Sleep Training 411
A child cannot and should not be forced to fall sleep. Instead, get (or train) your child to sleep by creating the right, secure environment which allows sleep to overtake him. Also encourage the development of the right mood which encourages healthy sleep attitudes that believe sleep is a pleasant state to enter into and a secure state to remain in.
Creating the right sleep environment
- There should be no television in your child’s room so that he doesn’t get distracted from falling asleep or cultivate the habit of needing sound/motion to fall asleep.
- The room should be comfortable, dark, quiet and cool. However, if your child is terrified of complete darkness, a night light could be left on for him.
- Use any room but the bedroom as a punishment spot so that your child does not associate negativity to it.
- If your child has any aversion to being in his crib or bedroom, change his perspective by deliberately creating ‘crib-associated’ and ‘bedroom-associated’ fun moments during the daytime.
Creating the right mood
- Caffeine should not be served 6 – 8 hours before bedtime because it can make your child find it difficult to fall asleep. Possible sources of caffeine include soda, ice tea, chocolate, etc.
- Day naps should not be overly long or extended into the evenings in order to avoid a wide eyed child at bedtime.
- To avoid over-stimulation, all high-end energy activities must end at least an hour before bedtime and all exercise and outdoor activities, at least 4 hours before bedtime. This is because over-stimulation will make it hard for your child to settle down into sleep.
- If your child happens to be overstimulated before bedtime, separate him from the source of his excitement and work at easing him into a restful state.
- Heavy meals must not be served 1 – 2 hours before bedtime because they can cause heartburn which could subsequently disturb your child’s sleep. Instead, go for light snacks like yoghurt, cereal, milk and low fat cheese.
- Your child should not go to bed hungry because hunger may keep him from falling asleep or wake him up later at night.
- Television and other electronic interaction between dinner and bedtime should be avoided.
- There should be a simple, short, 45 – 60 minutes build up to bedtime involving enjoyable, calm, positive activities like a bath, cuddles, stories and songs. These activities will gradually ease your child into sleep.
- It is best that bedtime is fixed sometime between 7:o0pm and 8:o0pm so that your child gets his full hours of sleep and wakes up healthier and happier.
- If you notice your child is tired before bedtime, immediately put him to bed because an overtired child finds it much more difficult to fall asleep. Signs of tiredness include yawning, eye rubbing, fussiness, etc.
Bedtime fading: Achieving a consistent, healthy bedtime hour
It is not enough for your child to have a consistent bedtime hour. It must be a healthy hour that allows him his full hours of rest. The reality is that a child who stays up late would not necessarily sleep in late the next day. This is because every child has an internal clock which is very likely to get them up at about the same time everyday, irrespective of when he went to bed the day before or whether or not he is still tired in the morning. Also, even if after going to bed late your child happens to want to sleep in a bit later than usual, you may be forced to interrupt his sleep due to school or some other unavoidable appointment. In the long run, not only would he be denied of his full hours of rest, he is also bound to get up very cranky and moody.
With the above in mind, it is of utmost importance that your child’s bedtime hour is not only consistent but also healthy. Widely recommended is sometime between 7pm and 8pm.
To achieve this healthy hour for children who consistently stay up late, the bedtime fading technique can be adopted. This involves setting a temporary sleep time for your child and then gradually moving it back until you get to the actual time you want. For example, if your child naturally falls asleep at 10 pm everyday, let his temporary bedtime be 10pm. Then in a few days time, shift his bedtime backwards to 9:45pm. In another few days, shift it to 9:30pm. Keep making this 15 minutes backward shift until you finally get to the desired time. Note that to be successful at this, you have to be careful not to make the time shift too fast and/or sudden. It must be gradual so that your child easily blends into it.
Sleep Training Techniques
Sleep training is all about giving your child the opportunity to learn to soothe himself to sleep. Though it may sometimes seem harsh (especially when the tears approach is adopted), there is no evidence that it causes damage to children. Rather, what experience shows is that it makes for happier children and parents because there is nothing quite as hard as dealing with a tired child who cannot soothe himself to sleep.
The tears approach: Cry-it-out
This involves putting your child into bed and then leaving him to fall asleep on his own, irrespective of the cries that are bound to follow. You don’t go in to check on him. You don’t go in to reassure him. At best you listen to his cries on the other side of the bedroom door, until he finally falls asleep.
Alternatively, after putting him to bed, you can check on him after 1 minute. However you must have no physical contact with him during this check-in. All you can do is briefly reassure him of your love and remind him that it’s in his bed interest he sleeps. Then you leave and return after 2 minutes to give the same ‘contactless’ reassurance. A repeat follows after 3 minutes and then after every 5 minutes until he finally stops crying and falls asleep. This alternate method may be hard because you not only hear him cry, you also watch him cry before walking away without so much as a touch. However these momentary check-ins could offer some kind of reassuring comfort to both you and your child.
This sleep training technique must be followed through at night. That is, if your child happens to wake up night, don’t be quick to pick him up. Instead apply the same approach used during bedtime to get him to soothe himself back to sleep.
With this cry-it-out approach, you can expect the cries to get worse on the second and maybe the third day. However, anytime from 3 days to 1 week later, your child should be easily falling asleep on his own.
The tearless approach
Most experts will probably break this approach down into parts for you to pick and choose or pick and match. However here, all the different parts will be blended into one single, compact approach. Note that the tearless approach is likely to take much longer than the tears approach.
Part 1 (Sleep-in)
Many moms feed, cuddle, rock or pat their kids to sleep. Hence, these kids find it difficult falling asleep without these ‘inducers’. So, your first focus should be on getting your child to fall asleep on his own, but in your company. You do this by camping in with him for a defined time length. That is, you get into bed with him. However, you must refrain from holding him or coaxing him to sleep. Simply lie on the bed and as he climbs over you, tugs at you, etc, be sure to ignore his attempts at interaction. The idea is to remain unresponsive so that your presence (and not your embrace) is all he needs to fall asleep.
Part 2 (Gradual Withdrawal)
While sleeping in, though your child succeeds at falling asleep on his own , he still relies on your proximity to do so. Hence the idea here is to gradually change your camping position. At first you can sit next to him while he falls asleep. When he falls asleep, you can then catch your own sleep on a mattress set up next to his bed. A few days later, you can shift to the edge of the bed as he falls asleep. Next, you can sit on the ‘floor-mattress’ while he falls asleep.
With these gradual moves, you’re slowly allowing him get more and more independent of your presence when falling asleep. Also, as he becomes a pro at soothing himself to sleep, he is likely to be well settled into his bedtime routine and also sleeping through the night with the sub-conscious knowledge that in the past, whenever he woke up at night, you were there.
Stage 2 (Pop-out)
Now, even though a lot of progress has been made in getting your child to fall asleep on his own, the challenge still remains that he most likely cannot fall asleep without your presence in the room. Hence, this is a challenge that will be addressed in this pop-out leg of the training.
Here, as your child hops into bed, getting ready to sleep, sit in with him as you usually do. But suddenly, find an excuse to pop out from the room and then return in about 30 seconds.
Sit in again for some minutes before coming up with another reason to pop out again. This time increase the time you spend out of the room. You must keep doing this until your child finally falls asleep.
This exercise must be repeated every night with the aim of getting your child to actually fall asleep during one of your ‘pop-outs’ and not when you’re sitting in with him. With time he learns that he doesn’t have to wait for you to be in the room before falling asleep because even though not in the room, you are still close by and will always come back. However the disadvantage of this is that for some kids the repeated pop-ins and pop-outs may be more of a distraction from the actual sleep mission at hand.
*In truth, every child is different. You may not have to follow through with the steps as listed above. All some kids may need is the nudging of the pop-out leg. Or after the sleep-in leg, all your child may need is a good-night kiss to fall asleep. So, what is important is knowing your child and choosing an approach which works for you both best.
The Bedtime Pass: Dealing with bedtime excuses
If your toddler is one of those who keeps finding one reason after another to leave the room after goodnight has been said, then this is for you.
Give him a single pass which permits him to come out only once after goodnight has been said. That is, he has only one opportunity to come out for a drink of water or a trip to the bathroom or for whatever ‘important’ reason he decides to cook up. That single pass must not exceed more than 3 minutes and it can only be used once per night.
Chances are your child will hoard that pass until he finally falls asleep without using it.
Though by 6 months most children are physiologically capable of sleeping through the night, many still wake up at some point during the night.
Those with good sleeping habits will simply soothe themselves back to sleep while those who associate sleep with rocking, holding, bringing into the big bed, etc, will cry for your intervention.
So if your child is a night waker, here are tips on how to handle the situation…
- Research shows that 1 -2 weeks after falling asleep quickly and easily at bedtime, children stop waking up during the night. So faithfully keep at whatever sleep training strategy you have adopted at bedtime.
- Ensure he always sticks to his bedtime routine because the more tired he is, the more likely he is to wake up at night.
- Ensure his room environment is as it was during bedtime. For example let the lighting be the same all through the night.
- Give him a security object he can hold unto when he wakes up
- Ensure that your child always goes to bed drowsy and awake so he learns to art of actually falling asleep on his own. This is an art he can then re-use if he wakes up at night.
- When he wakes up at night, avoid picking him up. Instead simply reassure him with brief, boring check-ins till he falls asleep again.
When not to begin sleep training
- If your child has some underlying medical condition.
- If a major event, such as a house move, is coming up.
- If you are undergoing some major stress in your life and are not emotionally ready to train your child.
- For success at sleep training, consistency is key. So make sure you stick to the established bedtime routine even if he doesn’t appear tired or you feel guilty for not spending quality time with your son during the day.
- Motion movements like those experienced in a car seat, stroller, rocker, etc. eases children into a light state of sleep and not a deep, restful one. Hence, avoid using them as tools in getting your children to sleep
- Bedtime routines help children get sleepy and fall asleep at the same time, everyday.
- A child who wakes up too early probably goes to bed too late
- An overtired child is a cranky child who will find it very difficult falling asleep.
- Just as you have a bedtime routine and schedule which eases you into sleep, your child should never stop having one, even when he grows into an older, more mature kid.
Source: sleep store, dr craig canapari, atlantic health system, Cleveland clinic, nationwidechildrens; picture courtesy atlantablackstar. Pictures courtesy; cutebabypictures, waitingonaworld.blogspot, uk.optimus-pm.com, gettyimages, ourweekly.com, etsy.com, Huffingtonpost