Sleep Training

I recently posted an article comparing the CIO (Cry It Out) group supporters to the Co-Sleeping supporters, and briefly discussed our daughter’s experience with both sleep plans. We are now 4 weeks into implementing a successful CIO bedtime and nap-time routine for our 11-month-old daughter. I have not seen a detailed example of how CIO plans are implemented, so I have decided to share the specifics of our plan.

First, I would like to clarify that my previous article was not well accepted nor appreciated in some groups. Several individuals firmly believe that subjecting a child to CIO is inadequate and cruel parenting. Therefore, if you believe children should not be subjected to CIO, then I recommend that you do NOT read this article. If you and your partner are not ready to commit to a sleep plan, it would not be a good idea to implement a sleep plan. I apologize to those that I have sickened. I do not claim to be a parenting expert, and I believe that every parent should consider researching multiple resources before making substantial child raising decisions.

Before we begin, I must clarify the following: successful sleep training methods require schedules, routines, and consistency. I strongly recommend implementing the following suggestions before starting sleep training. Under each point I have noted some of the specifics of the schedule we had before attempting sleep training.

Sleep and Feeding Schedule

  1. Set a sleep schedule with at least a 3-hour window between the last nap and bed time.

From the age of 9-10 months, we had set a somewhat consistent nap schedule for our daughter. Her first nap started about 2.5 hours after waking in the morning and 3 hours of waking from her second nap. This usually left about 4 hours until bed time.

There were times when the nap was pushed back too late. If she wouldn’t fall asleep for the second nap we would then take her on a car ride to help her fall asleep, and that was often too late in the afternoon after the failed nap attempt. A child certainly needs sleep; however, we should have kept that 3-hour window between the last nap and bed time even if she was exhausted. The night-time sleep plan trumps the nap plans.

  1. Set consistent sleep routines with the night sleep routine lasting about 10 minutes.

From the age of 9-10 months we also started implementing a sleep routine. We would read to her before each nap and bed time for about 5 minutes. The bed time routine also included a diaper change and putting her in her pajamas.

The night-time routine should have lasted closer to 10 minutes, and we should have included a more detailed, consistent, and step-wise routine. This will be further discussed in the ‘Re-Set’ plan below.

  1. Set a consistent feeding schedule, including a dream feeding if necessary.

We did not put this into practice until we started the CIO plan at the age of 10 months. We used the bottle as a sleep aid, and this was a mistake. Looking back I have realized that even if the initial CIO method would have worked at the 6 or 9-month attempts, it would not have lasted through the night. This is probably the case even if we would have implemented a well-timed dream feeding because she was dependent on the bottle as her soothing requirement. If you want to implement a sleep plan, the bottle should not be used as a soothing tool.

The last feeding must be at least 15 minutes before the start of the night-time sleep routine. If feedings are necessary during the night, a dream feeding should be scheduled before the child would wake for the feeding. At 10 months we decided a dream feeding was not necessary since her night feeding usually resulted in a skipped morning feeding.

Additional Considerations

There are situations when such schedule synchronization is difficult to implement. If all of these variables are perfectly set, your child is probably very close to being perfectly sleep trained anyway. Most parents who are researching sleep training are facing exhausting and overwhelming inconsistencies which need to be corrected. That is exactly where we were, and we started the successful sleep training from a fairly unstable starting point. Our daughter did not have any self-soothing skills before our 10-month sleep training attempt. Furthermore, her inconsistent sleep from the age of 4-10 months left her exhausted for too much of the day. This scattered her eating schedule, and the cyclic nature of inconsistencies continued. We didn’t realize how exhausted she was until about 5 days into our successful sleep training attempt.

(Re)Set the Sleep Stage

  1. The Child Must Sleep in a Crib, and That Crib Is the Only Sleep Option.

Allowing a child over 6 months old to fall asleep while feeding, being held, riding in a car, or co-sleeping are not helpful options when attempting to acclimate a child to sleeping in a crib. If the child is used to those options, the challenges of sleep training increase exponentially. The crib must be the only option. By the age of 10 months we had allowed alternative sleep options much too frequently, and she knew that crying in her crib would eventually result in being removed from her crib.

Before the official sleep training attempt began, she was required to sleep in the crib for 4 nights. She hated it, and it didn’t matter if we were in the room or not. I decided to lay with her in the crib for an hour, and then sleep next to her on the floor for the entire night. Your methods are up to you, but before a sleep training attempt it must be accepted by all parties that sleeping in the crib is the only option.

  1. Optimize the Sleep Environment

For us, the two final steps for the optimal sleep environment included adding about 8 more pacifiers around the crib and using a white noise machine. The room should be completely dark and a comfortable temperature.

  1. Continue or start a schedule.

If you haven’t already, do your best to set the sleeping and eating schedules. The more defined the schedules are, the easier the sleep training will be. As these schedules are set all milk feedings should be at least 15 minutes from any sleep attempt.

For bed time, the consensus is a 7:00 – 8:30 time window. During our four days of preparation we aimed for a 7:30 p.m. sleep time. This would be +/- 15 minutes depending on when she woke up from her last nap. In the morning we took her out of the crib no earlier than 6:00, but if she was sleeping we let her sleep until 7:30 (that never happened). The first nap would start 2.5 hours after she woke up in the morning. The second nap would start 3 hours after she woke up from the first. The second nap would not continue past 4:30 p.m. We had to wake her up twice on the occasions when she fought the second nap for too long.

Ideally, the previously mentioned sleeping and eating schedules as well as not using the milk for soothing purposes would also be integrated as much as possible. The better these foundations are set; the easier sleep training will be.

  1. Optimize a Sleep Routine.

Set the sleep routine of your choice. The final feeding should start at least 20-30 minutes before the child is set in the crib for the night. After the feeding, allow the child to sit or be held upright for about 5-10 minutes, then proceed to the sleep routine. This part of the routine should last about 10 minutes. Our routine included a diaper change, a coconut/lavender oil massage, dressing her in her pajamas, two books (4-5 mins), clicking on the sound machine, and then laying her in her crib. As you are prepping for the sleep training, you could be crazy and sleep in the crib as I did, you could stand by the crib, and/or you could stand across the room. Whatever works! The goal is as little crying as possible with as little contact as possible. For naps we included a diaper change and one book.

Sleep Training

If steps 1-7 are going well, sleep training might be as easy as all of the CIO and Ferber advocates proclaim. Our sleep training started by implementing the previous 7 steps within the narrow time window of only four days. Since we were consistently implementing each step, and we were confident that our plan would work. The small 4-day window of preparation as well as the previously failed attempts (intermittent re-enforcement) did not make our sleep training path easy. However, it worked.

  1. Start with only night-time sleep training.

There isn’t much to say about the sleep training once steps 1-7 are set in place. At 10 months she no longer needed a dream feeding. After the night-time routine, we left the room for the night. For the first week she averaged 25 minutes of crying, for the second week she averaged 10 minutes, and for the third she averaged 5 minutes before falling asleep. For the first two weeks we only implemented sleep training at night. Since naps are more challenging with less of a physiological sleep synchronization, we remained next to her crib until she fell asleep for naps.

As our daughter became more comfortable with the sleep training routine, she also had some interesting behavioral changes. After the feeding we would walk into her room, and she knew that it was sleep time. For some reason she always accepted diaper changes, but after the first week she started to fight the diaper change. She knew that it was bed time, and she knew that she would be stuck going to sleep once it happened. After the diaper change she usually calmed down more during the massage and dressing in her pjs. Then, during the book reading she was very calm. The battle shifted from fighting sleep in the crib to making a short plea within the bedtime routine.

  1. Continue to nap sleep train if necessary.

After the first week of sleep training at night, the naps became more challenging. She wanted us to pick her up out of the crib. We were focused on the night-time plan, so we would often give in to relentless crying and take her on a drive so she would fall asleep. I don’t necessarily regret this decision, but after the second week of night-time training, we also implemented CIO for naps. The first week of nap-time sleep training also had it’s challenges. We maximized CIO to 45 minutes, and she reached that two times. We are now at week 4, and over the last four days she has averaged 5 minutes of light crying before falling asleep for naps, and she is averaging less than 5 minutes of light crying for bed time.

Conclusion

By our daughter’s 10 month mark, it seemed as if co-sleeping or sleep training were the only two options we had. We thought co-sleeping would have been a fairly easy pathway and at least another 6 months of low quality sleep for us and for her. We figured sleep training would at least require a solid three days of torture for everyone involved. If sleep training worked, we were pretty sure it would be worth it, and even if it didn’t, we had to know if it wasn’t a possibility. Sleep training did require several hours of crying over the first week, but from weeks 2-4 there has been significantly less crying than we were used to. After the first week our daughter started to crawl, pull herself up, and balance herself while standing. She has started to interact with us more than ever, she has been more interested in everything around her, and she is a happier girl in general.

Hopefully this outline was helpful. If you have any questions, thoughts, or suggestions please leave a comment!