How to Help Your Child to Fall Asleep in His or Her Own Bed and Stay There Through the Night
We All Need Our Sleep
There are few topics that cause more discussion or disturbance in the home than sleep, or the lack of it! Parents cannot deal with their children when they themselves are overtired. Children cannot learn, play, or grow properly unless they have adequate sleep. Lack of sleep can be linked to many other health concerns, including depression, obesity, even cancer. So, when you have a child that won’t go to sleep or stay asleep, and sleep through the night in his own bed, you have a serious concern!
What NOT To Do
Do not rock your child to sleep. Do not nurse, or feed a bottle to a baby to put him to sleep. You need to put a child or infant in his crib while he is still awake, but sleepy, and he needs to learn how to self-soothe, how to relax and let himself fall asleep. If you rock a child to sleep, then when he wakes up in the night, as all children will do, he may need you to get up and rock him back to sleep! If you rock a child as part of your bedtime routine, that’s wonderful. But make sure your child isn’t quite asleep yet when you lay him down. Do Not put a child to sleep with special music, or a movie, or a toy. If your child depends on that music, or movie, or toy, then he will not be able to sleep without it. The exception to the rule is, if you live in a noisy area and wish to use a “white noise” machine – you are not training your child to fall asleep with the white noise as much as allowing your child to fall asleep with the absence of disruptive noise.
What TO DO to Help Your Child Fall Asleep Faster
Develop a Solid Bedtime Routine
or ritual, and stick with it always and forever. It can be five steps long (as your young child can count down each step on his fingers). It should be written down and posted, so your spouse and babysitter and the grandparents can all follow the same routine. The bedtime ritual tells your child that it is time to unwind and get ready for sleep. What you do isn’t as important as the fact that you always do it. Your routine may include picking up toys, taking a bath, putting on pajamas, hearing a story, and saying prayers. Add or delete activities to suit your needs.
Develop a Daytime Routine
Make sure that your child’s entire day follows a routine. See that he eats, naps, and plays at regular intervals every day. This guarantees that your child will actually be SLEEPY at bedtime. If his meals are hectic, and his naps are sometimes early, sometimes late, sometimes skipped, then his body never knows when it will be tired. The more you get your days into a routine, the less difficult your child will be through the “terrible twos” and beyond.
Daily Outside Play Can Help Your Child Sleep Better
Make sure your child has plenty of outside play time every day. Don’t raise a couch potato. If he plays inside all the time, he’s not getting enough fresh air and sunshine. Remember how you feel after an afternoon at the beach? Don’t you come home feeling unusually tired, even if all you did was sit in the shade reading a book? Something about being outside helps your body to be tired by bedtime. Maybe it has to do with soaking up sunshine and getting your body to follow its natural circadian rhythms. If your child plays outside every day for two hours minimum (1 in the morning, and one after naptime) he will be far more likely to be sleepy at bedtime.
Regular Daily Naps Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night
Four Methods for Sleep Training Infants and Young Children
There are four basic methods for training your young child to sleep in his own bed. They are the Cry It Out method, Persistence, Sleep Training, and Family Bed. The final method isn’t really training your child to sleep in HIS own bed, but allowing him to feel safe and secure by sleeping in YOUR bed. This method is very popular among some groups, and goes along with the Attachment Parenting philosophy. It does not really solve the problem of your child not being able to fall asleep on his own. It merely postpones the issue, by allowing him to sleep with you. If you would like more information on co-sleeping, you may read The Family Bed.
Cry It Out Method of Sleep Training
The first method that is often recommended is called “cry it out” or CIO, for short. This method means to simply put your young child or infant to bed and let him cry himself to sleep. This may be hard to listen to, and can take from a few days to several weeks for it to work. This method is popular, because for many children, it does work. It is also the easiest on mom and dad. Cry it Out does not work for all children, or all parents, and should never be used on an infant less than four months old. For the Cry It Out method to be most successful, be sure to incorporate a good bedtime routine, which alerts your infant or young child that bedtime is near and helps him to settle down for the night.
Persistence Method of Sleep Training
Put your toddler to bed. Leave the room. When he gets up, you pick him up and put him back to bed. He gets up, You pick him up and put him back to bed… again and again and again, and again. You might have to do it 72 times the first night! But he will learn that you mean business, and he will learn that he must stay in bed. DO not get angry with him. Do not talk to him. Do not give him a drink, or more attention, or anything at all. Just quietly, firmly, pick him up and put him back to bed. This method is recommended on a popular television program about nannies, and I’ve seen it work. The next night, you might only have to put him to bed 50 times, then maybe only 20 times, and eventually, within a week or so, he’ll be trained that when he’s in bed, he must stay there. Of course, if he is still in a crib, he may not be able to get out of bed! In which case, you may need to go in and lay him back down 72 times, instead. Again, be sure that your child has a bedtime routine, and follow it consistently.
Self-Soothing Method of Sleep Training
We all wake up in the night, several times a night. Most of us just roll over and go right back to sleep, and may not even remember waking up. Children are the same. The child who cannot self-soothe, though, will come fully awake and be frightened. Once you train the child how to self-soothe, he will be able to fall asleep on his own – when you first put him to bed, and when he wakes up during the night.
This method can take two months to complete, but the first week is the hardest. Don’t begin it unless you have the time and patience to see it through. The first night, after your bedtime routine is complete, you will lay your child in his crib or bed. Cover him up (Children under one year are not to be put to bed with a blanket), and then pull up a chair and sit right beside his bed until he falls asleep. You might need to put your hand on his back. You are NOT holding him in bed! You are just using your touch to reassure him that you are right there. Do not talk to him. Do not give him another drink, another story, another kiss… he has had his last drink, his story, and his kiss as part of his bedtime routine. Now it is time to sleep. This method is similar to the persistence method, but you do not leave the room until your child is sound asleep.
It may take your child an hour to fall asleep! Hopefully, not quite that long, especially if you have followed the suggestions at the top including plenty of fresh air and exercise during the day. Your child should not be hungry, or over tired, if you have a daily schedule that includes regular meal times and a nap. Your presence is only there to help reassure the child that he is safe. If your child is still awake after an hour, just continue. Do not give up. Do not get up. Do not get your child up. But be sure that tomorrow you increase your child’s activity during the day to help him burn off energy and become more tired.
If your child wakes up in the night crying, you will need to repeat exactly what you did when you put him to bed. You will need to sit beside his bed until he is asleep again. No talking, kissing, singing… just sit there and reassure him with your presence. Once he is asleep, of course, you may go to your own bed and try to catch a nap.
You will need to sit by your child’s bed every night for two weeks, your hand on his back or forehead. Maybe it took an hour the first night for him to fall asleep, but after two weeks, maybe it only takes him twenty minutes. This is a sign that your plan is working! He is already learning that he can sleep in his own bed, that you are there to protect him, and that you love him dearly, but that it is bedtime! You are not talking to him, you are not giving in to his demands for a drink, a story, or more kisses. You are serious, calm, and consistent!
After about two weeks, you will continue to sit by your child’s bed, but do not touch him. Maybe you need to keep your hand on his pillow so he can see it, but try to train him to fall asleep without actually touching him. Continue on this step for several days to a week.
After three weeks, move your chair a foot away from his crib or bed. Continue to sit with him until he falls asleep. He should be falling asleep in about fifteen to twenty minutes. If it is taking longer, increase his activity during the day, or re-evaluate his diet to see if he is getting any artificial colorings, preservatives, caffeine, or other chemical that could be affecting his sleep.
After four weeks, move your chair two feet away from his crib or bed. Continue moving your chair a little bit further from the child’s bed every week, until you are sitting out in the hall. By now, your child should have learned how to self-soothe. He should know how to relax and allow himself to fall asleep on his own. Next time he wakes up in the night, do not go right away to his crib, but wait a bit and see how long it takes for him to fall asleep on his own.
This method may sound exhausting, but in about two months, you’ll have cured the problem. Keep the goal in sight, and document your progress. If after all that you’ve done, he’s still not sleeping, then it may be time to speak with your pediatrician. Keep a “sleep journal” to share with your pediatrician. List the times your child sleeps and how long he sleeps, and how long it takes him to fall asleep. This will help your pediatrician to see if there is a cause for concern, or if diet or exercise might be more to blame.
No matter what method you try, do it will calm assurance. If you are uptight, angry and frustrated, your child will become uptight, angry and frustrated – and he will never fall asleep. You may need to nap with your child during the day, or call a babysitter or neighbor to give you a break so you can catch up on your sleep.
For More Information:
Cry It Out Method: Good or Bad?