8 (Tear-Free!) Ways We Improved Elijah’s Nighttime Sleep

When Elijah turned 6 months old, we decided to transition him from sleeping in our room to sleeping in the nursery we put together for him and then never used. I had some concerns about how it would go, especially since we were going from a Rock N Play (an inclined sleeper) to his flat crib. And it was as if he heard my concerns. We laid him down in his crib asleep and he immediately woke up crying. Before that night, I didn’t really have strong feelings about sleep training, but after it, I did.

Eli is not a big crier, and I assumed he would settle quickly, especially with some soothing, so I let him cry a little. And then I soothed him, and we carried on that way for two of the longest hours of my life. He just wouldn’t or couldn’t settle down in the new room. It was heart wrenching and after getting him calmed down for the 80th time, I finally gave in. Fortunately for us, he went to sleep happily in his crib the next night, but until last week, he had still never slept all the way through the night. Over the past month we have made several small, tear-free changes to Eli’s days and it has translated into big changes at night, including, the first ever 10 hour stretch of sleep without waking up. You guys, it was every bit as delightful as I thought it would be.

Though these 8 changes not groundbreaking, they have worked beautifully for us. And someday, when Eli is healthy again, I’m hoping that delightful through the night sleep will return.

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  • 1. Institute a bedtime routine 1 of 8
    1.  Institute a bedtime routine
    We actually did this pretty early on, but we've gotten pretty strict about making sure it happens every night. We eat dinner, he plays on the floor a little, then he gets a bath, lotion and jammies, dad reads him a book, I give him a bottle and then he goes to bed. We don't deviate from the routine unless we have to and when we do, it almost always results in a rougher night. I think the consistency of the routine helps him go to sleep faster because there's no surprise of what's happening next and it seems that the easier he goes to sleep, the longer he tends to stay that way.
  • 2. Get naps under control 2 of 8
    2.  Get naps under control
    This one was not easy. For a long time, Eli has been napping in his swing and it really worked out well for us. It was where I would put him when I pumped and I would try to coordinate that with nap-ish times. After months of falling asleep in the swings, he just seemed to suddenly know how to sleep on his own and started sleeping better not in the swing. So now he naps in his room, at least twice a day, for a total of 3-4 hours. We also try to avoid late evening car rides since those almost always result in car naps and car naps are the core of all that is wrong with sleep. I hate them. Fiercely.
  • 3. Plan out meals and bottles more carefully 3 of 8
    3.  Plan out meals and bottles more carefully
    The thing about Eli is, he wakes up starving at night. And I know plenty of people think that if you just train babies then they won't need to eat at night, and maybe that's true, but it doesn't seem right for us. Eli is all business at night- he's there to drink that bottle, not to soothe himself. Once he's eaten, he's back to sleep usually almost immediately, so training him not to eat, especially since he's so small, wasn't something we were comfortable with. That said, a few weeks ago, he started getting up really early for his nighttime bottle and we couldn't figure out why. With a little examination of our schedule, we realized that we had pushed his evening solid foods so late that he was hardly drinking anything out of the bedtime bottle, so he was waking up hungry earlier. Once we moved solids an hour earlier, he started drinking more and sleeping longer again.
  • 4. Feed grains at dinner 4 of 8
    4.  Feed grains at dinner
    This may sound contradictory to the last point and maybe it is slightly, but I found that when I gave Eli a dinner with some sort of grain in it- oatmeal or rice or something of that sort, he slept longer. My best guess is that it kind of sticks with him longer than fruit or veggies alone, and since we started having grains with dinner we've seen some small improvements in sleep duration.
  • 5. Dressing appropriately for the temperature 5 of 8
    5.  Dressing appropriately for the temperature
    Eli's room is a bit fickle when it comes to temperature. Even with the vent mostly closed, he still gets the extremes. When we turn the A/C on, his room is basically the Arctic tundra. When the heater is on, it's like the surface of the sun. These are only slight exaggerations. When I over or under dress him, his sleep suffers. Spending a few minutes in his room prior to dressing him gives me a good idea of which jammies are most appropriate for the night.
  • 6. Not having a set bedtime 6 of 8
    6.  Not having a set bedtime
    This one is going to confuse some of you, but we don't have a set schedule, it's kind of fluid. Eli does sleep on a fairly predictable 2-3-4 pattern. He wakes up and 2 hours later, he naps. He wakes up and 3 hours later, he naps. He wakes up and 4ish hours later, he goes to bed. Since he gets up earlier some days and later others, all of this is liable to shift and we let it. Putting him to bed wide awake just makes him get bored and often kind of whiny and putting him to bed too late is just disaster. So by letting his cues and his preferences be our guide, he's getting the sleep he needs instead of sleep on the schedule I want.
  • 7. White noise 7 of 8
    7.  White noise
    I was a skeptic. I really was. And I was fearful because I had heard there was a correlation with white noise and SIDS, so I waited to try it. And then I went and bought one of these white noise machines by Homedics and now I don't want to go back. It basically drowns out all the other sounds in the house, including some serious crashes that I made while dealing with a mess in the kitchen the other night. It has also been a lifesaver in extending his naps. When we're away from home, I use a white noise app on my phone to mimic the sounds.
    Get this from Bed, Bath and Beyond
  • 8. Let him sleep, within reason, where he wants 8 of 8
    8.  Let him sleep, within reason, where he wants
    This is another one that might draw some dissent. Eli sleeps better in his Rock N Play. He's been sick basically since Thanksgiving and congested for much of that time. When he's got the sinus stuff going on, putting him flat in his crib just results in him waking up miserable. And so we move him back to his bunny bed, where he happily sleeps most of the night without interruption. When he's really sick, he sleeps on me. I'm not going to force him to sleep on a flat crib. If I had the options of sleeping in a snuggly inclined bed I would choose that over a flat lonely crib any day. And so I refuse to fight this battle now, when there's no reason to. He'll transition to a crib and a bed when he's ready and until then, it just doesn't seem like it's a battle worth fighting.

Those are our 8 keys to better nighttime sleep. What methods did you use to get your child(ren) to sleep at night?

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