Sleep Training Tips
A child cannot and should not be forced to 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, necessary state to enter 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 the television to fall asleep
- The room should be comfortable, dark, quiet and cool. If your child prefers, a night light could be left on
- 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 the crib, bed or bedroom, ensure to spend fun times there during the day so that his perspective changes
- Get a special cuddly toy that your child can curl with in bed
Creating the right mood
- Caffeine should not be served 6 – 8 hours before bedtime because it can cause serious sleep problems. Possible sources of caffeine include soda, ice tea, chocolate, etc
- Day naps should not extend into the evenings or be overly long in order to avoid a wide eyed child at bedtime
- Your child must not engage in high end energy activities at least an hour before bedtime and all exercise and outdoor activities should end at least 4 hours before bedtime in order to avoid over stimulation which will make it hard for him to settle down into sleep
- Heavy meals must not be served 1 – 2 hours before bedtime because it can cause heartburn and 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 cut down
- 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 to ease him into sleep
- It is best that bedtime is fixed sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 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 sleep. Signs of tiredness include yawning, eye rubbing, fussiness, etc
- If your child happens to be overstimulated, separate him from the source of his excitement and work at easing him into a restful state
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
Facts you should know
- Consistency is key. So always stick to your routine and never be tempted to go beyond it for any reason (such as feelings of guilt you have not spent enough of the day with him or he doesn’t seem tired or is protesting etc) because an overtired child is a cranky child and he will find it much more difficult to ease into sleep. So in the long run, you have an unhappy child on your hand Set limits if she stalls bed time
- Motion movements like those experienced in a car seat, stroller, rocker, etc gets children in a light state of sleep and not a deep, restful one. Hence avoid using them as tools to get your children to sleep
- Sleep schedules help children get sleepy and fall asleep at the same time, everyday
- Letting your child stay up late does not mean he will sleep in late the next day. This is because he has an internal clock which is very likely to get him up about the same time everyday, irrespective of when he went to bed the day before or whether or not he is tired. Hence it’s better he gets his proper 10-11 hours of sleep and wakes up happier and well rested
- A Child who wakes up too early probably goes to bed too late
- Just as you have a bedtime routine and schedule which eases you into sleep, your child should never stop having one even if he has become a much mature toddler
- Leave room when awake. Make sure you explain the new sleeping process to a toddler who is not used to them
Bedtime fading: Achieving a consistent bedtime
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 falls asleep naturally at 10 pm, let the temporary bedtime be 10pm. Then gradually, every few days, reduce this sleep time by 15 minutes until you finally get to the desired time. However to be successful, be careful not to move the time backwards, too fast.
Sleep Training Techniques
Sleep training, especially the tears approach, may sometimes seem harsh. However there is no evidence that it causes damage to children. In reality it makes for happier children and parents because in reality, 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 at the scheduled bedtime and then leaving him to fall asleep on his own, irrespective of the cries that are bound to follow. Or alternatively after putting him to bed, you check on him after 1 minute. You have no physical contact with him but simply and briefly reassure him that you love him and that it’s in his bed interest he sleeps. You leave and return after 2 minutes to give the same ‘contactless’ reassurance. A repeat follows after 3 minutes and then every 5 minutes until he finally stops crying and falls asleep.
If he gets up at night, repeat the same, beginning at the minimum of 1 minute time length and refrain from picking him up. You can expect the cries to get worse on the second or third but anytime from 3 days to 1 week, your child should be falling asleep on his own.
The tearless approach
Most authors will probably break this approach down into parts for you to pick and choose or pick and match. However, here all these approaches are blended into one single approach to step by step address each sleep challenge you’re likely to be facing with your child.
Note that this approach is likely to take much longer than the tears approach.
Part 1 (Sleep in)
The first stage will be focused on getting your child fall asleep on his own but in your company and staying in bed on his own.
So you begin by camping in with him for a define time length. At first you may have to spend the night with him, lying on his bed. But, refrain from cuddling up with him on the bed because it is important he leans to fall asleep outside your embrace. So simply lie on the bed and be ready to have him climbing over you, trying to pull you close, etc. The idea is to remain irresponsive (and not to push him away) so that your presence (and not your embrace) is all he needs to fall asleep.
Part 2 (Gradual Withdrawal)
As he gets adjusted to this new style, you can gradually change your camping position. At first you can sit next to him while he falls asleep. Later you shift to the edge of the bed and then later you shift a mattress which you set up next to his bed.
At the end of this stage, you have a child who can fall asleep on his own, in his bed. Also, since he has settled down into a bedtime routine and he has been comforted during past night waking to see you there, he is likely to now be sleeping through the night.
However the challenge still existing is that since your child is repeatedly falling asleep in your company, he may not necessarily be able to fall asleep in the absence of your company even though he can very well fall asleep on his own. This challenge will be addressed in the second stage.
*If your child needs your presence/company, not your touch to fall asleep, you can simply skip to part 2.
Stage 2 (Pop out)
Here, as your child hops into bed, getting ready to sleep, sit in with them and then suddenly find an excuse to pop out from the room and 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. Keep doing until your child finally falls asleep.
The advantage of this method is that your child actually falls asleep independently while knowing you are close by. However for some kids this repeated pop ins and outs may be more of a distraction from the actual sleep mission at hand.
*However if your child is already making progress with their sleeps or those good sleepers who are passing through a phase where they need to be boosted with that extra dose of reassurance, you can simply skip to stage 2.
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, 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 can come out for a drink of water or a trip to the bathroom or for whatever ‘important’ reason he cooks up. That single pass must not last more than 3 minutes and after it has been used, he is not allowed to come out again.
So chances are he will keep hoarding that pass till he finally falls asleep without using it
Though by 6 months most children are physiologically capable of sleeping through the night and don’t require night time feedings, many still wake up at some point in the night.
However those with good sleeping habits will soothe themselves to sleep while those who associate sleep with rocking, holding, bringing into the big bed, etc, will cry until you intervene.
So if your child is a night sleeper, here are tips on how to handle the situation
Research shows that 1 -2 weeks after falling asleep quickly and easily at bedtime, they stop waking up. So keep at whatever sleep training strategy you have adopted at bedtime
Ensure he always sticks to bedtime schedule 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
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 act of falling asleep on his own
When he wakes up at night, avoid picking him up. Instead simply reassure him with brief, boring checks till he falls asleep
Source: sleep store, dr craig canapari, atlantic health system, Cleveland clinic, nationwidechildrens; picture courtesy atlantablackstar