Adventures in “Sleep Learning”

Because sleep training = negative connotation. (Sleep learning just sounds so much better.)

Yes, I have succumbed. Somewhat.

I woke up yesterday feeling exhausted and desperate. Not a great combination. Bucko had woken me up roughly every 60-90 minutes, needing to nurse in order for him to fall back asleep. And so he’d nurse for a couple of minutes, then fall back asleep, while I’d stay awake, because I just don’t fall asleep that easily. By morning, I was miserable. And to tell you the truth, Bucko wasn’t much better.

A realization hit me: we’d both do better if we could both get a full night’s sleep. All this fragmented sleep wasn’t doing either of us any good. I was sick of my daytime-zombie routine and Bucko was not faring well either. Something needed to change.

Enter “sleep learning.”

I’ve read a bunch of sleep books: Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Sleep Solution, Dr. Sears’s The Baby Sleep Book, Dr. Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep, even the much-vilified Ferber book (which honestly isn’t nearly as draconian as the AP-crowd makes it out to be), and more.

Ultimately, The Sleepeasy Solution made the most sense to me. It bills itself as an in-between approach to the CIO (cry-it-out) methods and the so-called “no-cry” methods. One of its common-sense revelations: babies are going to cry when you implement change. They don’t have any other way to say, “Um, why aren’t you doing what you used to do to get me to sleep? I want THAT.” So they cry. But they have to figure out how to get themselves to sleep without needing some kind of parental crutch. Until now, Bucko would only fall asleep if he was nursing and being held (or lying next to me in bed). EXCEPT…he would also fall asleep in his car seat. And he would take naps (albeit reluctantly and irregularly) at school, sleeping in a crib. So I knew that he was CAPABLE of falling asleep without me, although he wasn’t yet doing it consistently.

So last night, I put theory into practice. We did a bedtime routine (which, I admit, I have not been doing consistently, but will start doing every night): bath, diaper, pajamas, books, nurse. Then I put him in the co-sleeper awake (much to his dismay), turned out the light, and told him it was time to go to sleep.

And he immediately started wailing. Predictable. But it wasn’t a terrified cry, it was a pissed-off cry. He was mad that he wasn’t getting what he expected. Understandable.

I went downstairs, listened to him wail for five minutes, then went upstairs to tell him (in a reassuring, loving, gentle way) that it was okay, it was time to go to sleep, and then I went back downstairs. He kept crying. Ten more minutes passed. I went back upstairs, told him (reassuringly, lovingly, gently) it was bedtime and he needed to go to sleep, went back downstairs. Crying continued. But two minutes before the next check-in (after an additional fifteen minutes), the crying stopped. He was asleep. Twenty-eight minutes of crying.

ROCK ON!

I got a little cocky at this point, thinking I had slain the sleep monster. (Spoiler alert: not true.) After an hour or so, I went to bed and luxuriated in stretching out in bed without worrying about a baby getting in the way. It was lovely. Until Bucko woke up and started crying again.

And kept crying.

And wouldn’t stop.

For an hour.

And this is where I cracked. After an hour of lying next to him while he cried, I picked him up, put him in bed with me, and nursed him. I honestly think he was crying because he was cold (not used to sleeping alone) and hungry (I guess he was due for another feeding). He nursed for about five to six minutes, and then I unlatched him and pulled my shirt down. He started crying in protest, but I rubbed his tummy and cuddled him and told him it was okay and he needed to go to sleep. And guess what? HE WENT TO SLEEP!

So despite my failure to stick to the plan, I still consider last night to be a success, because what was really bothering me about our sleeping arrangements wasn’t so much that he was in bed with me, but that he wanted to comfort-nurse every hour or so all night long. Last night, he woke up maybe two to three times wanting to comfort-nurse, but went right back to sleep after I cuddled him instead of allowing him to nurse. Around 5am, he nursed for about ten minutes (for food) and went right back to sleep after I unlatched him. He woke up for good around 6:30am, roughly eleven hours after I put him to bed last night.

So . . . SUCCESS!

And as I write this, he’s napping upstairs in bed all by himself. (Well, technically, a kitty is sleeping on the bed with him.) It was not without some drama––it took about a half-hour of crying before he fell asleep, but this time the crying was less insistent and angry and was more just frustrated and fussy.

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Yes, I know that technically (according to safe co-sleeping guidelines) I’m not supposed to have pillows on the bed, or blankets, or a cat, BUT . . . Bucko is quite capable of pushing away things from his face and rolling away from obstructions, and the cat isn’t going to bother him. Trust me.

If I can get him to a point where he naps by himself, goes to bed by himself, and then gets in bed with me after his first night waking, I can live with that. I’d gain much more free time during his naps and after he goes to bed at night, and I’d be much better rested if he’s not constantly comfort-nursing throughout the night. He’d also be much better rested, which would definitely help out his teachers when he goes to school, not to mention his mommy and daddy at home!

Win win win. Everybody wins. (Except for daddy, who can’t STAND to hear him cry. I’m the bad cop.)

UPDATE –– mid-afternoon

So Bucko ended up sleeping for over THREE HOURS! I actually had to wake him up around noon so we could go to the grocery store before his second nap. (Say whaaaaaaaa?!?!?!) And he was even more easygoing and good-natured than usual. No fussing whatsoever, not even in the car (he’s not always a huge fan of being in his car seat).

We got the grocery shopping done, came home, and immediately headed upstairs for Nap #2. I nursed him (and, just a side note, WHOA did I need to nurse––it’ll probably take a few days for my milk production to adjust to his new schedule) and then told him it was time to go to sleep. Got up, turned on the white noise machine (we like the “ocean” setting), and went downstairs to put the groceries away. He was quiet for a few minutes until he realized I wasn’t coming right back, then he started crying a bit. He’d alternate between silence and fussing, but he was asleep in less than fifteen minutes. FIFTEEN MINUTES! PROGRESS!!!

I want to stress that at NO point did he sound genuinely distressed. If he sounded frightened or in pain or something like that, I’d attend to him ASAP. I snuck upstairs during one of his silent moments and found him lying there playing with his fingers (and somehow, he didn’t see me––phew!). He definitely wasn’t in distress. His cries, when they occurred, were of the annoyed/pissed/frustrated variety. I can live with those cries. And more importantly, so can he.

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This is what liberation looks like.

So far, he’s been asleep for about a half-hour. I feel giddy.

 

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2 thoughts on “Adventures in “Sleep Learning”

  1. Yay for you, yay for Alex! Keep it up, buddy!

    I think you should start putting him in his crib for naps, now that you’re teaching him not to be dependent on you for sleep. Not only would it be safer, it may also help him sleep better and more consistently while he’s at school.

    • Homeboy just napped for THREE WHOLE HOURS! I actually had to wake him up! Whaaaaaaaaaaaa?!?! 😀

      I do plan to transition him to his crib for naps. However, I didn’t want to change a bunch of things all at once––I figured just falling asleep on his own would be enough to deal with at first. He’s really too big for the co-sleeper now (anyone want a co-sleeper that was only used as a giant nightstand for ten months?) so I want to move the crib into our room to replace it. Maybe in a few days, once he’s doing better at falling asleep on his own.

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