Sleeping: What Works For Us Part 2

Back in Part 1 I described how we made it through the newborn and infant stages getting Mouse to sleep. Once he got older, however, we once again had problems. Mouse would only sleep in the bouncy chair. Not the crib, not the pack n play, not in our bed, not the swing, nowhere else–only the bouncy chair. I am not joking when I say that one day the original bouncy chair broke and I was literally in tears until Train Guy raced out to buy another one.

However, there came a time when the bouncy chair just wasn’t big enough anymore and we had to find a different solution. It was time to fully utilize our beautiful crib. Transitioning him was HARD. He’d fall asleep in the bouncy chair and then as soon as we stopped bouncing with our foot, he’d wake up. Or he’d fall asleep and when we tried to transfer him to his crib he’d wake up and cry. Or if we put him in his crib awake, he’d cry and cry and cry and cry and cry.

Our beloved Duckie

I read tons of advice. One method was to cry it out, but go in at intervals and let the baby know you’re still there. Well, going in where he could see us just amped up the pathos and made things worse. But I just couldn’t hack a full-on cry it out for as long as it takes. Even though I had friends who swore by it, I just couldn’t do it emotionally.

Now that’s not to say that we threw cry it out totally off the ledge. In fact, we ended up doing a gradual cry it out. First we gave him 5 minutes before we went in to intervene. Then we worked up to 10, then up to 15 minutes. It was much easier for me emotionally to hear him cry when I knew it was only a couple of minutes. I can count on one hand the number of times it’s taken him longer than 15 minutes to self-soothe.  That said, the thing we found most effective was the sleep associations.

Along with that, I read Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Sleep Solution, and much of it didn’t apply to me (the focus is on getting children to stay asleep, which we had no problem with, it was getting him down in the first place that was the problem). However, I did pick up a few tips, primarily around creating sleep associations.

First off is routine, routine, routine. I resisted routine for a long time. I wanted Mouse to do what I wanted when I wanted. It didn’t work that way. Finally, we figured out the optimal time for him to nap and to go to sleep at night. And for us, it was never a case of “if you put them down earlier they’ll sleep more.” I’ve heard that numerous times, and it was just never the case with Mouse. He would just cry and cry until the regular bedtime and then fall asleep. Putting him to bed the same time every day has worked wonders. The second aspect is sleep association. I cannot explain how much sleep associations work for us. Sleep associations are exactly what Mouse needs to know that it’s time to sleep. Deviate on one thing and expect a meltdown and zero sleep. Here are our sleep associations:

  • Brush teeth. We try to remember to brush teeth every night, but some nights it gets skipped. Still, it’s important so we do try to do it most of the time.
  • Sleep Sack. Mouse wears a sleep sack–actually ours is a lightweight Aden + Anais sleep sack made of muslin to allow a lot of air circulation. When we zip him up in his sleep sack, he knows it’s time to sleep. One time all of our sacks were in the wash and there was absolutely no sleeping. I was actually surprised at how potent this association was.
  • Favorite story book. Once we get him sleep sacked up, we read the same story every night. Our favorite is Sandra Boynton’s Going to Bed Book. There are many great bedtime books to share, but doing the same one every night lets him know that we’re not just reading for fun, we’re reading to go to bed.
  • Loveys. Mouse sleeps with three essential elements–a stuffed duckie (his favorite), a stuffed Pooh bear, and a blanket we’ve taken to calling “Linus the Blanket.” See, we’re big into Snoopy around here (hey, we have two beagles!) and the nursery is Snoopy. Mouse has this round face that makes him look a bit like a Peanuts character. Linus the Blanket is blue, fuzzy, and has Snoopy on it, and quite frankly, when he’s sucking his thumb and holding the blanket, he looks very much like Linus. Anyway, his loveys help him a lot. We also took to placing Duckie in between us and Mouse when he was having a bottle to associate a closeness with Duckie. Seems to work.

    They're so sweet when they sleep

  • Lullaby. We sing the same lullaby every night. It’s short and sweet, and we follow it up with “Good night, I love you, I’ll see you in the morning.”
  • Music. After the lullaby, we turn on the music. Mouse has his own iPod. Actually it’s my old iPod Nano before I upgraded to an iPhone (LOVE!), and we have it hooked up to some speakers. This is probably one of the most significant sleep associations we’ve gotten. We have a playlist I created myself–hint: when you make your playlist, choose songs you don’t mind hearing over and over and over again–and we play it after we say good night. An added bonus is that the sound of the music drowns out any common household sounds. Again, he really, really needs the music. One time we were up at the cabin and couldn’t for the life of ourselves figure out why he was crying and crying. Finally it occurred to me to put his music on, and almost instantly he settled down and went to sleep. Now another thing about music is the length of the playlist. I found that Mouse woke himself up after about 45 minutes. When I read somewhere that a baby’s sleep cycle is 45 minutes long, it occurred to me that he needed the continual association to carry him through the awakening. As a result, I made sure that my playlist was longer than 45 minutes.

And that’s what works for us. You may notice we don’t have a bath in there. The fact is, baths have always energized Mouse and made him a lot more wired than he had to be. It was hard calming him after a bath, so we save that for other times during the day.

This has worked so well that we can simply put him down for a nap or at bedtime and within 5 minutes he’s asleep. As I said before, though, not every technique works for every child. Share in the comments your best advice for getting a child to sleep!

The Scrivener