My journey to a goodnight's sleep


This post was originally published on Salt & Nectar in 2011. Sleep is always a favorite topic among parents and I thought I would share my thoughts on the subject again. Nothing has changed since I had Amos and Felix. We followed (pretty much) the same approach and have seen the same results. 

As a parent, you learn quickly that there are certain topics that are universal. Whether you've known the mommy next to you for five minutes or five years, there are subjects we all use to relate to one another: how long ago we saw a movie in an actual movie theater, the latest and most disgusting experience with bodily fluids, and - perhaps the most popular of all - sleep deprivation.

I learned early on that I don't always have the response my fellow parents want to hear.

"Really? Griffin sleeps about 13 hours a night."

(Insert the sound of crickets.)

Admittedly, I started at an advantage. Griffin slept five hours the first night he was born. Probably because he started life at the size of most one month olds, he could go longer between meals and always slept longer stretches in the evening. He also didn't suffer from the c-word. (One I refuse to even type because I'm pregnant and don't want to curse myself.)

Now, don't get me wrong. It wasn't always easy. We rocked him to sleep the first few months of his life and he seemed to use nap time as an opportunity to play psychological tricks on me. "You think I take 2 hours naps because I did it three days in a row? HA! Try 45 minutes! Don't push it or tomorrow I won't nap AT ALL!"

However, I have a dear, dear friend who gave me the best sleep advice early on. An experienced mother of three who has tried every sleep technique out there, she says you have to teach children how to go to sleep just like any other skill. So, began my indoctrination in to the world of sleep training.

Now, I knew other moms. Moms with happy kids. Moms I admired. Moms who let their kids sleep with them. And at first, I could see the appeal. Holding a sleeping baby always felt like meditation to me. How much better could sleeping next to one be?

We even co-slept for awhile ourselves. As a breastfeeding mom, I couldn't see myself getting up every couple of hours and dragging myself to Griffin's room for a feeding only to stumble back to my room to do it all agian a few hours later. No thanks. We tried a bassinet next to our bed and a Snugglenest to no avail. Griffin slept best and longest right up next to me.

At least for a while he did. At about a month old, I got the distinct feeling he needed his own space. He was never a cuddler and he started to toss and turn in the night. To be honest, I was ready for him to get his own sleep real estate as well. He no longer fed every couple of hours and I was too tuned in to his every noise or movement to get sleep myself. So, at one month old, he started sleeping in his own bed.

Almost immediately, we created a pretty intensive nighttime routine after reading The No-Cry Sleep Solution. (I didn't exactly sign up for this sleep training thing easily.)  We had read to Griffin since birth but after continued struggles, particularly at nap time, we built a sleep routine we had hoped would signal to him it was time to sleep. We pulled a blackout shade, turned on the white noise, gave him a pacifier and lovey, read him a book, and sang the same song every single night. All in the hope he would eventually fall asleep on his own - freeing us from the hours spent in a dark bathroom with the fan running praying that he would just fall asleep already!

It didn't work. And at six months of age, I let Griffin cry it out.

Or in the parlance of parents, I "ferberized" him - named after Dr. Richard Ferberwho created the technique. For the uninitiated, you let your baby cry for a progressively increasing amount of time before going in to comfort them in an effort to teach them to self soothe. You also create bedtime rituals to prepare the baby for sleep.

The first night he cried for 45 minutes. My husband and I took turns going in at 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes and comforting him without taking him out of his crib. It was awful. I kept thinking about the episode of Mad About You when Paul and Jamie let their daughter Mabel cry it out. The episode ends with Jamie saying they'd just broken Mabel's heart.


Looking back, I actually think it's the parents who suffer the heart break. I know it was stressful for Griffin and I've read the research on the effects of stress on an infant's brain. However, I've also read the research on sleep deprivation and I decided that one night of stress was better than years of sleep loss. And the next morning he sure didn't seem heartbroken. He was the same happy and trusting baby he had always been - only well-rested, too.

My heart was the one that seemed broken. As much as I complained about the hours spent rocking or swaying, I loved holding him close and feeling needed - knowing that I was the one who could soothe him to sleep. I realized sleep training was so hard because I was teaching him that first and most important lesson in independence. I was teaching him that he didn't always need me.

The next night he cried for 15 minutes. The night after that? Not at all. He is now 21 months old and sleeps 12-13 hours a night - almost without fail. Sometimes there's a few minutes of crying in a new place and middle of the night wake-ups if he's sick but overall everyone in my house is exceptionally well-rested.

 Did you let your baby cry it out? How did you handle sleep challenges?