At a year old, my daughter Sarah was sleeping though the night. Yay! Then at 18 months, she started waking up again at 3 am—every night, for months. Boo! I was tired. I was annoyed. And I was awake.
Why was this happening? What made her start sleeping through the night in the first place? Thinking back, I realized it began when I caught a terrible cold, and slept soundly through the night thanks to a hefty dose of cold medicine. Now, while I wouldn’t (officially) recommend taking cold medicine as a sleep aid, one thing could not be ignored: Sarah started sleeping though the night when I started sleeping through the night. If I slept, she slept. So if I didn’t want Sarah to keep waking up, it was clearly time to start sleep training—for me.
Step One: Timing Is Everything
There’s a lot of debate about what age you should begin sleep training. But at 41, I felt more than ready. Seriously, if your baby is under four months, these techniques probably won’t work for you yet. In my case, Sarah was over a year old and developmentally capable of sleeping through the night. Her 3 am wakeups were merely routine—she’d cry, I’d come nurse her, she’d be back asleep within 15 minutes. We’d fallen into a bad habit—and worse, she had trained me to wake up every night and listen for her cries!
Step Two: Bedtime Routine
You probably already have a bedtime routine for your baby: a bath, cuddles, a stuffed animal. Now turn that same loving attention on yourself. Make your bed as comfy as possible, and replace your phone with a good (trashy) book. Slip into your pajamas and get psyched for a good night’s sleep!
Step Three: Don’t Wake the Baby
This may seem like a no-brainer, but please make sure you’re not doing anything that will wake your baby. I used to have this little ritual where I’d tiptoe into Sarah’s room at night and make sure she was still breathing. Yes, I was a little neurotic. Not only did that occasionally wake her up right then and there, but I think it contributed to her middle-of-the-night wakefulness. So close that baby’s door (also a good fire safety tip), resist the urge to check on your little monster, and let her sleep!
Step Four: White Noise
When you’re trying to sleep without distraction, fans are your friend. Put one in your room. Put one in your baby’s room. Next, turn down the baby monitor. You want a good balance in terms of noise: You want to hear your child if they’re genuinely in distress, but you want to tune out any middle-of-the-night “Hey, I’m bored, anyone up for a midnight snack?” fussing.
Step Five: Cry It Out
When all else fails, there’s always the cry-it-out method. Yes, it’s controversial, especially for today’s helicopter parents and their special little snowflakes. But I’m not here to judge: You can cry as much as you like, parents. Tire yourself out!
Fortunately for me (and for Sarah), my sleep training techniques were mostly successful. The combination of these strategies and, frankly, giving myself permission to stop being an all-night milk machine worked like a charm, and I was soon sleeping though the night like a baby. Like my baby!