five tips for creating a slightly more bearable sleep training experience

note: i originally wrote and published this post on denver’s mile high mamas, but i’m re-posting here for my loyal readers’ delight.

hello formerly-well-rested-humans-turned-parental-zombies,

i’m one of you. in fact, at this very moment i’m writing to you from the depths of sleep-deprived parenting pandemonium… otherwise known as “sleep training”. for the purposes of this post, i am defining “sleep training” as the super-fun process of teaching my kiddos how to fall asleep on their own AND soothe themselves back to sleep when they awaken between sleep cycles. pause. what ever happened to the days when the term “training” meant nothing more than hitting the gym (like a boss)? my oh my, how the mighty fall.

but yes, here i am: incredibly blessed to be the mom of two amazing little hooligans (23 months and 4 months… #twoundertwoCHYEAH). and perhaps only borderline blessed to currently be in the thick of teaching my youngest how to effectively snooze. in our household, we take sleep very seriously. need evidence? my husband is currently fast asleep in dreamland on the couch next to me (it’s 3:30pm). so, when our pediatrician gave us the green light to begin sleep training each of our boys, we jumped in head first. after doing lots of research, we chose to go for the no-swaddle, put-you-down-awake, sleep-in-your-crib, cry-it-out approach. bold (or crazy)… i know.

this journey has not been challenge-less. but it has worked wonders for us.

by 3.5 months, both of our boys were sleeping 12 hours at night. no paci, no swaddle, no more nighttime parties with mama bear. by 5 months, our oldest was taking two predictable, unaided naps a day in his crib. i like to think this was at least partially influenced by our sleep training approach, although we all know it was probably at least 96% dumb luck.

either way, we’re sticking to our strategy and actively striving to nail the whole nap thing with our second little peanut. in an attempt to pass the time as my sweet little man works through a gnarly sleep cycle transition (read: screams), i figured i’d document a few tips that have made this whole process somewhat bearable for us.

before i begin, a caveat: “sleep training” (especially the cry-it-out version) is a widely debated topic in the parenting community. this is for good reason. there is definitely not one correct approach. each baby is different. each family is different. always consult your pediatrician and ultimately do whatever feels right for you! judgement-free zone up in here.

now, for those of you in the cry-it-out boat (shortened to CIO from here on out), here are five tips for creating a slightly more bearable sleep training experience:

5. make a plan: no matter how committed you are to CIO, it’s going to suck hearing your kid cry. it’s just not natural to ‘ignore’ that sound, even if you feel it’s ultimately for his/her own good. so, before you begin this lovely process, set a few parameters you’re comfortable with (e.g. ‘we’ll let him/her cry for 30 minutes’, ‘we’ll start with just naps’, ‘we’ll do this for one week then re-assess’, etc). with this bit of pre-determined structure on your side, you’ll be better equipped to ride the emotional CIO rollercoaster without getting derailed at the first tear.

4. embrace small milestones: this whole thing is not going to happen overnight (pun intended). unfortunately, the CIO method will probably feel a whole lot like two steps forward, one step back. instead of reserving your celebrations for the finish line, focus on small pieces of the sleep training puzzle (e.g. falling asleep drowsy-but-awake, taking one nap a day in the crib vs. swing, weaning off a night-time feed, etc.). then, party like an f-ing ROCKSTAR when you achieve success.

3. walk. away. from. the. monitor.: my husband and i implemented a 30-minute cry limit with our littlest. when/if he does start fussing early into his nap, i check to see that he’s safe, then calmly note the time and turn off the monitor for the next 29 minutes. rather than white-knuckling the innocent motorola video screen until he falls back asleep, i’ll step outside and have a cup of coffee. write a blog post. do SOMETHING to distract myself. a watched pot never boils. ya feel me?

2. call in reinforcements: i first attempted to start CIO training our youngest when my husband was traveling for work. i was home alone with two-under-two and trying to move mountains. that was just dumb. do yourself a solid and make sure you have a steady stream of support lined up whenever you begin this process!

1. laugh (at yourself, not your baby): chances are high that you’ll end up doing any number of absurd things to withstand the early CIO sessions with your babe. to date, i’ve: buried my head under a pillow, blasted katy perry’s “Firework” in the basement, live-tweeted a CIO play-by-play for my followers (riveting, right?), compulsively weeded my yard between monitor checks, etc. the list clearly goes on. so, i hope it doesn’t sound cruel when i suggest you try to find the humor in all of this. the baby tears make it feel serious; but at the end of the day, you and your baby are simply doing the best you can. it’s called survival. and it’s not the worst thing to crack a smile while doing it.


One comment on “five tips for creating a slightly more bearable sleep training experience”
  1. Laurie Cronin says:

    You make me smile!


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