Tweaking the sleeping

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 18, 2010 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

I have a 17-month-old daughter who will not sleep through the night. She has never been a good sleeper, but it took a turn for the worse during the summer months (going to bed later and waking up at night). Out of frustration, my husband and I have taken her into our bed. I realize this is a big no-no but it seems to be the only thing that calms her down and gives all of us a decent night's sleep. We have tried the trick of waiting 5/10/15 minutes letting her cry (which has resulted in throwing up). The worst part is it started around the one-year mark, before that she was not a great sleeper but nothing like this. We are at our wits end and it just seems like the pattern of her waking up at night will go on forever!

Is there any helpful answer you could give other then the usual cry-it-out method and routine, because we have tried it all!

From: Discouraged, Quincy

Dear Discouraged,

If you took your daughter to the pediatric sleep clinic at Children's Hospital, I bet they would have you look at her sleep schedule.

Start by figuring out exactly how much sleep she typically gets per night. In the new edition of his book, "Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems," children's sleep specialist Richard Ferber says the typical 18-month old needs 11 5/8 hours of sleep per 24 hours. Pretty exact, huh? That breaks down to 9 5/8 at night, and one two-hour nap.

The theory is that you might be expecting her to sleep more hours than she's capable of, or she may be getting too much sleep during the day, or vice versa. The solution is to tweak the schedule by putting her to bed incrementally earlier (or later) to adjust her body.

As far as the so-called cry-it-out method, (about which Ferber has often been misquoted), you might want to try again. Parents often give up on it too quickly because, well, it's hard on us. And rather than letting her cry 5-10-15 minutes, go to her, comfort her, sit next to the crib with your hand on her back to calm her, and stay with her until she falls asleep. That may take a few nights, but once she's got that down, and trusts that you will stay until she sleeps, you can begin to slowly inch your chair away from the crib so that you have three or four nights of being close enough for her to feel your soothing coos and to hear you breath, but you are no longer touching her. Now pull back some more.

The idea is that eventually, your chair will be in the doorway, in the hall, and finally, you can call to her from your bed: "Honey, I know you can do this. I know you can go back to sleep all by yourself."

This is a process, a long one. Getting it to work is often a matter of parents' staying power.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.

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2 comments so far...
  1. Or it could be that the child is not getting enough sleep in the first place. Our experience with our two girls was that the earlier they went to bed (sometimes as early as 6pm), the better and longer they slept and the better naps they took, which all equals happier girls.

    Posted by MITBeta October 18, 10 08:42 PM
  1. Or that they're going to bed too early. Our daughter does far better going to bed at 10/10:30pm and sleeps easily until 9/10 in the morning. It's a kid by kid thing.

    Posted by C October 19, 10 06:14 AM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. Or it could be that the child is not getting enough sleep in the first place. Our experience with our two girls was that the earlier they went to bed (sometimes as early as 6pm), the better and longer they slept and the better naps they took, which all equals happier girls.

    Posted by MITBeta October 18, 10 08:42 PM
  1. Or that they're going to bed too early. Our daughter does far better going to bed at 10/10:30pm and sleeps easily until 9/10 in the morning. It's a kid by kid thing.

    Posted by C October 19, 10 06:14 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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