Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Adventures in Sleep...a Compilation of the First 14 Months

I'm seeing lots of sleep posts out there and I know many of you have little ones younger than Dylan. I thought it would be a good idea to share a general summary of our sleep journey in case it could help someone else. I do believe that Dylan is somewhat of a naturally good sleeper, but that doesn't mean we haven't had some very tough nights.

I've read lots of sleep books.  Here are some reviews:
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, Weissbluth
Babywise, Ezzo & Bucknam

I also read The Happiest Baby on the Block, Guide to Great Sleep by Dr. Karp which advocates the 5 S's (which are okay for infants, don't work later), and white noise among other things, but I never got around to a review.

So what we ended up doing is somewhat of a combination of everyone's advice with a priority placed on research. I do not have any major issues with CIO (cry it out), but I didn't feel that it worked in our specific situation. I didn't want Dylan losing calories from crying that he desperately needed. Also the couple times we did let him cry did not go well at all. So we primarily pursued other methods. Here are some previous sleep posts if you are interested in seeing the progression.

April 17, 2013 - Sleep (3 months adjusted)
May 11, 2013 - How the other half lives? (4 months adj.)
May 28, 2013 - Sleep Update (4 months adj.)

The Four Month Sleep Regression
I had seen people talk about this before we hit it, but it sure is a real thing! This was the phase where I could be seen walking circles around the house trying not to lose it with a crying baby in my arms. But the hardest part was that the walking and bouncing never seemed to stop the crying. It was very frustrating and sad not to be able to adequately calm my baby. So we resorted to walking around the block until he fell asleep. Often this was Mr. GG's job. I was afraid the whole time about creating a dependency on motion to fall asleep, but this was the easiest way for us as well as Dylan. We could easily manage walking around the block and it seemed to help so we used this method for quite awhile.

Eventually, on nights where he was calmer, we didn't walk. This was our transition. On these nights we did our normal routine: bath, stories+bottle, then lullabies+bottle (Dylan is a very slow drinker and I needed him to take in every milliliter possible.) Then I'd put him down usually completely asleep. And I still worried that I wasn't teaching him how to soothe himself to go to bed independently. I wondered whether I should gently shake him slightly awake like Dr. Karp advised. (I didn't. That sounded like potential disaster - but my sister did this very successfully with her son.)

Eight to Twelve Months
During this phase we pretty much never needed to walk around the block. Since Dylan was more aware and it was darker outside, we added another level of transition. I'd have a dim lamp on during reading time, then I'd turn it off and turn on the Twilight Turtle during lullaby time. Also...I always get his A & A blanket out of his bed for story-time; that's his transition item and he gets excited when he sees it because he loves to snuggle it.

During this phase, Dylan started to kind of snuggle in when he was ready (sometimes after a half an hour or more) and then just go to sleep on my chest! It was pretty cool. Then I would try to figure out the right amount of time to wait before putting him down in his crib. Too soon and he'd bolt upright and cry and we'd have to start over again.

Twelve Months Plus (Dylan is currently 14 months adjusted)
For the past couple of months, Dylan has been much more aware at bedtime and I can only think of one time recently (a really rough night) when he actually fell asleep on me. We are using the exact same routine.

Sidenote - What "sitting in the chair" actually looks like. After the lights go off this is basically what happens: Dylan crawls around to every corner of the chair. Attempts to get off the chair. Attempts to stand up on the arm rest to precariously reach for something on the shelf. At some point he wants his milk and spends a good twenty seconds calmly drinking. Then he climbs over me to open the curtain, usually with a knee in my neck, to look outside. We say "night night outside," well...I say it, hoping it's the last time. He tries to get off the chair again. He gets interested in his milk again. Repeat. Repeat. And then at some point, he puts his head down and kind of tripods and pushes his blanket down under him. This is when I know we are close...

Since he doesn't fall asleep or sometimes even seem extremely sleepy i.e. a big yawn will be followed by climbing and laughing, I have to decide when to put him down. It's a mental exercise in risk v. reward every time. But more and more if he's done his first little snuggle move, he'll go down without crying.

So what I've learned from just my own situation is that you can't completely ruin sleeping independently by using sleep crutches. For us, the crutches allowed sleep to happen and allowed sleep to mostly be a positive experience. But things change quickly. Our overall routine has stayed the same, but a couple of weeks ago Dylan went on a two day nap strike. I WAS TERRIFIED! On these days it was also harder to get him to sleep and there was lots and lots of crying. on one evening, I went back in 3 times to give him more milk/calm him (primarily I do try not to go back in...I'm ok with the kind of whiny sporadic cry, but usually when he's standing up and/or hard crying, it won't end without help).

I'm a big believer in routines and transition items. He is able to process what is about to happen and get used to it before I just "plop" him in the crib.

One thing that never ever works for us is earlier bedtime. There have been so many days where the nanny has said "I think he'll go to bed early tonight." And I naively believe this time will be different. We follow his sleep cues as much as possible, but if I start too early, it usually ends in frustration for both of us. Lesson almost learned.

We also still use white noise (on a pretty low level). I've felt like the biggest benefit for white noise is helping to prevent full wake-ups. I feel like it's a calming "normal" thing that reminds him it's still sleep time. he doesn't really need it at night anymore, but it's helpful for naps when outside noises are louder.

Lastly, I know sleep is the bane of many people's existence. I think most of sleep is genetic, so I don't mean to tell you that if you try any of this that it will work and all of a sudden, you'll have a good sleeper. But I hope to relieve some of the stress that one specific action will "ruin" your kid's sleep for the rest of his life because the reality is much more complicated.

Walking to sleep saved our lives during the 4 month sleep regression and since then, having a routine and a transition item have been really helpful.

I wish all of you a good night's sleep tonight!


  1. Great post! Brady is almost 9 months and has started to need time to settle down before going to sleep. Many times this includes crawling around on the bed trying to grab everything in sight. Eventually he gets so tired that he either passes out...or his formula helps relax him to sleep. I hate the idea of using a sleep "crutch" but it's part of the routine that helps him get to sleep, so we're going with it.

  2. There was a post on HB the other day about how parents can get annoyed talking about baby sleep, so I'm always hesitant to share Jack's sleep habits -- but I will here, because we are both kind of spoiled. Aside from the 4 month sleep regression (which was bad, bad news), he is a great sleeper. Started STTN (well, 10:30 PM - 5 AM or so) at 2 months, started sleeping 12 hours at 5 months, and is usually pretty easy to put down at night. We do white noise, one or two bedtime stories, and the bottle. Then I walk him around the room once singing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star," give him a smooch and say goodnight, lay him down fully awake, and walk out. If he cries hard, I walk back in after a few minutes, give him a hug, and lay him back down. Sometimes I do this two or three times, but he always gives in. When I tried waiting for longer (like 10-15 minutes) around 8-9 months, he got way too worked up and it turned into an hour long battle. Naps were a different, harder story until the past month, when he stopped fighting them and started taking longer ones too! I agree with you that it's almost completely genetics though. He has followed my baby sleep habits almost to the letter.