6 or 7).
    I’ve accepted at this point that the biggest problem for me is talking to other people about sleep. If I don’t have to hear someone else’s opinion on what a “good sleeper” is, I’m fine with be shuffling once or twice a night. He’s not going to be in bed with me when he’s 17 and no one else is living at my house and dealing with it, so I try not to dwell on it.

    • You make a good point, Jamie. I think we tend to second-guess ourselves and how we’re handling sleep issues when we hear how well other children are sleeping. And as for the child not being in the parents’ bed as a teenager, I say the very same thing!

  5. Lots of good information on helping your baby sleep through the night. http://www.growingkids.org/gfi-core-curriculum/preparation-for-parenting/
    We used their program with our children and it was wonderful. Our first born (twins) we thought you just feed when they cry….then didn’t sleep through till after they were 2. Our second (single birth) we began the same way, found out about this program, slowly moved her into the scheduled feeding and with in a couple weeks she slept through the night (she was 6 months old at the time). Our third try we went directly to planned feedings and in the first month she was sleeping through the night. We began with her in our room to be sure she was okay (not truly sure how the planned feedings would work) and then moved her to her own room where she did wonderful. I have nothing to gain by telling you to try this. I wish everyone would for their babies and for themselves.

  6. I hear you! I have an eight year old who was always a horrible sleeper, a five year old who started sleeping through the night at 4 months (miracle!) and a 21 month old who sleeps through the night (NOW) but will NOT nap in his crib (must be held by mama). I am fumbling and bumbling along and laughing at myself for believing that by the third child I would know what I was doing – ha! Just keep swimming! :)

    • Thanks Melinda, I love your comment about thinking you’d have it figured out by the third child… glad I’m not the only one! ;)

  7. I needed to read this right now as I lie awake next to my 10 month old who wakes up countless times each night. Sometimes I feel like a failure as a parent because of the sleep issue. Why do others judge your parenting skills on whether your kids sleep through the night by certain age? Although I still don’t have any concrete answers, it’s just good to know that I’m not alone.

    • You are certainly not alone in your sleep troubles, Vicki! I’m so glad you found some comfort in this post. Hang in there!

  8. I feel your pain! My little boy (now 3 1/2 and sleeping well) was a terrible sleeper as a baby. He never slept properly. I felt like a zombie for a very long time. None of my mum-friends really understood, to them a bad night was a couple of wake ups. For me, that would have been a welcome change compared to the 5-6 wakes ups we had!
    Advice came from everywhere, nothing seemed to work, I would second-guess myself at every turn.
    In the end, I followed a program called Sleepsense. Basically, I put him into his cot and sat beside him until he fell asleep (it took a LONG time the first couple of days..) After three days, I moved into the middle of the room, another three days and I was sitting at the door, then by day ten I left him alone in the room.
    This worked wonderfully well for us, and to this day my little man is a good sleeper.
    Hope things get easier for you!

    • Thanks for your comments, Fiona. We tried the Sleepsense program, and while it didn’t work for us, I’m glad it helped out with your little guy!

  9. Having twins has made me all the more convinced that there is no one “magic fix” or right way to deal with sleep issues. Each of my children has VERY different sleeping patterns and preferences, and what worked for one invariably failed for the other, which can be very frustrating. My problem with the sleep books is that they all claim to be “the right way” and if your child doesn’t respond to their chosen method, it must be a failing on the parents’ part. I threw the books out and went with my gut- one sleeps through the night almost religiously, and the other co-sleeps with us a few nights a week (some weeks less, some more). And as long as it’s working for all of us, I don’t give a flip what the books say! If my son needs to be with us to feel secure at night, so be it. My intuition says he’ll grow out of it soon enough, and one of these days I’ll be missing those two-year-old late night snuggles. Hang in there, mama! Sleep will return to us all at some point (I hope)!
    Stephanie recently posted…Messy Play Date FUN!My Profile

    • Hi Stephanie, thanks for your comments. I totally agree with what you say about how the books can make you feel like a failure if their method doesn’t work. I’m also on the same page about doing what you need to do to meet each child’s individual needs. At the moment, that means starting out our little guy in his crib (this has been a major accomplishment for us!) and bringing him into our bed some time between 10-11pm for the remainder of the night. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do so that everyone in the family can get the best quality of sleep under the circumstances!

  10. I feel your frustration as I well remember those years but, if this is at all comforting there is a well known saying as you know “and this too shall pass”…and believe me it does so fast you dont where the time went…and now I watch my daughter struggle with her kids sleep issue. I actually say of all the child rearing stuff (and I’ve been through all stages by now) I found the sleep issues the hardest.(yup even harder than teens, because when my kids didn’t sleep neither did I and I cant deal with no sleep.
    Faigie recently posted…7 stained glass ideas to let the light shine through your kids artMy Profile

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