On our first night home from the hospital with our first child, I can distinctly remember sitting on the couch at 1130 pm staring wildly at an infant who was screaming. And not that cute, "aw, their lungs are so little that they squeak in a cute way" screaming, either. Full on, wake the dead, what did we get ourselves into screaming. Screaming that didn't happen in the hospital when there was an army of nurses to help us figure things out.
Screaming that went on until 230 am. And started again at 430 am. Judging from all the screaming, we were in trouble, I tell you.
I also remember looking at my husband and kindly telling him that if this was our new sleep normal, I wanted off the ride because there was NO WAY I was going to survive.
And it went that way for three solid months. I wandered the aisles of the grocery store, nauseated from exhaustion, wondering why there wasn't enough coffee on the planet to help me survive the sleep deprivation brought on by our tiny bundle of joy. I was crabby, I was cranky and I was irritable. Those were the good days, people.
Around the four month mark, I waved the white flag. Something had to give if I was going to survive and our son was going to make it to his first birthday. My husband and I decided to wage a war and declare our house a sleep dictatorship. Sleeping would no longer be a democracy because, omg, we were just sooooooo tired.
I am happy to report that within a few short weeks, our son was not only sleeping through the night but also for twelve hours at a time. Yup. You read that correctly. Twelve hour nights of sleep for all of us and we applied the same principles to our second child with the same results. It required patience, perseverance and a whole lot of wine and praying, I won't lie. We chose a plan that worked for us (my children are graduates of the controversial Cry It Out Method of sleep training. Read about that adventure HERE) and we we learned valuable lessons along the way.
And I'm happy to share our Secrets of Sleeping Success:
1). Buy a sleep book and ACTUALLY READ IT. We hear the jokes about parents having no time to read but, hear me out on this: there are thousands of books on the market that will help you come up with a solid plan to get your child to sleep through the night. Whether you are a fan of Ferberizing, Crying It Out, Cosleeping, or Attachment Parenting, there is a book out there to help you. USE THEM. If you are too tired to search for a book, use the one I chose as a starting point: Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. His no nonsense approach to sleep training spoke to my structure loving self and his methods changed our lives. Seriously, if ever meet him, I'm going to kiss him.
2). Visualize What You Want Your Evenings To Look Like And Create A Plan. Everyone has different priorities for their evenings. For us, we wanted to be able to have time to reconnect at the end of the day and decided on a bedtime that allowed us to accomplish that goal. We both agreed that we'd like our house quiet by 8 pm and decided to start bed time activities by 630 pm to accomplish that goal. For working couples, the goal may be to have your child up a little later in the evening for family time or for parents of multiples, the goal might be to have bedtimes in shifts give children special one on one time. The point is, unless you have an honest conversation about what works best for your family in the evenings, sleep training is useless.
3). Accept That Your Child Won't Remember Sleep Training I promise, Little Junior is NOT going to remember that you let him cry it out in his crib. Really. He won't. I have two children, ages 10 and 12, and we chose the Cry It Out Method for both of them. I can assure you, with sound authority, that neither child has ever said to me, "Hey, Mom, you know that night that I cried in my bed for thirty minutes but then slept through the night? Yeah, thanks for that, my childhood was ruined". Teaching your child to sleep well is a gift you give them, not a punishment, so let go of the guilt when they are crying in their cribs before bed or when you feel guilty for choosing a quiet evening with Netflix.
4). Create A Schedule And Stick To It Like Glue. Fact: infants and toddlers cannot tell time. The concept of time is irrelevant to them. But, they do understand the concept of "The Thing That Happens Next". In our house, mornings were breakfast, Sesame Street, Playtime, Lunch and Nap. Every day. And, afternoons were errands, play time, dinner, bath, books and bed. Yes, it was tedious, yes we had to vary it some days due to schedule changes but, for the most part, we gave them a schedule that clearly told them when it was play time and when it was nap time. They had no idea that the clock said 730 pm when they were getting out of their baths but they definitely knew that The Thing That Happened Next was bedtime.
5). Remind Yourself That You Were Here First I talk with so many parents who have a hard time remembering that, as parents, we are in charge. We set the rules and we come up with the plans for our family time. It is OKAY to want to have a bed time and it's OKAY to declare that you are the Sleep Dictator. Kids crave structure and need rules to learn how to navigate their busy days effectively and good sleep habits are no different than teaching them how to study. Don't be afraid to take back your sanity and relish in a good night's sleep!