Sleep. Oh sleep, you wickedly wonderful, but often never had, state of being. I need my sleep. I needed sleep before kids. I need my sleep after kids. We all know how that story goes. Sleep becomes a distant memory and we challenge ourselves to find new ways to keep going until bedtime. Anything to make it to the finishing line and lay horizontal for a few minutes. Theres a trick to getting good sleep as a parent. Get help! With Little Beans sleeping pattern going from bad to worse I needed help!
Lord knows Little Bean has had a steady decline in her sleep habits. You may remember how we tried Cry It Out at the end of September. Well that can just feck the feck right off because it is heart breaking! I lasted one night before my anxiety knocked me down and I stood outside her door crying harder than her. I went back to my usual spot of lying on the bed beside her in her cot or sitting on the floor with a numb butt, getting more and more tired as she resisted sleep. Mostly because Momma Bear was in the room and isn’t she the most entertaining creature on the planet!
By the end of November I had enough. I was barely sleeping and neither was she. I was stressed, oh so very stressed. She had developed a ridiculous routine and I was caught in the middle of it. At ridiculous o’clock. Without fail, almost every night she would wake at some stage during the night and stay awake for 2 to 4 hours. I’ve had dreaded 5 hour wakings too. Adding to this, she cried and cried with screams in between for someone to join her for these nighttime parties. And on top of it all, a secondary problem were wakings soon after she went to bed. If she went to bed at 7pm there was a risk of her waking at 8pm with almighty screams and staying awake until 9pm or sometimes 10pm. There was no real pattern but it was almost like she saw 7pm as a nap and not nighttime. This was becoming progressively worse which was one of the main reasons I started sleep training. I cracked. My nervous disposition couldn’t handle the thoughts of yet another night awake and struggling through the next day overtired and overburdened.
This is how an ordinary day went to give you an idea of her usual schedule which was the root of her night wakings:
8 to 9am – wake up, breakfast, milk
11am – snack
Noon to 12.30pm – lunch
12.30pm to 1.30pm – nap 30 minutes to 1 hour. I would stay with her until she fell asleep. Sometimes I’d stay and sleep in the bed beside her because I was so exhausted. Snack and drink at wakeup. Because of the school run she had to woken but at weekdays or holidays when could sleep for a marathon 2 hours. A lot of her naps where in the car also because the stress of getting her to sleep in the cot knowing I was on a time limit for the school run added to my pressure.
3pm – snack
4.45pm – dinner
7pm – milk, books, bed. Asleep by 7.30pm. I would stay with her until she fell asleep and then creep out. Ninja style.
8pm – there was a risk of her waking up very upset at this time. I never gave milk at this stage because as far as I was concerned she was past needing milk in the cot. She never brought a bottle to bed or woke up looking for milk so I dared not regress. But I had no solution to these wakings.
Anywhere between 11pm and 1pm she would wake. And stay awake for 2 to 4 hours. She would wake up screaming. Not so much crying but shouting for us to come to her. I would have to stay because any attempt at leaving ended in tears. Staying was easier but meant I was getting no sleep. The more attention I gave her the more she stayed awake.
I tried my best not to interact with her when attempting to get her back to sleep but when you’re being lobbed in the head with soothers and can literally feel the pain in your eyelids, well it’s not that easy to not react.
All of this meant that while I thought she was in a good pattern with food and sleep, she clearly wasn’t. The overnight wakings were far too prolonged and she cried and screamed until she saw one of us. Usually me. She would even giggle when we went into the room and do a happy little jig. Party time!
This all started around her first birthday and got progressively worse. I ranted and vented and gave out that nothing could be done until I picked up Lucy Wolfe’s book The Baby Sleep Solution.
(FYI this is not a sponsored post. I am sharing my honest and real journey with sleep training and sharing the tools, resources and people who helped us.)
Solution. That was all I wanted and needed. It was the end of November before I felt I was ready to put Lucy’s practical steps into play.
Sleep Baby Sleep
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew it would test my ability as Momma Bear and would probably take its toll on my relationship with Papa Bear. We needed to be on the same page but he was as stressed as I was with the worry, lack of sleep and thoughts of “will this ever end?”
We didn’t always see eye to eye with this process because that is exactly what it is. A process.
Sleep training is not a quick fix. In actual fact, it took about four weeks to feel confident we were getting somewhere. When I looked at the schedules and advice Lucy provided I could see the gaps in her timings and the reason she was waking overnight seemed all so logical. The child was fecking overtired. And I could feel it too. The whole house was overtired and cranky.
Lucy spells out the proper routines for ages from 6 months to 6 years in plain English and simple, almost obvious steps when you think about it. Of course my child is overtired, she’s barely sleeping and sleeping at the wrong times when she does!
And so sleep training began. I had thought of waiting until after Christmas but one day I said Feck this and jumped straight in. I had read the book. I had almost consumed it. I was ready to take on this mammoth task.
Restructuring her day was the first step. The second step was focusing on her food content. Proper meals and a little less of the old grazing. Switching her milk to a better time and having a proper bedtime routine, which was ad hoc at best, was the third step in getting her on track.
When it came to sleep and putting her into the cot, I went back to basics with step one of Lucy’s recommendations and was right beside her, almost glued to her face, getting her to sleep and slowly, over the weeks, I was drifting away. By the chest of drawers. Over by the wall. At the door. Until I was outside.
Outside! I had just put her in the cot and then gone. I was out the door. Miracle upon miracles she let me leave!
What I love about the concept of sleep training is that you are giving your baby the confidence and the independence to fall asleep naturally and by themselves. You are still connected with them by giving them the love and support they need.
One of the things I was surprised about with Lucy’s thoughts was eye contact. It was my belief that when trying to get your baby or toddler to sleep that you don’t look at them. Don’t give them eye contact otherwise they will want to play and sing to you all night. Well no, by giving her direct eye contact I was connecting with her and showing her how much I loved her and supported her. Which helped her to feel confident and happy to fall asleep by herself.
And then we hit a mega stumbling block! I was almost in tears one night as it seemed never ending. When it came to the overnight wakings they were still as frequent as ever but unlike naptime and nighttime she wouldn’t let me leave resulting in plenty of tears and screams. With Papa Bear working and Little Miss in school I was nervous that everyone else needed sleep so stayed with her to stop the crying and screaming. But it was a situation I needed to break but was finding it difficult to.
So, I called in back up. Erica Hargaden is a sleep princess! Without her I genuinelly think I would have given up and went back to the old routine as it all unravelled around me. Erica, a sleep consultant at Babogue, saw me through the final stage of sleep training to cement a new pattern in Little Bean and help us all get that much needed sleep.
From the beginning I said when it comes to getting sleep, you really need help. Erica virtually held my hand and gave me some extra advice on how to give Little Bean the confidence to no longer need me in the room with her. It was a battle of wills and I won in the end. With Erica’s advice it took another week to establish the routine with Little Bean. Erica emailed me every day to see how we were getting on and gave me the support and encouragement to keep going. Just a few days before the Christmas break and we were set.
She started to sleep longer, wakeups were less and if she did wake up she didn’t need me and fell asleep quicker.
It felt like magic but I knew the hard work that was involved in coaching and supporting both myself and Little Bean for a healthier, happier sleep pattern.
Where are we now?
I’d like to say we have a perfect little sleeper but we don’t. What we have is a much better situation with more sleep and happier people. There are still issues which are not easily rectified. Little Bean needs a longer nap at a better time but with the school run it’s not possible. She now naps from noon until 1.20pm or 1.45pm if she manages to stay asleep until the last minute. It would be better if she slept until 2 or 2.30pm to get her to bedtime but with a 2pm pick up time for Little Miss it’s literally impossible.
Depending on what time she wakes up from her nap, her bedtime is between 6.30pm and 7pm. Whether she goes into bed at the earlier or later time, she is always asleep within 5 minutes.
I no longer stay with her. I pop her into her cot, zip up her gro-bag and she reaches for her soothers in the cot (always three spare with her favourite attached to her unicorn teddy). And she usually sleeps from 7pm to 7.30am, sometimes with an hour wakeful period but this is less party time and more wind down time when she soothes herself to sleep.
What Has Changed?
1. She no longer screams a desperate cry when she wakes up from naps or overnight. She may whine or cry a little but it’s one of those attention seeking cries that more often than not stops after a couple of minutes.
2. She no longer needs me or anyone else to stay with her until she falls asleep. No more numb butt for me.
3. She no longer throws her soothers out of the cot. She used to throw them out to get attention. She now holds on to them because she knows I’m not in the room and I may not come in until morning.
4. She sleeps longer at nap times. We were always happy if we got over the 30 minute mark but more often than not she sleeps an hour and a half or more now.
5. She can get herself back to sleep and does not need to be soothed, sung to or caressed.
What Hasn’t Changed?
1. She still wakes up at night for possibly 1 or 2 hours. But because she doesn’t cry and usually ends up singing and chatting to herself I tend to fall back asleep. I will only go into her if she cries or sounds distressed which rarely happens. If she cries or whines its because she wants to go back to sleep but can’t find her soothers.
2. She still needs her soothers. She’s used to them and likes them. To be honest I don’t see any reason why we should take them away just yet. She’s only 20 months old and it’s a comfort to her. If they become a bigger problem in hindering her sleep I will look at it again.
3. We still play the music on her monitor to help her sleep. It’s on at the beginning when she goes into the cot and she falls asleep with it on at both nap times and bedtimes. Because I don’t want to change her sleeping environment we leave it on all night. As far as I can tell it doesn’t have an effect on her waking. In fact when I was sleeping in there the music would knock me out on occasion when soothers weren’t being thrown at me.
Would I Recommend Sleep Training?
In a heartbeat. But it comes with a warning. It is not a quick fix. You will not get a miracle sleeper in days but you will notice the difference quite quickly. Sleep affects everything, not just what happens in bed. Little Bean became a happier, better adjusted kid who eats better, plays better and sleeps better as a result of having a proper routine.
But routine is key which isn’t always easy. If I know I have no choice but for Little Bean to nap in the car I will have to adjust her schedule to suit that because I know she won’t sleep as well in the car. But over the weeks I’ve learned to accomodate changes to suit her little body clock and 95% of the time I ensure she naps in her cot.
Finally, there is a mental motherload with sleep training. You will need support whether it is friends, family or your partner or someone like Erica who’s professional help is worth a million friends, I guarantee you will need it.
Because this process takes some time, it’s easy to crack and give up. It took us four weeks to feel as though we had progress and that our situation with crying, screaming and waking had changed.
It does work. Commitment and consistency is key. And lots and lots of ice cream when the baby is finally asleep and you have the TV to yourself.
*** This is NOT a sponsored post. I am simply eternally grateful to Lucy and Erica for helping me regain some sleep and I wanted to share our story ***