Thursday, March 1, 2012

Adventures in Sleep

I wanted to take some time to write about what we've been working on with Eli's sleep schedule-mostly because I was initially really overwhelmed by the process and it's way easier than I expected it to be! I have lots of new mom and mom to be friends so if this is helpful to anyone, great!

Most of what we're doing is based on the practices of a book called "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" by Mark Weissbluth. When I babysat in Dallas the family I babysat for recommended this book and her two boys were champion sleepers! This is by no means a book review but rather what I have gotten out of the practices this book suggests, what's worked for us and what I've learned, and what we're still working on. The idea is that the ability to fall asleep is a learned process, and many children don't sleep well through the night because they never learned how to fall back asleep on their own as they wake up throughout the night.

I would say that there are three principles from this book that have been the most helpful: 1. Never wake a sleeping baby! (sometimes Eli naps for so long I wonder if I should wake him up...) 2. Learn to notice your baby's tired signs (like you do their hunger signs) and 3. Put baby in bed drowsy, but awake. Of course there's way more that Dr. Weissbluth has to say (it's a whole book for God's sake) but without being overwhelmed by everything else (including a ton of information on soothing collicky/fussy babies and other troubleshooting for older kids) this is what's been easiest for me to operate with.

We just started this process this week (when Eli was 6.5 weeks old). Many people choose to start later but because I will be going back to work in a week and a half, I wanted to see if we could get him into a good sleeping routine before then since we'll have parents and then Jon staying with Eli at home until mid-May when I can work from home.

We've started a simple bedtime routine that includes a bath (because Eli LOVES them-but if your baby is not relaxed by a bath, don't use this as part of your routine!), sometimes infant massage, reading a book or two, feeding, and then singing a song or two (he usually gets serenaded by a selection from the United Methodist Hymnal!). We haven't established a true bedtime yet since his days aren't on a real schedule yet-but we'll get there I'm sure! After he is nursed, we swaddle him, use a pacifier, sing him a song or two and once his eyes are heavy (he usually closes and opens them several times while we sing) I lay him in bed, turn out all the lights, and close the door. He usually sleeps 4-4.5 hours for the first stretch before waking up to eat. After his first feeding we are putting him back in the sleeper in our room for the rest of the night because it's just easier.

For naps, it's the same process, though he doesn't always eat before a nap (if he ate right when he woke up and goes down for another nap 1-1.5 hours later, he isn't hungry). We change his diaper, maybe read a book, swaddle, then sing/rock until he's drowsy again.

If he starts to fuss after laying him down, I give him 5 minutes. If his crying really starts to escalate, then I will go in and either soothe him while he's in the crib (give him a pacifier, rub his tummy, talk/sing to him) or pick him up and sing/rock until he's drowsy again, then put him in the crib. I've never had to repeat this process twice (I probably just cursed myself...). As he gets older, we may have to be more disciplined about how long we take before going in to soothe him, but I feel like he's too young to cry it out right now. Sometimes, after fussing for a few minutes (even full-out crying) he stops and goes to sleep. The key, I've learned, is give him 5 minutes, no matter what.

What I've Learned:
During the day for naps, Eli rarely makes it more than 1.5 hours before needing another nap. This has changed my perspective of taking him out and about when he can't fall asleep and stay asleep in his car seat (we're going somewhere where we have to take him out, people want to hold him, etc). I used to think on these outings he was just having a fussy day-but no the poor kid was worn out because he hadn't had the chance to have a good nap for several hours!

I've also become much better at learning his tired signs, and am starting to be able to distinguish them from his hunger signs. The early ones can be hard to catch: decreased movement/more quiet while playing especially. Usually when he starts to get fussy, it's because he's tired, not hungry. He also wrings his hands in front of him and that's when we start the downhill slide of super tired, hard to calm down baby.

Most of his naps are a good 2-3 hours long. If he wakes up before an hour and I can't soothe him back to a drowsy state, he gets up and will go down for a nap again sooner rather than later. When he wakes up from a good nap, his awake time is so much more fun-he is interactive, happy, and more alert rather than having to be held all the time.

What's Worked For Us:
I was so doubtful that after putting Eli in his bed still awake, he would fall asleep on his own. But it worked the first time! I had to get over my guilt the first couple of times he was fussy because I felt like he felt abandoned. But since I never go more than 5 minutes without going in there I just try to distract myself by doing something else for those 5 minutes, and telling myself that he is safe and fine. And sometimes he doesn't fuss at all, just rolls his head to the side, eyes open, and he eventually falls asleep without a peep!

While I feel like my days are a little more restricted in terms of being able to get out of the house, it's really for the better for our little guy. And I know as he gets older we'll be able to do that easier (run errands, etc).

Swaddling has also been a huge benefit-I'm not going to try to go without it to see otherwise :) but I feel like it calms him down sooner, and it helps him sleep longer. We also use a pacifier to help him get to sleep/calm down, but he doesn't require it to sleep (as in, if it falls out of his mouth he doesn't wake up). Oftentimes he spits it out before he's ready to be in the crib anyway. Eli has always had a strong need to suck (like many babies) and I felt like this was one way to help him with that-especially since he's swaddled, he can't suck on his hand/thumb.

What We're Still Working On:
Obviously, sleeping through the night :) but since he's still so little, I expect him to be waking up for at least 1 feeding for awhile. His first stretch of the night has gotten longer little by little, so I'm hopeful he'll be at 5-6 hours over the next few weeks.

We're still working on determining a schedule, both during the day and the night-but over the next few weeks/months according to the book is when a more consistent, earlier bedtime, longer nighttime sleep periods, and the morning nap develop.

The other thing that's been the hardest is the temptation to let him sleep in places other than his crib/pack n play. Some afternoons, when he's had several short naps in a row, it's so tempting to just lay him on my chest and lay with him on the couch. And sometimes, we still do-because I know he won't be this little for much longer and I cherish those moments. But overall I try to be disciplined about where and when he naps, because I've seen how much better it's made both of our days. I know when I can get things done (or take a nap if I need it) because he's napping so much longer at a time when he's in a place where he's not disturbed by noise around him. And as I said before, he seems more happy when he's awake. Some evenings especially, he ends up taking a nap in the Moby because it's the only way I can make dinner or get something to eat. But, I'm okay with that-because he's still responding so well to the times we put him to sleep in his crib.

I can't say how this process works for others, but it's worked for us. If you're interested in learning more about this theory and the process of teaching your child to go to sleep, then please check out this book! It has a ton of great information about sleep for children from newborns through school age, case studies, etc and is very easy to read. It's broken down by age and so it's easy to follow as well. I'm so glad I decided to start trying this when I did, and have been pleasantly surprised!

The sweet sweet face that greeted me when Eli woke up from his nap the other day...


  1. Seriously between you, leanne and alina i will be home free with the baby advice should i ever need it! I love reading all about it!

  2. This is awesome, Mara! We are reading Babywise, but it sounds like the principles are much the same. Wes is a good sleeper but isn't sleeping as much during the day. It could be because I try to take him out too much! I will definitely try getting to sleep for longer stretched during the day. We are also trying to get longer stretches at night. 6 hrs has been our max, but I am working on getting longer stretches at night. I am so glad you shared this. I am glad I am not alone! :)