Friday, May 18, 2012

Q&A: Sleep (or lack thereof)

I received the following question from reader Janine the other day, and decided to dedicate a post to answering because I think this is a subject that resonates with so many of us. Sleep!

Dawn I have to ask, what method or strategy did you use? I've been following yours and Carli's blog since you're both paleo, realistic and have babies the same age group as mine (he's 7 months old, 100% paleo, bad sleeper). I read Carli's post on her success with sleep. Lucky girl. Any chance you can post your sleep journey?

Hi Janine! Thank you so much for your question. So, to be honest, we're all over the map when it comes to methods and strategies. And I actually feel like at this point I am a pretty bad example -- as soon as I wrote the post about early morning workout success the whole plan imploded and I haven't been to a morning workout class since. But I am more than happy to share our journey with you.

It was actually Carli who helped us get on the right track. A few months ago I was struggling because my baby was getting up every two hours. I was exhausted and feeling like a zombie and I had to fix the situation asap because I was so tired that it was becoming difficult to function. I want our days to be fun and productive, but that can't happen if I am constantly sleep deprived. Carli shared some great advice with me that worked wonders.

At the time, we were letting our baby girl stay up late. We didn't put her down until 11pm or later because that is when she seemed tired. And even though she was tired, she often protested being placed in her crib. Carl often spent an hour or more doing what he called "power soothing," otherwise known as the Five Ss (outlined in The Happiest Baby on the Block). It put her to sleep, but she didn't stay asleep. Two hours later she would be awake and ready for a meal. She never had any trouble going back to sleep after the middle-of-the-night feedings, but my sleep was greatly compromised. Not only that, she was sleeping in until 10am. She was getting her rest, but her late wake-up time made it difficult for us to get going with our day. 

Turns out we needed two things: an early bedtime, and a bedtime routine. Once we got these two key elements into place, everything improved! For some reason I had been resistant to the idea of a bedtime routine for such a young baby, but now I know better.

A typical night for us goes like this: Around 6:30pm we start the bedtime routine. Bath, diaper, pajamas, nurse, book, prayer. It takes 45 minutes to one hour, and she is always more than ready to sleep by the time we're done. After we place her in her crib, she fusses for a few minutes and then she's out like a light. We do use a sleep sheep, but I don't know if she needs that anymore. I just like it. She still gets up at 11pm and 3am (approximately) to nurse. Wake up time is 7am.

Not every night is typical, though. Last night was an off night, for example, and it was totally my fault. I didn't give her a bath because I was sick (I received a tdap immunization on Wednesday, and I've been feeling flu-ish every since) and Carl was not home. I thought it would be no big deal, but it threw her off and in addition to her normal feedings she was up from 8-9pm and again from 3:30-5am. Lesson learned. Don't mess with the routine!

On another recent night, she started crying a few minutes after I put her down and we assumed she was just grumpy. We decided to try the whole self-soothing thing, but it didn't work. When we eventually went in to check on her, we discovered she had a dirty diaper (she hasn't had a dirty diaper in the middle of the night since she was two months old, so we didn't really expect this). Hence the crying. Another lesson learned. Always check on her immediately.

So, I guess this is all to say that in terms of methods and strategies I don't really favor one over the other. The three I am most familiar with all incorporate things I like and things I don't like. I don't think it would be accurate to say we've done any sort of sleep training and I don't know that we will. However, for the most part she is fairly consistent in her sleep routine so sleep training doesn't feel urgent. It is my view that she will sleep longer and/or through the night when she is ready. Right now, she needs those two nighttime feedings. I will be very, very happy when she decides to drop them, though!

Anyway, I hope my rambling was at least somewhat helpful. I think I'm realizing that my parenting style is more along the lines of winging it. I just try to be flexible and adapt as I go. I know lots of people who have done sleep training with great success and swear by it, and I think that method is great if it works for you.

1 comment:

  1. If I can add a few points... :)

    Retrospectively, there were a few key factors (aside from the basics of bedtime routine, removing sleep associations and dad doing the soothing) that contributed to our success:

    1. Having a detailed plan (daily schedule) to work towards, including consistent, pre-determined strategies for dealing with each potential problem (e.g. what do we do if he fusses when we put him down to sleep, if he wakes during the night, if he wakes too early in the morning? etc.). Before we implemented the plan, we were all over the map with our responses, and I think it confused Oliver. Once we knew exactly what to do, we were much more confident and firm, and both the consistency and our confidence helped Oliver to adjust.

    2. Keeping meticulous records of feeding/sleeping/moods throughout the process (for three weeks). I was really surprised at how much the written records differed from my recollection. Once we had detailed notes, it was easier to find patterns and to know what specifically we needed to address. It also kept us accountable, i.e. we couldn't fudge bedtimes and we knew exactly how many minutes we were letting him cry at any given time, instead of just "feeling it out."

    3. Commitment. In the past, we had tried different strategies for a few nights at a time, and nothing really worked long-term, but habits take time to break and to make. Committing to one unified strategy for a three week period was key to the strategy actually working. There were setbacks during the training period, but because we stuck with our plan and didn't change course mid-way, Oliver learned that this was the way things were going to be.

    Three months later, he is still sleeping through the night, even despite teething, various colds, and travel. We eliminated the 11:00 PM dream feed without issue, and Oliver is now sleeping 11-12 hours straight every night, plus two naps. Whenever we see an undesirable pattern emerging (e.g. two mornings in a row of waking slightly earlier than our set waking time), we immediately revert to "sleep training mode" and nip it in the bud before it becomes habit.

    Sleep training is A LOT of work for a few weeks. It sucked, and we had no social life. The baby's schedule has to take priority over everything, until the "new normal" is firmly established. But the payoff was definitely worth it!

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