Following is copied and pasted directly from an email to a MOT friend of mine. She has been asking me sleep advice, and wants to do CIO with her nearly-6-month-olds but doesn’t have the time to read Ferber (you all know how I feel… read the book!). I’m no guru, but I’m opinionated. So, here’s my epic email to her (verbatim, just with added links), with my mish-mash, cliff’s-notes version of Weissbluth and Ferber. All in what we deemed her “sleep plan.” Maybe it’ll be useful for someone else out there in the blogosphere.
[Cross-posted at How Do You Do It?]
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Alright, this might be the longest email I’ve ever written. Sorry. I just felt like I had to explain things. Let me know if you have any questions. And let me just say: this is what worked for me and my kids. I’m no expert, I’m no doctor. Not all kids are the same, and there’s no one perfect solution that will have your kids sleeping until 8AM every day for the rest of their lives. (ha!) But, overall, this is what worked really well for us.
6:30am (or later, yeah right!): wake up
8:30-9:00: go down for morning nap, depending on how tired they seem or how early they woke up
12noon-1:30pm: go down for mid-day nap, depending on how late AM nap went
3:30-4:30pm: go down for late-afternoon nap, again depending on how mid-day nap went
6:30-7:00pm: start bedtime routine
7:00-7:30pm: lights out
Here’s my philosophy: well-rested kids with a predictable routine are going to sleep better (good sleep begets good sleep), wake up happier, and be generally easier and more receptive to their world than those who are over-tired or unpredictable. Since that is my starting philosophy, I pretty much think that 95-99% of days should revolve around their sleep schedule. Yes, sometimes you can play with it. But you won’t know how and when to take that risk until they’ve settled into it. So my advice is to stick like krazy glue to a schedule for at least a week or two and see how it goes before you try fudging things around. It can feel restrictive at first, and some people give you grief for it. But, honestly, I eventually found it sort of freeing, because I knew ahead of time what were good and bad times of day for my kids (more or less) and could plan accordingly. If you don’t know when your kid is going to nap, how can you know whether or not to sign up for that 3pm class? And it does mean you need to be careful with outings, because you don’t want them falling asleep in the car when you’re on the way home for their nap, and things like that. Not always super flexible, but it pays off. And yes, I always did the same thing for both kids at the same time. One may wake up earlier than the other, but I always put them down at the same time.
Now, for details…
Part of sleep-training/Ferber/CIO is that you have to pick a designated time that is your morning start time. Anything before that time is treated as night waking. My kids were always early risers, so I set my morning start time at 6. Sometimes they woke up at 5:30, sometimes 6:30 (now, it’s 7:30! yay!). They went through a 3-day phase once of 4:45, which was ugly. But it’s a goal that should always be in mind, and even if they wake up earlier than that, try to let them hang out until your pre-determined morning time. I would say set it somewhere between 6 and 7. Much as I’d love to pick 9AM, that’s just not realistic. I compromised and said 6:30.
It’s early. It’s not all that long after they wake up. But it’s super important to do it before they get overtired. For all naps, put them in their cribs (maybe with a brief naptime routine… some quieter, wind-down play before naptime, maybe a story and put on the same song as they’re getting into bed). Let them stay there at least an hour.
When you’re first sleep-training, they may just fight it and not fall asleep even after an hour has gone by. If so, fine. Get them up. “Naptime” is over. If they doze off later for a few minutes on the playmat, so be it. But treat the time between naps as different from naptime. Don’t put them back in their cribs 30 minutes later. They’ll get the hang of it.
There’s a wide range, at least at first, as to when this one starts. It depends a lot on how that morning one went. But aim for a range between about noon and 1pm to put them down. Yes, some days it will be pulling teeth to get to 11:45. But if you’re consistent, they’ll get into it pretty quickly. Same one-hour rule. If they fall asleep during that hour, let ‘em sleep. If not, pick them up and try again at the next naptime.
The whole point of this nap is just to get them through until bedtime. My kids kept it until about 8 months old. My general rule was that, if they were still happy and it was nearly 5pm, we could skip that one and maybe just do bedtime a little earlier. But mostly they needed a catnap somewhere around 4pm, give or take. Also, post-mid-day-nap became prime outing time, and then I didn’t mind if they fell asleep for a little bit in the car on the way home. That would count as the 3rd nap, and that was OK.
Early bedtime. Seriously. Bedtime routine shouldn’t be longer than 30-45 minutes, and you should not start it any later than 7pm. Sometimes it’s barely 5:45, sometimes you make it until close to 7. But I would say aim for somewhere around 6:30-7pm to start bedtime. Have it be whatever relaxing components you like. Bathtime, stories,
one last bottle (regardless of when the last one was), music, etc. But have it be soothing, quiet, and have at least the last component or two take place in the nursery, right near their cribs. We’re getting them to connect cribs with sleepiness (and happiness/relaxing!).
You want to put them in bed while they’re still awake. Drowsy, hopefully, but still awake. You’re setting up conditions so that they know how to fall back asleep even when it’s the middle of the night and you’re not there. If the night light is on, keep it on. If it’s totally dark, leave it totally dark. Up to you on the paci decision. I kept Rebecca’s and it did not present a problem, but some kids who need the paci to fall asleep then need paci replacements in the middle of the night. Also, WHITE NOISE WHITE NOISE WHITE NOISE. Whether it’s a fancy white noise machine, a fan, a humidifier, or radio static, put on white noise. And not all that quiet, either. Enough that it gives you some cover so you can live in your own apartment while they sleep, not tiptoe, and have the TV on at a reasonable volume. White noise is the best.
Again, the whole point of CIO is not the crying. It’s getting them used to correct, predictable, repeatable sleep associations, and the crying is because they’re getting used to the change. You want them to “associate” sleeping with their crib, with dark or the nightlight, with white noise, maybe with a lovey or blankie. That’s why you don’t want them to fall asleep with a bottle in their mouth, rocking in your arms, with a light on that you intend to turn off when they’re asleep, etc. You want the same sleep/bed conditions to still exist in the middle of the night when they inevitably wake up, like all people do. So they know how to fall back asleep.
For the crying, I did the progressive checking method that Ferber does. Basically, you just wait longer intervals to check on them each night. Start with just a few minutes, eventually go as long as 15-20. And only go check if they’re really crying. Don’t just go in because they’re still awake. Some people advocate not checking at all, but I was glad I did the first few nights because Daniel ended up with a poopy diaper and his face stuck in the corner of the crib. Obviously, you want to help out and resolve things like that. Otherwise, though, if they’re just crying and unhappy, your checks shouldn’t be longer than a minute or two. Just reassuring, pat on the back, “mommy’s here, you’re ok” sort of thing and making sure they’re OK. Don’t pick them up, don’t rock them, don’t rub their backs until they fall asleep. You actually still want them awake when you leave.
I also found that the checks actually did nothing to calm Daniel. They actually just seemed to make him even more mad. So eventually I stopped doing the regular checks, and just went in if he was really wailing, to make sure he wasn’t stuck on something. You’ll see how it works for you.
Same progressive checks in effect when they wake up any time before your designated morning start time (there should be about 10, no more than 12, hours between lights-out and morning). It’s the 3AM wake-ups that are the big test for mom and dad, so you and [your husband] need to agree on the plan ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than a screaming baby and snapping at your spouse about whether or not to go in. You have to decide, you have to commit. There is no halfway in this one. Go 100%, or don’t bother. Seriously. If you can’t both do it all the way, it’s not worth doing until you can. And you have to give it at least 3-4 nights. Nearly every baby I know has managed to sleep through in 3 or 4 nights (as long as you’re consistent). That 3rd night, when Daniel was still screaming, I nearly lost my resolve and questioned what I was doing. But we stuck to it, and the 4th night, he did it. Fought it tooth and nail the first 3 nights, and has been my super-solid sleeper ever since.