The great sleep update

Hey, everybody. Hope you’re having a lovely morning! I’ve had requests to provide some details on the sleep “challenges” that we’ve worked through. Of course, it’s important to emphasize the fact that what works for one family or kid won’t work for another. Some things that we did with Liv are totally ineffective with P, and the other way around. There are families who allow their kids to sleep in their beds, families who have their kids’ beds in the parents’ room, kids who have slept in their crib/bed from day one, kids who share beds, or a combination of all of the above. It’s all about choosing the best method for your family for that particular time. So, here’s what worked for us (or at least allowed us to survive), per many requests, but I feel a little vulnerable in posting this. Please be kind 🙂

The great sleep update. How we got our 3 year old and 7 year old to fall asleep in bed and stay there all night :)

Whew! Here we go.

So we’ve had some…unique sleeping situations, especially since we’ve moved a lot (Liv has moved 4 times already) and the Pilot also travels frequently for work. When the girls were babies, we followed The Baby Whisperer’s method. It taught the girls how to fall asleep on their own, but didn’t involve “crying it out.” (I know that intense sleep training and crying it out works well for a lot of families, but it wasn’t something I wanted to do.) Using her methods (eat, activity, sleep, you time), the girls were pretty excellent sleepers from when they were babies until they were about 2 1/2. It was a little earlier for P, since she decided to catapult herself out of the crib for the first time when she was around 14 months old. This was when they realized they could get OUT of their room, and from then on, sleep was kind of a disaster.

We’ve had nighttime visitors sporadically for many years. It wasn’t every night, and in most cases, we could convince them to go back to sleep after walking them back to their room. Having said that, there were plenty of nights when an irreconcilable little face of tears just didn’t want to go back to sleep on her own. Since we were often too exhausted to deal with it, we’d either sit in their room until they fell back asleep or let one or both of them crawl into bed with us. For a while Liv was waking up multiple times throughout the night, so as a temporary solution in our busy lives, we let her sleep in a cot on our room. When we finally ditched the cot after a move, we tried to incorporate more consequences for the nights when they come into our room. However, this method proved ineffective, because in the middle of the night, they didn’t care about consequences to their actions in their delirious, half-asleep state. We tried putting them in a bed together to see if it would help, but it didn’t make a lasting difference over the long term. 

All of this took place AFTER we got them to sleep which could be a struggle on its own. Sometimes to get them to sleep, we would find ourselves stuck in what we jokingly called “bed jail”: lying with them until they fell asleep. The reason for this was because even if one girl fell asleep just fine, the other might have some anxiety about it, then she would cry out and wake the other. It was a vicious cycle. For some people in a similar situation, it’s worked to just lock the door (switch their doorknobs to lock it from the outside) to force them to just cry it out and deal with it, but that’s not how we wanted to handle it. I remember what it felt like to be small and very afraid of the dark and being alone at night, so we wanted to find a solution that avoided the potential for that.

This is a tough sleep situation for two people, but it because virtually impossible to survive with just one. So, when the Pilot left for his deployment, I let the girls stay in our bed when they came in during the night, and after a few months of multiple nights of inadequate sleep, I let them fall asleep in our bed. I will say that for those few months, we slept amazingly. During winter break, we slept in until 9 or 9:30 most mornings and it was MAGICAL. But the deal was when Tom came home, they had to start sleeping in their own rooms. When he came home, we found ourselves back in the old, imperfect sleep patterns. We knew this wasn’t sustainable, so Tom did a bunch of research, and we reached out to an expert for advice because nothing we tried was working. 

Now, after chatting with Heather from Sleep Shop and following her steps in combination with this sleep plan, they both fall asleep on their own, sleep in their own rooms…and stay there all night. No locked doors, no drastic consequences, and no meltdowns.

I NEVER thought this would happen.

It took consistency, and about 3-4 nights of being awake a good part of the night, but we did it!!!

Obviously, I can’t post everything Heather told me to do on the blog – that’s how she makes $$ – but here are some of the things that helped:

Having a true bedtime routine that starts about the same time every night. All of the steps were usually the same, but now we follow them in a precise order so they know bedtime is coming: bath (if I don’t wash their hair I just put it in a high bun), jammies, brush teeth, read them 2 books, goodnight. 

– Explaining the rules of the during the day as a heads up and before bed, after books, as a reminder. For them, knowing that we’d check on them every 10 minutes until they fell asleep (even in the middle of the night) was huge in cutting their anxiety to virtually zero. After the first few nights, they know we no longer check on them after 10 minutes if they happen to come out of their bed in the middle of the night, and they’re content to just be walked back to bed and tucked in. Now we typically only check on Liv once, and maybe a few times with P. 

– Walking them back to bed, every.single.time they came out of their room. This is exhausting and we probably walked them back 300 times the first night. After the first night, we took shifts. The Pilot got the 11pm- 3am shift and I did 3am-7pm. 

The Ok to Wake clock. Liv hated this thing but it works beautifully for P. She’s so proud of herself each morning when she’s stayed in her bed until her clock is green. 

– Getting some extra sound machines. Upstairs was way too quiet and even though Liv had a sound machine, we also got one for P’s room.

– Consistency. This is where I’m terrible but the Pilot is a rockstar. I was SO tempted to just lie in bed with them or let them come into our room just once, especially when they were coming out of bed 8,000 times (and when P was under the weather), but once we committed, this wasn’t an option. He helped me keep my eye on the prize.

– Remembering that it always works! Heather was so reassuring and she said that it always works, but for some kids, it takes longer, up to 2 weeks. When we committed, we were ready to be totally sleep-deprived for 2 weeks, but it only took 5 nights. Each night was easier than the last.

So there ya go! We’re sleeping like normal humans and IT IS AMAZING. 

I was hesitant about writing this post because I’m the opposite of a sleep expert – we slept terribly for years haha – but if you need help, I highly recommend Sleep Shop. We had such a great experience, and they don’t know I have a blog or anything like that. It was the best $100 I’ve ever spent.

xo
Gina

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27 Comments

  1. Jill on March 27, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing – what a great update! It’s always encouraging to hear when a parent/family figures out a sleep plan that works for them. Growing up, I slept in my parents bed for a LONG time and loved it. I have a 9 month old, so he only sleeps in his crib right now, but we are starting to venture into ‘sleep training’ territory, trying to teach him to fall asleep on his own. And it’s hard. But I know we’ll figure out what works for us and him.

  2. Wendy on March 27, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    I’m always so happy when a mama (and family) is getting sleep. Mine are 2 years apart and the older didn’t sleep through the night until after his sister was born…so it’s been 13 YEARS of interrupted sleep. My almost 11 year old still comes up and gets in a futon mattress by our bed a few times a week but is slowly staying in her bed more and more frequently. She has a lot of anxiety and I remember how middle of the night anxiety felt when I was her age and not welcomed in my parents room. I’m willing to sacrifice to help get her through…though there are many days when it’s a huge struggle.
    I have a lovely (much younger) friend who slept on her parents floor until she was 14. She’s 27 now and is amazing-strong, independent and wonderful. It gives me hope.

  3. Janice O'Kane on March 28, 2019 at 12:54 am

    Thanks for being so vulnerable and open Gina! I don’t have kids but think it would feel heartbreaking to me if they were afraid to sleep alone. I really admire you and Tom’s determination and commitment to help the girls conquer their sleep issues (+ reclaim your own sleep).

    Cheers all around to everyone getting a good nights sleep!

  4. Sarah on March 28, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Damn what a process!
    Glad you stuck it out and are alllllll sleeping all night now!

  5. Lauren on March 28, 2019 at 11:14 am

    Omg thank you for this!!!! Since my gal had such a hard time sleeping as an infant, I’m hoping we won’t go through it again when she gets older, but I least I know there are experts that I can call!

    • Fitnessista on March 29, 2019 at 12:37 am

      i’ll be crossing my fingers for you!

  6. Beth on March 28, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    Thank you for this! I have 2.5 & 6.5 who are both bad sleepers. My husband works nights so it’s on me 5 nights/wk. I’m ready to make some changes, too, but we also have some special circumstances. My son just asked to stop wearing a pull up at night & has gone almost a month accident free & now asks to read while I put his sister down. It takes her so long that he’s often asleep by the time I get back so that’s been a step in the right direction. But both wake at least once a night & we’re so exhausted we fall asleep with them in their beds.

    Kudos to you all for making the commitment!

    • Fitnessista on March 29, 2019 at 12:37 am

      hang in there! these are such tough ages for sleep, especially with nighttime potty training thrown into it

  7. Ashley @ A Lady Goes West on March 28, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    I can’t believe P got out of her crib that early — I live in fear of Brady learning how to crawl out! Ahhh! Sending you lots of good sleep vibes moving forward! 🙂

    • Fitnessista on March 29, 2019 at 12:36 am

      she got out SO early. it was horrible!

  8. Joanna on March 29, 2019 at 9:51 pm

    Thank you for this post! We have two boys, 4 yo and 16 month old who share a room. Our oldest has been sleeping in our bed consistently since he started just walking into our room! I’m so tired at night I usually don’t even hear him come in! The youngest started waking up all night when he turned a year. It’s gotten to about twice a night so crossing my fingers it gets better.
    I’m willing to try this on our oldest but just wondering did you ever not hear/feel your girls getting into your bed? Did it throw this plan off? How did they feel about you walking them back to their beds? I’m afraid our oldest has gotten so used to this he will be so resistant! So glad you’re getting better sleep now!

    • Jenn on April 1, 2019 at 3:36 pm

      This is giving me so much hope for my future right now. I’m honestly willing to pay upwards of $962 to get my 3 year old to fall asleep on his own right now so $100 seems like the deal of the century.

      • Fitnessista on April 2, 2019 at 12:25 am

        hahah right?! we got to the point where i would have paid a LOT to have our problems fixed

  9. Jessica on April 1, 2019 at 7:44 pm

    Seriously?!?! You must not be a good parent when it comes to discipline. Obviously. Olivia is in the 1st grade right, not an infant. You should be embarrassed that your husband had to force you to have your more than old enough children sleep in their own beds. After he was deployed! I feel embarrassed for you!

    • Fitnessista on April 1, 2019 at 9:49 pm

      You must not be a parent of a kid with unique needs. i hope that whatever is troubling you enough to judge random people on the internet and make hysterical comments is resolved soon.

      • Jessica on April 2, 2019 at 11:41 am

        Unique needs?!? Do you mean like a made up sensory disorder to use as an excuse to run back to your mom?!

        • B on April 2, 2019 at 2:02 pm

          Wow, judgmental much?!
          What is even the purpose of such a comment? Sounds like you’re feeling angry about something other than what a stranger online is doing with her life.

        • Chelsea on April 2, 2019 at 3:55 pm

          Jessica, speaking of parenting advice, have you heard this one?
          If you don’t have anything nice to say, DON’T SAY ANYTHING AT ALL.

        • Jeni on April 2, 2019 at 7:56 pm

          Jessica, girl, this comment makes me so sad for whatever it is that you got going on. Virtual ✌ to you

        • Chelsey on April 3, 2019 at 7:20 am

          You are obviously very uninformed about sensory processing disorder, and by the tone of your comments it doesn’t seem like you’d even be open to learning more.

          Parenting is hard, period. Parenting children with different needs is hard, period. Gina said right off at the top of her post that she was in a vulnerable spot by posting this. Kids are not robots or items to be spat out on a factory line. They’re little people, and we don’t always have the answers and need to seek advice from experts. I’m sad to see women mom shaming instead of applauding all the work she’s done, especially for months at a time by herself.

          Gina, I hope this one person doesn’t take away from a of the positive and uplifting comments you’ve received.

        • Emily on April 3, 2019 at 11:48 am

          Jessica…since you’re a perfect parent (only assuming this because why else would you belittle others) why don’t you share some of your advice on how you get your littles to sleep through the night in their own bed?
          Gina…thank you for your transparency! The night time struggle is real with kids. I love hearing how others deal with it.

    • Nic on April 2, 2019 at 2:58 pm

      I think only one person here should be embarrassed by their actions. Must be a nice view from that high horse.

    • Abby on April 2, 2019 at 9:14 pm

      Jessica, it makes me so sad to see someone be so judgmental. This is one of the sweetest, most loving families (with the BEST girls) you’d be lucky to learn a thing or two from them. I hope you find some peace in your life where you don’t need to be so hateful towards others.

  10. Shaina Anderson on April 2, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    Omg this sounds like our house!!!! It’s a flipping circus with various bedtimes and trying not to wake babies and night wakings and holy hell im losing it. I’m checking this girl out, thank you!

    And showing this to Patrick, because he thinks it only happens in our house

  11. Sara on April 2, 2019 at 1:23 pm

    Sleep is so important…glad everyone is now getting a good nights sleep! Our two year old is still in our room in a crib but once she is in a bed she will move into her sisters room I’m terrified for that!

  12. Tammy on April 3, 2019 at 2:45 pm

    Thank you for this post Gina!! We have such a hard time getting our 3 year old to bed at night and to stay in his bed all night too. At this age, they are their own little person and don’t back down! It’s nice to know there our other families struggling with this too. Good luck to you! You seem like such an awesome mom. <3

  13. Jen on April 6, 2019 at 8:09 pm

    Sleep issues are just so dang hard, and our ways of handling them are just so dang personal. My 7 yo never slept as a baby unless she was on us. She still struggles & different things have helped at different times. In case it helps anyone else I’ll mention that hanging xmas lights on her ceiling, with some of the bulbs removed so they aren’t quite so bright, was a big help. She’d still prefer to sleep with us though, and there have been periods where her fear of the dark was so powerful that even sleeping in our room wasn’t peaceful for her.
    Lately she is a bit better, and she’s also learned to use some positive self talk from a book we read about worries – made for kids – what to do when you worry too much.
    I also have a 5 yo son too, and he has never feared the dark or needed help going to sleep. They are just different people with different needs. It’s a bummer that it is so easy for people to judge when they’ve only had natural sleepers like my son.
    Fist bumps for all the parents who survive their challenging sleepers & still manage to function!

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