Yikes – it’s been two weeks since my last post! We decided to go sailing for nine days, and while I had all the best intentions of blogging during our trip, I got distracted by things like relaxation, wine and sleep; not to mention, a very cranky baby who is presently getting his first set of molars (two at once!).
Speaking of sleep…
Sleep is by far the most common topic of the reader questions I receive via e-mail. It is also one of the most common discussion topics within my local network of moms. Although I’ve written a handful of posts about our sleep training process, I felt the topic was due for a follow-up, mainly because I keep getting asked, “Is it still working?”
In a nutshell, yes, it is. It has been a little over four months since we first began a formal sleep training regimen with the help of a professional sleep consultant. Now 10 months old, Oliver continues to sleep an average of 12 hours per night (plus or minus half an hour). He also has two naps: a morning nap from 10:00 to 11:20 (this one is predictable like clockwork) and an afternoon nap that starts around 3:00, and ranges anywhere from one to two hours.
The afternoon nap is less consistent than the morning one because it usually takes place in his stroller, thus his surroundings — location, noise levels and light levels — are inconsistent. To me, this is a small price to pay in exchange for not being house-bound all afternoon.
Oliver goes to bed at 8:00 and we don’t see him again until morning.
His sleep training has endured through travel across time zones, sleeping in unfamiliar environments, and changes in routine.
When I re-read my post on strategies for sleeping through the night, most of what I said still holds true. The advice I gave then is the same advice I would give now. The only thing that has changed appreciably is his daily routine. Here is what it looks like now:
08:00 – wake up
08:15 – breastfeed
10:00 – nap
11:20 — wake up
11:30 – lunch (solids)
13:00 – (approximately) breastfeed
15:00 – nap (1-2 hours)
16:30 – (approximately) wake up, breastfeed
18:30 – supper (solids)
19:15 – start bedtime routine
19:45 – breastfeed
20:00 – bedtime
If Oliver seems hungry (cranky), I offer him an additional breastfeed, either before his nap, or before supper. Also, you may have noticed the absence of a breakfast meal. At some point down the road, Oliver will wean and we will have to add a third meal of solids (breakfast) to this schedule. At present, he seems to do just fine without it, so I save myself the trouble and the clean-up :).
In the weeks immediately following sleep training, there was a period of time where we had a lot of crying at bedtime. Sometimes it took 45 minutes or more for Oliver to settle down and go to sleep. I began to question whether we were doing the right thing. Soon, we realized that the crying had more to do with Oliver’s separation anxiety than the sleep training itself. To resolve the issue, J took over the task of putting Oliver into his bed. After his final feeding, I give him a hug and kiss goodnight, hand him off to J, and then J takes him into the bathroom to brush his teeth. We have had very few episodes of crying since we made that change.
We were told by the sleep trainer to remove the 11:00 P.M. “dream feed” as soon as Oliver was taking in two tablespoons of solids per day. On Oliver’s baby-led weaning schedule, this occurred around eight months of age. As soon as we returned from Hawaii we picked a day (the upcoming Friday, to give us the weekend to deal with any fallout) and simply eliminated the dream feed “cold turkey.” We were prepared for a few rough nights, but other than a little whimper around 11:00 the next evening, the dream feed went away without issue.
In the ensuing months, we have been very diligent in identifying any potential changes in sleep patterns before they become problematic. If a night waking or early morning waking happens as a “one off,” we assume that there is a problem (e.g. sickness or pain) and we attend to Oliver immediately. If it happens again within a few days, however, we immediately revert to “sleep training mode” (strict bedtime and nap times, controlled crying, etc.) to nip it in the bud before it becomes habit.
We have also stopped going into his room to retrieve him the moment he wakes up. Instead, we watch the monitor and wait until he is actually sitting or standing up and chatting. Sometimes, he stirs or fusses for a few minutes (especially mid-way through a nap), and then goes back to sleep. In the past, I think we were shortchanging his sleep by going into his room too soon.
When Oliver naps in the stroller, we try to create as similar of a sleep environment to home as possible. We recline his seat, cover the stroller with a blanket to block out light, and use a travel Sleep Sheep to generate white noise.
Successful sleep training takes effort and commitment. Aside from setting up a routine and eliminating “sleep associations,” I believe that the following three things made the difference between success and failure:
1. Having consistent, pre-determined strategies for dealing with each potential sleep disturbance (e.g. what do we do if he fusses when we put him down to sleep, if he wakes during the night, if he wakes too early in the morning? etc.). Before we implemented our sleep training regimen, we were all over the map with our responses, and I think it confused Oliver. Once we knew exactly what to do, we were much more confident and firm, and both the consistency and our confidence helped Oliver to adjust.
2. Keeping a meticulous written log of feeding/sleeping/moods throughout the process (minimum three weeks). I was always surprised at how much our written records differed from our recollection. Once we had detailed notes, it was easier to find patterns and to know what issues we still needed to address. It also kept us accountable, i.e. we couldn’t fudge bedtimes and we knew exactly how many minutes we were letting him cry at any given time, instead of just guessing.
3. Commitment to a plan. In the past, we had tried different strategies for a few nights at a time, and nothing really worked long-term. This is because habits take time to break and to make. Committing to a unified plan for a three week period was key to it actually working. There were minor setbacks during the training period, but because we stuck with our plan and didn’t change course mid-way, Oliver was no longer confused, and thus quickly learned exactly what was expected of him.
Sleep training was a lot of work. In the first week, we were tired, cranky and argumentative. J and I had not been accustomed to getting out of bed so early (as early as 6:00 A.M in the first few days of training), and it was hard. I guess we needed a little bit of sleep training ourselves :). The first few nights and days were the worst, but within a week, Oliver was basically sleeping through the night without difficulty, and we were adjusting to our earlier mornings.
We had no social life during the three week training period, because adherence to Oliver’s schedule was our biggest priority. I had been worried that a strict routine would be restrictive for us, but in reality, it has given us a reliable framework around which we can plan and enjoy our daily activities. It has also given us back our evenings, and helped me to cope with Oliver’s increasingly energetic daytime behaviour. To be honest, now that Oliver reliably sleeps through the night, I can’t imagine how I ever managed parenting without a proper night’s sleep!