Operation Take Back Bedtime and Taking the plunge with Sleep Training

Read all about how we implemented a bedtime routine for our three children of different ages, and used controlled time crying to get our evenings back from our 18 month old. Plus night weaning!

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Since Daniel was born, well since partway through my pregnancy really, we let our bedtime routine slide somewhat. It used to be really good, we had story time, baths when needed and then bed, no arguments. I struggled with PGP and coccyx pain from about 20 weeks and by the end of the day I was often lying on the sofa and relying on DH for help. We increasingly relied on the electronic babysitter of youtube for William, and gradually let him watch youtube videos (thanks Stampy) before bed, and then on his tablet in bed. We used to take turns putting them to bed, were really strict about it. When Daniel arrived he was not a good sleeper, suffered from colic and things haven’t really recovered since.

We somehow got to a point where we were sometimes doing a story sometimes not (depending on how tired I was), no set bedtime just suddenly realising the time and then shouting at them to get pyjamas on, bargaining about videos and devices, sometimes letting them fall asleep in our bed watching a film, letting them play about upstairs, all of which resulted in stress from us not getting time to ourselves, them being ratty the next day due to lack of sleep, general discontent all round. Daniel (16 months) was sometimes going to bed, then waking up and coming downstairs to run around because we were desperate to eat and otherwise would not be eating til 9/10pm so there didn’t seem to be any other option, spending the better part of the evening trying to feed him to sleep, then him waking in the night, feeding him again.

After meeting Supernanny last week and some of my fellow parent bloggers I got inspired and empowered and decided enough was enough, I was starting Operation: Take Back Bedtime. I realised I’d let it slide, but I also had the power to start again. I’m the parent here, I can do it! We had to decide on some rules and stick to them. That’s the most important thing, whatever you do, be consistent and everyone wins. I came home that day and discussed it with my husband and he agreed, we’ve been so stressed and we deserve some couple time and some predictability in our lives. That was my main complaint about Daniel’s sleep, it’s so unpredictable, one night he sleeps through, the next he’s up at 4am, then he’s asleep at 7pm, the next won’t go down til 10pm. It makes for one frazzled set of parents! So here’s what we decided to implement:

Daniel has a bedtime hour from 6 until 7pm, wind down and bath time, story time (shared with Phoebe or his own book), breastfeed and bed at 7pm. Does not come downstairs. No breastfeeds in the night, water only. Implement by using Controlled Time Crying.

Phoebe (5) can have a bath with Daniel or after him if she wants but doesn’t have to have one every night. Story time and bed by 7.30. No phone or tablet in bed.

William (6) bath if he wants, can listen in or read a story, can watch a youtube video until 7.45. Bed by 8pm.

Of course, Daniel was going to be the hardest, but as he’s older now, I know now that he’s fed, he’s had milk, and I’m more confident.

Now, I try to parent gently, and like many people I’m confused about whether ‘controlled crying’ or sleep training really is controlled, are we damaging our children forever? With so many babies and children having so called ‘Sleep issues,’ aren’t they just the normal ones? I’ve read articles and studies galore about the dangers of cortisol, how it stays in the system and can cause problems in later life, I’ve also read that it’s not a problem – I think many of the studies refer to babies left to cry it out completely (CIO) or ones who are neglected in other areas of their life. I think at the end of the day, I decided to do it, because I think that cortisol or no, MY cortisol was off the scale and spilling over to daytime, and I think I was causing them more stress at other times which would impact their future health more! (opinion only…) So here’s what happened.

Results of using Controlled Time Crying and Bedtime Routine

Night 1 – we explained to the older children how it was going to be. I expected arguments, pleading and bargaining, but in fact they took to it rather well, I think they liked knowing what to expect. We (me, DH agreed) decided to try the CTC method Supernanny suggests. I hate the thought of leaving him to cry but I really was so stressed, and beginning to dread the evenings and nights, I go round in a daze half the time and snap at my poor husband so much and sex, well, forget it. I was willing to give it a try for 3 nights, if no improvement by then I’d think again. I put Daniel to bed after his breastfeed, he was awake but drowsy. He cried. I left him for 5 minutes, returned and said Sshhhh, Sshhhh, patted his tummy. He has a music box that plays classical music which lasts for 30 minutes. I then left him for 10 minutes, hoping he’d fall asleep. Returned, same shushing. Left him for 20 minutes. Ate dinner. At least I’m fed. Returned, shushed again. Left for 40 minutes. Getting hard now, start wondering what to do if he won’t settle, do I go on all night? Realistically I know it won’t last all night and I’m not that cruel. He’s not crying hysterically, he’s moaning, so I don’t feel too bad. I know he’s trying to settle himself. Yes, he’s stressed, yes he has cortisol in his blood that will stay there after he’s settled, but I don’t believe that will lead to long term harm. We all have stress in our lives that we need to know how to respond to. Rightly or wrongly I believe I’m helping him (and us) by providing a stable routine. Then came the hardest bit. To leave him for 80 minutes – that’s over and hour. Could I do this? I sat downstairs in distress myself, this was not easy. I decided I couldn’t double it again after this, he obviously wasn’t ready. Then something happened. He went quiet. He’d gone to sleep – himself. I waited 10 minutes, then checked on him, covered him with a blanket. I felt bad, but I’d done it, and hoped for less time the next night. That night he slept through, not unusual though. The next day he’s all smiles, he still loves me!

Night 2 – Still getting used to timings, but successful bedtime with the older children. William really gets it, he’s quoting the times at us and likes the fact that he’s the oldest and gets the latest bed time. Daniel takes 36 minutes total to get to sleep – I’m amazed. He wakes in the night at 02.30, here we go. I go in, offer water. He refuses. I place him back down, put his music box on and leave. Return after 5 minutes, repeat. It takes 30 minutes but I’d done it with no boob! If I’d done what I used to do which was take him in bed with me, breastfeed, wait til he’s fast asleep and then if I’m still awake transfer him, that whole process would take an hour, so I think it’s no comparison – yes it involved some crying, but it also proved to me he doesn’t need the milk, I know he’d like the comfort, but I was beginning to resent it so it was no good for me anymore.

Night 3 – takes 20 minutes to get him to sleep. He wakes in the night again and it takes roughly the same time to return to sleep.

Summary

This all happened two weeks ago now, and it’s had varying results. Bedtime is a lot less stressful now, and we’ve actually reclaimed our evenings – in fact I really look forward to them now. I know he’s going to go to bed, we’ve got it down now. There are slip ups, I don’t always bath him, but I find the results are better if I do. What has really worked is after I’ve fed him, I take him upstairs to his room, put his music on, and we have a little cuddle, he knows now and he puts his head down on my shoulder and we have a cuddle and sway to the music. It’s a lovely way to end the day together, then I put him down all sleepy. Sometimes he still cries or moans for a few minutes, but I shush him and he goes off. He wakes in the night at times, if it’s before 4am I don’t offer milk, if it’s after 4am I may feed him so we can all go back to sleep easier. The last few nights he’s slept through. The other two have really benefited from the boundaries, we relax them on Friday and Saturday nights. So if anyone’s struggling at the moment like we were or needs a little nudge in the right direction, I’d say give it a try!

Have you tried any form of Sleep Training? Did it work for you? Are you vehemently against it?

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