infants & toddlers
Ah... A Good Night's Sleep!
Tips to help the Sleepless Child Sleep

There is nothing better than a good night of sleep; uninterrupted, deep restful slumber. Ah, to wake up refreshed and ready for the day. I dreamt of such a night. Until recently I did not have the pleasure of peaceful slumber. My "dream" came true when my daughter, Laura, was 18 months old. This is when I decided things needed to change. My hope is that after you read this article and/or Dr. Richard Ferber's book, "Solve your child's sleep problems", you too will get a good nights sleep and get your life back. Children need parents to set appropriate guidelines on the child's behavior and provide them with a sleep schedule that promotes optimum growth and health. I feel much better now and I hope you will too!

It had been one of those horrific nights when Laura would not go back to sleep. She awoke at 3:00 am and did not respond to my efforts to pat her back to sleep. One hour and a half later I was hanging over her crib, drained of all energy. I could not continue like this. I was exhausted all the time and irritable from severe sleep deprivation. It was time to look for expert advice.

As many parents can relate, I just couldn't bring myself to put Laura down and let her cry. Since she was born I "helped" her fall asleep by patting her back, rocking her or letting her fall asleep on my chest. Usually, these methods worked. As time progressed however, she awoke more frequently and stayed awake longer. I kept asking myself "Why does she keep waking up during the night?". Apparently, this was not the right question. Dr. Ferber says that it is normal for children and adults to wake during the night. Although adults know how to put themselves back to sleep, infants and children need to learn how to do this. Dr. Ferber believes we help them best by putting them down awake. This was a revelation to me and almost every mother I spoke to. After going through child birth classes and limited post-natal care and instruction, most parents are left to raise children on their own. No one explained to me how to put my child asleep once she was old enough to sleep through the night.

Both Dr. Ferber's book, "Solve your child's sleep problems", and my pediatrician warned that it would take a week to ten days for her to learn to put herself to sleep. It was supposed to get easier with each passing night. I had mentally prepared myself to do the dreadful deed for two weeks. I selected a time when my husband was away on business because he was less able to listen to her cry. I had to do this.

Dr. Ferber's approach took some fear and hesitation out of this process by suggesting five, ten and fifteen minute "checking-in" intervals. He believes in reassuring a child so that she will not feel abandoned. Dr. Ferber does not guarantee the same level of success for all who try his method but, hang in there, his method works!

I put Laura down in her crib at 10:00 pm and left the room. As Dr. Ferber suggested, I went in after the first five minutes (the longest in my life) and reassured her I was close by. He advises to wait ten minutes before going in again and saying "It's okay, mama's here". Dr. Ferber's approach then suggests that a caregiver return to the child's room every fifteen minutes. My back was in knots. I tried to distract myself, but felt guilty. After the first hour I began to think. Think that she was never going to stop crying. When she finally fell asleep at midnight I was relieved but still worried about what I'd do in the middle of the night.

At 7:00 am I awoke and realized Laura had slept through the night! She had to be awoken at 7:30 am to attend daycare. She also went down for her nap unassisted. The second night was as nerve-wracking as the first. I put her down at 9:30 pm and held my breath. There was no noise. After 10 minutes, on hands and knees, I crept into her room to see if she was okay. A tiny sigh came from her crib. I took up my post on the couch with cautious optimism. Laura has slept through the night since then and goes down for the night and for naps with no assistance. Now I have a few hours to myself at night. I can also count on her to sleep through the night and on my uninterrupted sleep.

I was very lucky with Laura. I cannot guarantee to you the same level of success, but it will probably take less time than you think. Ferber's key to successful slumber is to not implement any bedtime rituals that must be duplicated in order for your child to fall back to sleep. The conditions with which your child falls asleep will determine her ability to fall back to sleep on her own. Put your child down only with something that will be there when she awakens during the night. Music, a pat on the back, a rock on your chest nor a pacifier will be there to assist your child back to sleep when she awakens during the night!


Kathy Martinelli, M.A. is a psychotherapist, author and mother of one. Richard Ferber, MD, Dir., Center For Pediatric Sleep Disorders, Children's Hospital, Boston, is one of the nation's leading authorities on children's sleep problems.


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