That One Time I Had to Sleep Train (again...)
Well, this isn’t embarrassing for me to me to admit as a sleep consultant.
Confession time: I started co-sleeping or laying with my boys until they fell asleep about 3 months ago.
Now, before I continue – I want to be clear, this is not a bash on co-sleeping. My approach has always been that families need to decide what is working best for them. This is just a story about how I figured out what approach worked best for my own family.
I’m not really embarrassed. I am a firm believer that different sleep habits will work differently at different ages and stages – and for a (brief) period of time, this was working for me! I truly enjoyed it.
So... what happened?
It started innocent enough. I have been looking forward to “mommy and me sleepovers” for a long time. I used to have sleepovers with my mom on occasion and they are some of my most favorite memories. Finally, I decided it was time! I set up a little mattress in our living room, we enjoyed snacks, watched the paw patrol movie, and passed out snuggling. I quickly relished in the benefits of co sleeping:
1. My boys fell asleep so much faster with me lying by them (they had previously gotten into the habit of playing at bedtime since they share a room and would get worked up into an overtired state)
2. Who can deny, the toddler snuggles is on of the best parts of being a toddler mom
3. I actually ended up getting more sleep because I wasn’t doom scrolling on tik-tok all night long!
The boys are also in the process of dropping their last nap and would often skip it. However, I quickly discovered that if I just napped with them then they still napped and everyone was MUCH happier.
What went from occasionally laying in bed with my boys until they fell asleep, quickly turned into our new nap and night routine for EVERY sleep.
What could possibly wrong?
As you know, I'm a sleep consultant, I'm well aware of the challenges that some families face with co sleeping. I spent some time thinking about this question quite a bit before I go too deep. Here are the red flags I put in place for my family before I fully committed to lying with my boys while they fell asleep:
1. If my boys started waking at night and not being able to connect their sleep cycles without me lying next to them then I would need to stop. My boys sleep through the night 98 percent of the time. The quality rest they get does WONDERS for their temperament and learning. I do not want to create a habit that will disrupt their sleep.
2. If I started to feel resentful about having to lay down in their bed as they fell asleep then I would need to stop. My boys deserve everything good in the world, they don’t deserve my feelings of resentment. If this routine was no longer working for me then it is not working for all of us.
3. There’s a third reason, but I didn’t think of this one until later and it was the final sign I needed that it was time for things to change. If it interrupted my husband from being able to enjoy bedtime with them then it isn’t working for our family. I’ll talk more about this soon.
Well, we were successful for about 2 months! My boys were sleeping through the night whether I laid there all night with them or not, I was enjoying every minute of it, it was working for my family. This was perfect I thought!
I actually felt slightly guilty about it because I preach the benefits of independent sleep. Insert feelings of being a fraud here.
However, after about 2 months in my first red flags started popping up.
My husband and I hadn’t hung out after bedtime in a while. It’s really the only time we get to be together. So I decided to try telling my boys that I couldn’t lie with them that night. Spoiler alert: it didn’t go over well. I decided to lay with them anyways, and just made sure I stayed awake so I could hang out with my husband after they fell asleep. No big deal… yet...
Soon after that, my ninja move of sneaking out of the room rebounded on me. They started waking and looking for me between their sleep cycles. Most nights out of the week I ended up back in their bed for the remainder of the night. This should have been my biggest hint that things needed to change but I was in denial (maybe it was just a temporary regression!)
The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back
One night I had been having a TERRIBLE day of solo parenting. It was meltdown central; I was exhausted and the ultimate mom zombie. My husband got home from work and offered to put the kids down for bed and I gladly accepted.
He’s the perfect Dad. He took over laying with them while they fell asleep, he did their bedtime routine and snuggled them. This all would have been super sweet… if one of my twins hadn’t been screaming for mama to come lay down with him for 30 minutes. *Insert ultimate mom guilt and heartbreak here*
This was no longer working.
I had hit ALL my red flags. Even the third unknown bonus red flag, this wasn’t working for my husband either. He deserved a sweet and peaceful bedtime – not 30 minutes of screaming for mom.
So, we decided to sleep train again.
Sleep Training Round 2
I’m not going to lie, I was much more confident going into sleep training this time. Not only have I done this before with my own kids but I have literately helped well over 100 families sleep train their children. It’s not new to me!
The crying is still hard. Crying is meant to induce a stress response in parents, and lets be real – no parent WANTS their child to cry
Tools I used:
With my boys being older I enjoyed being able to communicate more about what was going to happen. I ran through the plan with them in very simple terms that morning. I repeated it a few times throughout the day. I didn’t expect this to reduce the tears but allowing my toddlers to process the change before it happened made me feel like they would be more prepared for it.
Having a Plan:
I decided ahead of time what type of a method I would use. My family has always done better with a method that involved check ins as opposed to being in the room. We gradually increased the amount of time on our check ins. With my first few check in’s I stayed for a little longer and offered more snuggles before I left the room. With my later check ins I stayed by the door or by their feet.
I KNEW that by removing myself from the room, I was going to be taking away some of their ability to control the situation. Toddlers get told what to do and how to do it day in and day out. Giving them them options in situations that they can control can help counteract this.
One of these options has turned into a regular part of our bedtime routine – and it melts my heart. I ask them what kind of kiss they want (Big kiss, little kiss, butterfly kiss, or eskimo kiss) and how many they want. My youngest has started saying afterwards, “Let’s do even more kisses in the morning” and I want to melt into a puddle.
Offering extra physical touch:
I may not be laying down with my boys until they fall asleep, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still lay with them. So we now have what we have termed as “snuggle parties”. We will set our star machine to play for five minutes and snuggle in bed. (This is the star machine we have used for years and we LOVE it Amazon Affiliate Link: Star Projector with Timer)
A few questions you might have
(and if I missed something, let me know in the comments!)
How long did the crying last?
The first night was the hardest and it probably took about 30 minutes for my boys to fall asleep. This is a normal amount of crying for the first night (I would even say to dare that this was a good first bedtime of using our method). Something to remember is that falling asleep independently was not new for my boys, they have fallen asleep independently for most of their lives, we just hadn’t done it in a while.
When did you get to tear free nights, or do they still cry?
We got to tear free nights within 4-5 Days. After the first few days it was really only mild fussing. They don’t cry at bedtime now. After our snuggle party and kisses my oldest says “see you in the morning!” and that’s it until 7 AM the next day!
Will you never sleep with them again?
I absolutely will sleep with my boys again and already have; I’ve just been intentional about my boundaries around it! When we first re-sleep trained, I didn’t sleep with them for a solid 2-3 weeks – I didn’t want to confuse them. After we had clearly established habits, I spent some time really considering what I wanted to my boundaries to be. I only wanted to do a sleepover occasionally – I wanted it to be special. My plan is that I will do a sleepover once or twice a month.
Naps I will offer more often, especially since they only tend to nap every 2-3 days at this point. I typically lay with them every other nap or so. Again, if it starts to effect their sleep then I will stop – but as of now this boundary is working for us.
Spend some time thinking about if your current sleep habits work for your family. OR if you are thinking of making some big changes around sleep – decide ahead of time how you will determine if these changes are working or not.
This will look different for every family.
I love that I spent that time with my boys, I also love where we are at now.
P.S. if you are not ready to sleep train but you are wanting to improve sleep, download my free guide! It will walk you through some steps to get started!