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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sleep Questions = Pot, Meet Kettle

I always think it is HILARIOUS when anyone asks me for advice on how to get your child to sleep. I will explain why in a little bit.
I got an email from a reader as follows (edited for length):

Hi there,

I frequent your blog and have a totally random question for you, being that you are both a pediatrician and a mother I figured you'll have some fresh perspective to share. I have a two year old girl and a two month old boy. My daughter is having sleep issues. I'm not quite sure if I have too high expectations, but she refuses to sleep through the night in her bed in her room. We never really got her used to sleeping by herself at the "right time", but now with a baby, we need her to be in her room, fall asleep by herself (after a story or two, hugs, cuddles, kisses, whatever!!!) and stay asleep!! Is that too much to ask for??!?!? 

Does your daughter sleep through the night in her room? Did she when she was two years old? I'm about to try a "strict" method that may involve a lot of crying on her part. I just need some neutral, real advice.

Thank you, Drbabymamadrama!!!

This is hilarious is because I could have written the exact same post when my daughter was two.  I always wanted to slap those people that said "my kid has slept through the night since he/she was six weeks old". Really? I may have to throat punch you. Just kidding. Maybe. 

My daughter has always been a horrendous sleeper since the day she was born. The child would wake up from a dead sleep if she had a wet or poopy diaper. No joke. Every damned (pardon my French) time. So that meant about waking up every 2 hours for the first two months. Hold me, baby Jesus.

I finally succumbed to co-sleeping (even though I swore up and down that I would never do that) from month 3-5 or so, based on some wise advice from some friends. My mom reminded me that in Nigeria, children rarely sleep in a room away from their parents for the first 3 years. Mommy guilt assuaged.
Around month 5-6, we tried "Ferberizing", which is the gradual prolonged intervals of letting your child cry until they fall asleep. Which worked for a few months and then she went through a viral stomach bug and learning to crawl and all sleep went to hell.

This was DEFINITELY complicated by the fact that my previous job had me working all kinds of crazy hours and there was a craptacular bedtime routine at that time and neither my husband nor myself have the best of sleep habits anyway (I am a notoriously light sleeper; my husband can survive on 5 hours of sleep a night!).

And the little bugger would sleep perfectly at day care, but when she new Mom or Dad were around, no such luck! I just smiled and lied through my teeth when my pediatrician asked how she was sleeping at well checks.

Dr: How is she sleeping?

Me: Heh, heh... fine... *avoiding eye contact*

We gave up and just did the co-sleeping thing for a while, letting her fall asleep in her crib (most overpriced, underused piece of furniture in our house) from the time she was about a year until about a little past two years old. We would take turns coaxing her to sleep because that is what worked for our family. It won't work for everyone.

And just after her second birthday, it just "clicked" with her. We hadn't changed anything with our nighttime routine of bath, books and snuggle time (and the occasional threat of hellfire and damnation -joking!- if she got out of bed). We just noticed one morning that we had both not heard a peep from her room and she didn't get up at all. She fell asleep and stayed asleep and all was right in the world again.

Not to say that we don't still have occasional requests for the bathroom and water at night, but it is better.

So that is a long answer to absolutely nothing. Yes, my daughter was still having sleep problems until she was past two and your situation is probably complicated by having a new sibling who is taking her parents' attention.

What I usually tell parents is that every kid is different and to try what works, be that "Ferberizing", a reward system, a small cot in her parents' room that she sleeps on, co-sleeping, whatever. There is no magic bullet. There are some great sleep books out there, including the No Cry Sleep Solution and Solve Your Baby's Sleep Problems and the Babycenter.com site.  I once used to baby-sit for a VERY affluent family in college where the toddler, who had similar sleep issues to my daughter, slept in mom and dad's walk in-closet! He is now a normal, happy, healthy teenager.

Things that definitely help are having a consistent schedule, minimize TV/sugar drinks before bed, bedtime routine (bath, books, snuggle, prayers, whatever), and a cool, dark room. And lie through your teeth when someone asks you how your kid is sleeping. 


As always, talk to your pediatrician!

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