It wasn’t too long ago when I decided to sleep train my younger daughter. As prep, I read over a dozen books, countless articles and advice posted on community forums and blogs on sleep training. It still took a few long and painful months to teach my daughter how to sleep. Yes, that’s right folks, months! And I was per-sis-tent!!
It wasn’t until I had started my certification classes and got the privilege to speak directly with Kim West, aka the Sleep Lady, that I was able to finally understand and work through the last stubborn bits of my daughter’s slumber.
Now that we’re officially past that agonizing point in our lives, I have the hindsight, emotional clarity, and expertise to know what works and why. And I want to share what I’ve learned with you.
1. Have a well-thought-out plan. Sure, this may seem like a no-brainer. But, when I was sleep coaching my daughter, I experimented with several strategies before I pieced together bits of info that were relevant to our situation. I had a plan but, admittedly, it was very half-baked. When things started to go from black and white into various shades of grey, I didn’t know what to do.
Take Away: Plan for contingencies. As they say, “the devil is in the details.” Do you know what you are going to do if your child wakes up and wants to eat at a time you’re not prepared to feed him? What if your bed-crashing toddler becomes a master at sneaking under your covers undetected? What if she gets sick a week into the process? Of course, you’re not going to be able to foresee all the “what ifs,” but the more you can bullet proof your strategies, the better off you’ll be.
2. The same sleep coaching strategy won’t work for every child. After I tried and failed a few times on my own, I ended up purchasing a canned step-by-step program that claimed to be my panacea. I followed it exactly, and, understandably, was extremely disappointed when it didn’t work.
I now know and understand that my daughter is extremely alert and that alert children can be lightning rods for sleep challenges. I’ll also admit that I used the wrong method for a child her age. At that time, my daughter was about five months old. What I’ve learned is that self-regulation skills aren’t fully developed until around six months and self-soothing is at thev foundation of sleep training.
What the purchased program did not mention was that children with my daughter’s personality were going to protest much more persistently making my job as a sleep teacher significantly harder and the process significantly longer. It also didn’t inform me that my daughter was not developmentally ready, which again exacerbated our overall frustration.
Take Away: Consider your child’s and family’s unique needs. Schedule, routine, feeding practices, instincts, attachment, development and dynamics are some things to keep in mind.
Additionally, there are a lot of people offering sleep information, make sure any advice you take is complete, credible and based on facts and research
3. Consistency is everything. Even when I was just learning about sleep coaching, I knew that consistency is a biggie—it’s even common sense. I’m not going to achieve any goal in life, if I don’t consistently work towards it. And I was ok with that.
But, let’s face it, like anything I’ve ever tried to do when I am severely sleep deprived, It. Is. Hard. Some nights it was even darn near impossible.
Take Away: Stick to Your Plan. If you decide you want to take a cry-it-out approach, but can’t take it after two or three nights, it’s possible that your child will call your bluff and cry longer the next time you try it.
4. Make sure your child is as well-rested as possible. I had always read that, “Sleep begets sleep,” but I didn’t fully understand it. I thought, “I can’t get my daughter to sleep, that’s the problem!” The piece I was missing was that my daughter’s sleep tank was low, and all sleep is connected. So I started my coaching with an overtired kiddo who was fighting all efforts to sleep at every turn.
Take Away: Try to Minimize Your Child’s Sleep Deficit. This means that if you can consistently rely on your child to nap in the car or stroller (even if you want to do away with that habit) you need to use that tool to get in the zzzs before you start your journey.
5. How to put myself back to sleep. Before I had kids I slept like a champ. Like I never, ever had any issues…ever. It was after acquiring insomnia when pregnant and then being up so often with my daughter, I developed bad habits. I’d watch early morning infomercials, play Candy Crush saga or scroll through online communities in an attempt to unwind after my daughter’s nightly wake-up calls. Then, when I tried to turn my brain off, it was tough. For awhile, even after my daughter was sleeping well, I was up for the day at 3 or 4 am, because I had conditioned myself to be wide awake at that time.
Take Away: Protect your sleep. Try to steer clear of any type of light or activity that may “wire your brain.” The obvious offenders are LED TVs, smart phones and laptops. But think of some other culprits. Nightlights and digital alarm clocks (specifically those emitting blue, white or green light) should be replaced with lights that are gentler on your sleep cycle. Red is the best.
Cover the numbers on your clock, put red bulbs in your night lights, purchase blue-light blocking glasses or screens, and/or limit exposure to video baby monitors (which can emit blue light as well.) Do your best to keep your brain producing melatonin in an effort to get some shut eye whenever you can.
There you have it. Hope these tips helps you in your sleep coaching journey. And if you’re looking for some more helpful info before beginning, my mentor, Kim West, has a great article called “10 Steps to Take Before Starting Sleep Coaching.” It includes some key things to do, including checking with your child’s doctor to rule out any underlying medical conditions and discuss nutritional needs.
Good luck on achieving your best rest. And if you have any questions or lessons learned, please feel free to share them!