Work-In-Progress-Style Sleep Training

Q. Hey Jordan!

Longtime reader here with a Mommy question I was hoping you might have the time to answer. Did you guys do any “sleep training?” I’m the mother of an 8-month-old and am having a heck of a time getting through the long days since little dude is starting to wake up multiple times a night again.

As a working mom, I’m trying my best to be “present” when I have time with him, but it’s hard when I feel like I’m ready to nod off any second! Any tips/advice appreciated.



A. We absolutely sleep-trained, but for us it wasn’t a five-crazy-days-and-it’s-over thing; it was an ongoing process that we’re still supplementing to this day. We started when our son was about five months old, and were initially committed to following a pretty strict step-by-step plan…but then, like so many other parents, sort of ended up…waffling. I even had to stop reading Bringing Up Bebe around that time because the woman who wrote it – the woman whose children allegedly slept peacefully from 7PM to 7AM on the dot because they lived in France where people are awesome – was making me furious.

I mean, oh my god: letting a baby “cry it out” can involve a lot of crying. And besides the fact that it’s upsetting to hear your child wailing in the other room like his little heart is breaking, it’s also exhausting, and at 4AM sometimes you’ll do anything (including abandon those rules you promised each other you’d stick to) just to get a minute of sleep.

Here’s us at 5AM around the 6-month mark, dancing to Tom Waits in the nursery instead of letting our son cry it out. Could we have made it easier on ourselves if we had stuck to a strict schedule? Maybe. But this was what worked for us.

And our efforts really did help our son sleep for more prolonged periods of time, but it wasn’t until we moved and he spent his first night all alone in his very own room (as opposed to the “nursery” off of our bedroom – the one with no door that was actually a slightly wider part of the hallway connecting the living room and the bedroom) that he slept through the entire night.

What has been interesting to me is how much we’ve had to revisit sleep training. As you’ve discovered, anything from growing pains to a change in the weather to just time passing can create disruptions in your child’s sleep cycle and force you to start the whole thing over again. Our son is more than twice your son’s age – we’re getting close to the two-year mark – and even though he’s generally a pretty consistent sleeper (8PM-7AM), right now he’s in the middle of a phase where he’s waking up once or twice a night and crying for no apparent reason…and so I’ve started to do mini sleep-training sessions once again (in other words: I don’t go into the room unless the crying escalates to the point where I think something has happened or unless he’s asking for something specific, like water). I’m confident that I know the difference between the “accidentally woke up” cry and the “something is wrong” cry, and he usually falls back asleep within a minute or two. Not all parents subscribe to this strategy, of course, but for me it’s important to reinforce my son’s ability to go back to bed on his own.

Changes in your routine can also create temporary setbacks. Our son always slept with a pacifier, but a couple of months ago we decided to get rid of it – a decision I had been putting off (and off and off) because I was dreading a return to sleepless nights. But we were much stricter this time around – no waffling – and it actually ended up being startlingly easy: the first night he cried for about half an hour before falling asleep, the second night he cried for five minutes, and the third night it was forgotten, and we never dealt with it again.

Long story short: I obviously didn’t do sleep training “by the book” or anything close to perfectly, but I suspect that most parents don’t. Ultimately, I think all you can do is what you feel works the best for your family. And in your case, as a working parent, you have to prioritize your sleep not only so that you can be present for your child, but so that you yourself can feel sane.

Good luck!

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