Gentle Sleep Training When There’s No Other Way
Are you sleep deprived because your baby doesn’t sleep well? Here’s a gentle approach to sleep training.
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We didn’t think we would ever need to sleep train our children. But life is certainly unpredictable, and we found ourselves using this method of gentle sleep training.
I was pacing the dimly-lit room, trying to rock one of our 10-month-old twins back to sleep. My husband was walking across from me, rocking the other twin. It was three in the morning, and this was the fourth time that night our twins woke up crying.
I looked at my husband as he looked at me. We both saw the desperation in each other’s eyes. This has been happening night after night for months, and we were all extremely sleep-deprived.
“We have to do something,” I whispered. He nodded in agreement. He had to leave for work in three hours, and I had a long day of caring for our twins ahead. We needed our sleep. The babies needed theirs.
Something needed to change
We previously researched sleep training, but we didn’t want to try the cry it out (CIO) method. Some of the ideas we came across were plain brutal, like leaving the baby crying for hours.
We felt that was definitely way too cruel, but we were desperate to try something, anything.
The next night, we decided to sleep train our twins, but we would do it the gentler way. We separated the twins into two different rooms and began the process of gentle sleep training. We were on a quest to save our sanity.
After an evening routine, we kissed our boys good night, said, “It’s time to sleep,” and walked out of their rooms closing the doors behind us. Immediately, the wailing ensued from both directions. I stood in the corridor between their bedrooms, wringing my hands, saying, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
I hear you asking, “But they were 10 months old! How did you expect them to understand what you said?” Having had five kids now, I can tell you with great assurance that little kids understand more than we think. They’re smarter than we give them credit for.
My husband and I decided beforehand that 10 minutes was the longest we would let them cry, ever.
We watched the clock like hawks. As soon as 10 minutes passed, we were back in their rooms, one parent in each, rubbing their backs and saying, “shhh”. We intentionally did not pick them up. We wanted them to know that we were there, and everything was ok, but we needed them to understand that when we said it’s time to sleep, we meant it.
We rubbed their backs for one full minute, then walked out of their rooms, and started the 10-minute countdown again.
We almost gave up
That first day was hard. When babies cry, 10 minutes seems like an eternity. I felt like a terrible mother allowing my babies to cry for that long. My husband and I were taking turns holding one another back from walking into either one of the boys’ rooms. What helped us not give up was the very fresh memory of sleepless nights, drained mornings, and dead-tired days.
We all needed sleep
And we needed to create stability for our babies.
The first night we repeated this cycle several times. When one of the twins stopped crying all by himself, I cried with relief. I went in to check on him, and sure enough, he was sleeping peacefully, breathing evenly into his little fist. It took his brother a bit longer, but eventually, he fell asleep as well.
Exhausted, we went to bed. To our surprise, the next morning we were woken up by the alarm clock instead of baby cries. We slept for seven hours straight for the first time in a long time, and we couldn’t believe it!
My husband left for work, and when the twins woke up, they greeted me with happy, wide smiles. Maybe I haven’t damaged my kids after all, like I thought I did the night before.
That evening we repeated our new bedtime process, and to our surprise, one of the twins was asleep in 30 minutes. The next night he was out in five. This was huge for us! Even though it took his brother much longer to learn to fall asleep by himself, we didn’t give up because we knew what was possible. Teaching our children this skill of falling asleep on their own was important to our family.
We later sleep trained our third child, and our fourth got a portion of it too. By the time we had baby number five, I learned how to get her to fall asleep on her own from the very beginning, without crying.
We now have five amazing sleepers. One of them (the twin that took the longest to learn to fall asleep by himself), still takes the longest to fall asleep, but once he’s sleeping, it’s a peaceful, mostly uninterrupted slumber.
Why do babies cry to be held at night?
If your baby is not sick or hungry, if she’s warm and comfortable, why then does she wake up in the middle of the night, wanting to be held? If you rocked her to sleep before putting her down in her crib, her crying makes total sense.
Think about it. Something in the night had woken her. It could have been a sound, a dream, or her own twitch. She opens her eyes, and what does she see? Instead of seeing your face over her and feeling the gentle rocking of your hands, she sees the four walls of her crib.
This is not the last thing she saw as she was drifting off. She doesn’t like this, she wants to fall asleep again as she did before, in your arms, with your face looking down at her. She expects you to be there as she wakes just as you were there when she was falling asleep. She has no idea that you need to sleep, too.
By helping her learn to fall asleep in her own crib, you are providing the feeling of security for her. When she wakes, she sees the same crib she saw as she was falling asleep. This gives her the message that nothing changed, everything is ok, and she drifts off again peacefully, feeling contented.
Is Gentle Sleep Training for You?
Sleep training is not for every family. We certainly didn’t think it was for us until we hit rock bottom. We adjusted the process to fit the needs of our family and made it work for us.
If you are considering sleep training, do your research, and adjust the process to fit your family’s needs. After all, you know your baby best. I don’t believe that there is a cookie-cutter method out there that will work perfectly for every family.
It may or may not work as quickly (or as long) for you as it did for us. It may not seem like you’re making progress, and that’s why it may help to track your progress to see the big picture.