In June we hired a sleep coach to help us establish better sleep for Dashiell and Cedric. It made a big difference for us and I'd love to share a bit more about the experience.
It feels like great sleep has never come easily for us with Dashiell, as I've alluded to many times here and on my podcasts. Early this summer we were in a very frustrating - and exhausting - pattern that involved drawn out bedtimes (our 7 pm bedtime was delayed until 8 pm), multiple night wakings and very early mornings (4 am hour). At the same time, Cedric wouldn't fall asleep unless we were in the room with him and was waking during the night. We were so tired, y'all!
A friend saw Chris post something about getting very little sleep on Facebook and recommended the sleep coach that she worked with and I knew it was something my family needed. We hired our wonderful sleep coach, Jennifer, and had an initial Skype call to give details about sleep overall including details about napping, bedtime, etc. On the call we talked through some strategies and decide what fit best for us. The same day Jennifer sent us a detailed written Sleep Plan. Because of all the sleep issues we've dealt with holding a tangible, written sleep PLAN felt like a gift and such a relief - finally someone would tell us what to do!
Here's how we approached new sleep habits with Dashiell:
+ We had a family meeting and announced that we would be a family of Super Sleepers (!) and talked out what Super Sleepers do - do bedtime routine, stay in bed all night unless going to the bathroom, stay in their bedroom until their clock turns green (we use this toddler alarm clock). We were surprised at how engaged Dash was in this conversation and how enthusiastic he was about being a Super Sleeper. We also drew out our sleep plan showing the steps of bedtime routine, staying in bed all night (unless going to the bathroom) and waiting for the clock to turn green.
+ After the bedtime routine, during the night and any time before the clock turned green we used the technique of silent returns to put Dash back to bed. A silent return is giving as little attention as possible, even avoiding eye contact and touch if possible, and returning a child to bed. This is done as many times as needed.
+ To push back the time that Dash was waking in the morning we slowly moved the wake up time of his alarm clock. Once we waited in his room until the clock turned green for at least two days we would push the clock back another five minutes. Dash is clearly wired to wake up early (like Chris and I are) and so he still is waking around 5 am everyday but we have his clock set for 5:30 am.
Establishing better sleep habits with Cedric was more straightforward. At nap time and bedtime we followed our routine, put him to bed and left the room. The first few nights were tough because he cried but the wonderful thing about having a sleep coach is being able to text them during the hardest parts and get reassurance. Cedric cried, at the most, for close to 30 minutes. It was not fun or easy but Jennifer reminded us of our motto: short term pain, long term gain. Bedtime and nap time with Cedric are nearly laughably easy. Cedric reaches for his crib and if I try to hold him a minute longer to snuggle he demands, "night night!" and sometimes nearly chuckles as I lay him down. As soon as I lay him down I can leave the room and he doesn't make a peep.
Overall, our current sleep situation is much improved from June although we've realized sleep is going to be something we continue to work on, especially with Dash. A wake up time around 5:30 is about as good as it's going to get for now (maybe this will change when Dash drops his nap??). The difference now is that we have strategies to implement and we can respond consistently and that feels much better.
A couple of big take-aways from working with our sleep coach are:
+ Look at the big sleep picture and look for signs of being over-tired. Night time sleep is affected by nap sleep and vice versa. The state of being over-tired is confounding because it can cause a child to stay up later and wake up earlier, compounding the issue! As a result the solutions can be counter-intuitive: it might seem logical to push back the bedtime of a super early riser but in fact they may need to go to bed even earlier. Nap times might need to be adjusted to ensure the child is appropriately tired by the desired bed time.
+ Establish boundaries, communicate them and then follow through and stay consistent. This was the biggest take-away for me from our sleep coach. Before working with her Chris and I did have some routines, like a bedtime routine and consistent bedtime, but we weren't dealing with night and early wakings consistently. Therefore we didn't have boundaries, although we desperately wanted them!
If you are experiencing a really hard time with sleep with your children I have so much empathy - hang in there! I would also HIGHLY recommend considering a sleep coach (ours is awesome), it created empowerment out of what felt like a powerless situation. Recently I was on the Coffee + Crumbs podcast and during the show chatted with the Lesley Miller and she also highly recommends her sleep coach.