From the moment a child is born parents’ expectations of sleep change dramatically. An exceptional night’s sleep is when a parent gets a solid three hour block between feedings. It’s no surprise that the best-selling faux children’s book Go the F**k to Sleep is so popular that it’s being made into a movie.The Ferber Method is by far the most well-known (and misunderstood) of the Cry-It-Out methods. Depending on which sleep expert you listen to, sleep training can begin around 5 to 6 months. The array of advice can seem dizzying, but there are two basic camps. The first is Cry it Out (CIO). The Ferber Method is by far the most well-known (and misunderstood) of the CIO methods. Richard Ferber does not advocate that the child cry herself to sleep for hours and hours. Rather, he recommends what he calls progressive waiting, in which the parents return to soothe (but not pick up) the crying child at longer and longer intervals: 3 minutes, then 5, etc. In Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, comforting a crying child is discouraged as he believes parental interference might stretch the process from a few days to several strenuous weeks.
At the other end of the spectrum is attachment parenting, advocated by, among others, Dr. William Sears. Supporters of attachment parenting believe that a parent should align themselves with the child’s needs. So if that means getting up in the middle of the night, up you go. If this seems like a boundary-less world in which the parent loses sight of their own needs, Elizabeth Pantley in The No Cry Sleep Solution, focuses on routines, associations and changing of patterns to offer some guidance to get a child to sleep.As a child approaches a year, Dr. Darcia Narvaez recommends that the goal is to have nights that parents can live with.For some a readjustment of expectations might be a helpful first step in dealing with sleep woes. In her article in Psychology Today Dr. Darcia Narvaez writes that it is actually not normal for a six month old to sleep through the night. As a child approaches a year, she recommends that the goal not necessarily be to eliminate night wakings altogether but to have “nights that parents can live with.”
Bostonians have a helpful resource. Isis Parenting (locations in Boston, Arlington and Brookline), in addition to offering classes on a myriad of parenting subjects, offers sleep consults to desperate parents for $129. For those who do not have money to burn, Isis also keeps recordings of their free sleep webinars online.
Wherever parents get their support here are a few bits of advice on which most experts agree:
- Put your child down at the first signs of sleepiness. Most parents know how difficult it is to settle an adrenaline-charged overtired child.
- In order to get your child to sleep longer in the morning, put him down earlier, not later. Sleep breeds sleep, they say.
- Don’t sleep train your baby when she’s sick or teething.
- Try to make the room as dark as possible.
- When the child awakens in the middle of the night, try not to engage her. In fact, everyone wakes up in the middle of the night. It’s just that adults know how to put ourselves back to sleep. Someday your child will learn how to do this too.
- Start a routine (songs, bath, bottle, books, in whatever order) and repeat it nightly.
- Begin the routine at more or less the same time every night and your child will fall asleep on schedule out of habit. Eventually.
Life rushes in, of course, and being this disciplined is not always possible or maybe even desirable. In our home, for example, since the Boston Marathon, we’ve added an extra step in our nighttime routine. After PJs and teeth-brushing, after zipping the sleepsack and reading 3 books, mommy or daddy lies down for a snuggle for 5 minutes or so. Maybe we’re regressing, but we’re all in the mood for more hugs lately.