I am an ardent follower of your blog and always look forward to your posts! My name is Mandy and I am a stay-at-home-mom to an 11 month old son who is extremely intelligent and aware. He is able to play by himself for long periods of time and is generally a very happy little man. Unfortunately, we have had some major sleep issues since he was 3 or 4 months old. He typically needs 3 – 4 naps per day, each nap only lasting about 1/2 an hour, and about 12 hours of sleep per night. But, the only way to get him to sleep is by rocking him to sleep (it can take anywhere from 15 -90 minutes each time), and he wakes up at least 3 times per night. He loves to be held and if I hold him he sleeps much better. My question is this: how can I help him become a better sleeper? Should I let him cry it out (even though last time we tried he ended up crying for over 4 hours)? I have tried everything, what should I do next?
Thanks so much for your help and insight!
Your boy sounds like a great guy! Let’s try to help him find sleep a little more independently.
For the first several months most babies sleep the way you describe (waking in the night for feedings, short naps, etc.). It sounds like you might have tried to make sleep happen a little more quickly and easily by rocking your boy, which created a habit. Most of us do some version of this with our babies, especially firstborns. We feel like it’s our job to make our babies sleep, when actually our job is to create an environment conducive to sleep, then patiently allow it to happen.
You can definitely help him break this rocking habit without leaving him to cry alone, but as with any change in routine, there will probably be some crying and struggle involved. Here are some things you might try…
The basic plan
Make a commitment to do a little less than you are doing and allow him to do a little more. Start with naps, and after a couple of days, transition to the new routine at nighttime, too.
Fresh air, unrestricted free movement and play (those long periods of play are wonderful and even better when they happen outdoors), predictable, peaceful, slow-paced days, taking care to protect against overstimulation — all contribute to healthy sleep. Try to sensitively watch for early signs of tiredness (for some children it’s a dazed expression), because over-tiredness can cause resistance to sleep.
First, tell him what you will do and acknowledge the changes. “Today for nap I will stay next to you until you fall asleep. Usually I hold and rock you, but now I’m going to let you relax while I stay next to you. It’s going to feel a little different.” Keep the rest of his bedtime routine exactly the same. For example: a bath, nursing or bottle-feeding, a story, a song, closing the shades or curtains, turning on a music box, etc.
Instead of rocking, just touch if he seems to want that. Lie next to him if he’s in your bed, or sit next to his crib and be there supporting him, speaking to him soothingly while he settles into sleep. It may be rough the first few times you try this. Calm yourself so that he can be assured that all is well. The first minutes of crying are usually self-regulation, discharging excess energy. If his crying escalates, acknowledge his feelings. “You’re having a hard time calming down.” Some children find it easier to let go and relax if you leave the room, but if your instinct tells you otherwise (or the baby’s cries escalate), stay. If you do leave, be sure to tell him, “Have a good rest, I love you, I’ll be back if you need me.”
Remember to think of this as a very positive journey you are having together, because it is! You are helping him learn something really important — the skill of falling asleep independently. And that means when he stirs at night and wakes a little (as all young children do), he will soon have the confidence and the ability to find sleep again, rather than becoming fully awake and needing your help as he has been doing. The key is to trust your boy to learn this skill and refrain from interference that conveys to him that he can’t. Project confidence.
“Remember, nobody can make another person fall asleep. How to relax and let sleep come is a skill your child, like everybody else, must learn all by herself.” –Magda Gerber
Once you’ve found a rhythm he will sleep better, and you will sleep better. I’ve seen this happen with families in my classes many, many times. It’s like a miracle. The baby comes to class a different person, plays for longer periods, copes better, and is far more relaxed and focused. The parents are ecstatic and a little stunned, finally remembering what it was like to function with a decent amount of sleep again.
Please let me know what you decide to do and how it works out…
Thank you for your kind words about the blog!
(Photo by Stacy Lynn Photography on Flickr.)