Day 14: behind the black door ~ sleep whisperer

I have been called many things in my day, and since having children, “sleep whisperer” has been added to the long list. I will warn you, in order to become one of the elite, such as myself, you will have to be slightly {unequivocally} neurotic, forgo fun activities, and stop your world, for naps and bedtime. But trust me – It is totally worth it {mostly}.

My son actually says goodnight to everyone, grabs his night nights (blanket), his paci, throws them in the crib and waits to be put inside. It is quite amazing. Just now, for nap, he waved goodbye (or goodnight, they both sound the same), to Thomas the Train on his shirt, and ran as fast as he could to his room. I changed his diaper, he shut his own shutters, and eagerly and happily went into his crib for nap. He does this every day at 1 o’clock. Not a cry, or sound to be heard…until 3:30 when he wakes up. Yep, you read right, he naps for 2 1/2 hours everyday, which is actually a huge adjustment for me. He used to nap twice a day both for 2 1/2 hours, and my daughter for 2 as well. The nice thing (this is me being optimistic) about both of them dropping a nap, is that they both ‘get processed’ at the same time at night now. Both are asleep by 7:15 every night.  I am living the good life… after 7 pm, anyway.

Now, I am not saying they, or I, are perfect, nor is my method, or any method.

So what is the secret to my success – other than awareness, neuroticism and sacrifice? Routine! Now, I know you all have this word in your vocabulary, and you probably even use it when explaining to your own child about their responsibilities. Wake up, brush your teeth, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc., etc. It is important to give your infant the routine they need too. Often times, parents you forget that it is YOUR responsibility to teach your child to sleep. NO, I am not crazy, and NO, your are not born knowing how to do it. You are born with the tools, but like anything else, someone needs to show you how to use them correctly. I know, how Tabula rasa – Aristotle of me. But really. You can’t expect a child to learn to be a good sleeper by not allowing them time to do it, in a quiet place, preferably in their own bed. It is recommended by the (real) sleep experts, to start and establish a sleep routine as early as possible, and definitely by 5 months of age.

I read, and followed the advice of Dr. Marc Weissbluth, from his book, “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.”0449004023 I know I have mentioned him before, and I will again I am sure. I seriously refer to his book as the “sleep bible.” This book uses rules as guidelines, and offers years of sleep research to back them up.

A reviewer, on Amazon, said it best, “It is not a cry-it-out book, although some may look at it in that light.  What it teaches you is this:  1.  watch your child.  2.  put him/her down to sleep when you first see the signs of tiredness  3.  most children under 6 months do not stay awake for longer than 2-3 hours at a time without needing a nap.  4.  DO NOT just put your child down to nap when you feel like it – that’s just letting him/her cry, not TEACHING them to sleep.  5.  Most children need to go to sleep at night earlier than you’d think.  6.  Going to bed earlier promotes later sleeping (weird, but true.  As the author says, it’s not logical.  It’s biological – sleep promotes sleep)
Now, I, will use her six teaching points to explain my sleep successes, and observational learning’s as a mother of two.

1. Watch your child – be aware, really aware, of your child’s tired cues, and watch their movements.
I know every facial expression and movement of my daughter (my son, I don’t have as much time), and has neurotic as it sounds, I always knew what she want and needed, and still, I know when she is going to have a “meltdown” before she even knows.

2. Put him/her down at the first signs of tiredness – Not only do you need to recognize the sleepy signs, but you need to respect them. If they are tired, let them sleep. If they are rubbing their eyes, it is a little late. You want to catch the earlier signs, like red above the eyes, or glossy eyes, less movement, etc.
I remember when my daughter was 4 months old, we went camping for the first time with her, and my dad said, “gosh, all that child does is sleep.” I guess she did. She loved it, and she still does. I always honored the next rule…

3.  Most children under 6 months do not stay awake for longer than 2-3 hours at a time without needing a nap. I know it seems crazy, but really, it is true. Usually the naps would be about 45 min to 2 hours in range, so depending on the wake time, they would be back down for a nap (in their cribs {mostly}), 2-3 hours later (usually only 2 for my daughter). So, if they woke up from their third/last nap, at say 5 o’clock, they would be put to bed at 7. This ties into the next point  –

4.  DO NOT just put your child down to nap when you feel like it. This is when you have to be incredibly sacrificial. I can’t even tell you how many birthday parties, and various functions I have passed up over the last 4.5 years, to protect my children’s need for sleep. This came with A LOT of eye rolling, talking about my neuroticism’s behind my back, etc. but for me, sleep trumped all of that. Now, again, I am not saying I am perfect, nor is my method, or any method, so to speak. What I am saying, is that some people really admire my children’s sleeping habits, so I thought I would share what I did, to create good sleepers. The key here is that you have the power to create them yourself. We all do, as long as you are willing to follow the rules, all of the time, not just when it is convenient for you. Trust me, there have been a hand-full of days that I said, screw it, I want to have fun, so I am going to through my kids off their routine. But trust me, I do pay for it. Maybe some of your kids are super easy-going, they sleep whenever, and wherever, and show no signs of being tired and they sleep in, and you get to continue with your life-like you did before children (b.c). If you have these children, count your lucky stars, and watch your back. Mom’s like me, might be out to get you. Bitter, me? Of course not.

5.  Most children need to go to sleep at night earlier than you’d think. This one is my favorite. My question, is why wouldn’t you want to put your kids to sleep early? Like I said, I get from 7 to whenever, to relax and spend time with hubby, and my couch. Now, I understand working parents don’t get home with their kids until after 5 or 6, and want to spend time with them. Totally understandable. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but I love my alone time too. Without the noise. And no, not all noise is bad.  In fact, the boys various laughter’s are so enjoyable and hilarious, I think I will have to get them on video so you can hear for yourself. They never get old, no matter how many times I hear them, I still smile or laugh with him. But the whining and the tantrums get to me, as do all of you. And if you are my neighbors, they definitely get to you too. The other day we met our neighbors that live behind us, and the said, “oh yes, you are the ones with the children…they are very loud.” Why yes, yes, they are. Sorry.
The point is, children under 5 should not be going to bed later than 8:00 pm, according to Dr. Marc. I am not going to get into the sleep research findings to back this up, but children need to go to bed earlier than you think. My daughter used to go to be at 6:30 until her brother was born. Now, it is 7:00 for both of them. We are really living on the edge. Lastly,
6.  Going to bed earlier promotes later sleeping. This I am not so sure about. Yes, I agree that sleep begets sleep, but I think some kids are early risers not matter what. I know a few kids who wake up at the exact same time everyday, no matter what time they go to bed. My son being one of them. He wakes up at exactly 6:36 am every morning and he plays in his crib until I get him at 7:00. Now, Dr. Marc also points out that 6:00 is a very reasonable and very common wake-up time for children and they can’t be ignored just because you don’t want to be awake at that time. For me, this is one rule I break, He is happy and contented so I feel no need to get him sooner. The take way here, is there are so many benefits to children getting enough sleep (after all, children learn while they are sleeping according to Dr. Marc), so try to get them to bed a reasonable hour.
I think the key to our bedtime success other than following these rules, is the routine we have provided for them. We have always ate dinner as a family, had some playtime after dinner, we used to watch a Bernstein Bears episode together (this was super special) but now my daughter has outgrown this tradition, and then “bathy bath.” After bath, my daughter used to never even get to see the light of day afterward. She would stay in her room after pj’s and we would read her books, turn off the lights and say goodnight. I think we thought ANY variation to the routine would screw things up. Again, we are neurotic as heck. I am the first to admit it. Hubby is not to be forgotten here either. he is just as bad as me, if not worse. He just doesn’t talk about it. Now, she and my son can come out of their room, for a few minutes anyway. Lol.

I will say that my daughter has NEVER missed a bath in 4.5 years, and either as my son. No matter what. I think it is essential for them to have night-time cues that are comforting, and predictable. After all, you want their sleep to be comfortable and predictable too.

No matter if we are camping, or vacationing, or staying at my sister’s house, these kids have this same routine. And you know what, they just go right to sleep, and sleep all the way through the night as if they were in their own beds. Yep, even camping. And yes, even when we camp, they go to bed at 7. I remember my friend Melisse, after camping with us, saying, “only you would put your kids to bed while there is still daylight.” Yep, but it works!

I hope you found this useful, or comical nonetheless. If it were not me doing it all, I would think this is nuts too!

Xoxo,
Sleep whisperer (aka. Magazine Mom)

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