I previously posted about the basics of our sleep training strategy. Here’s what we did starting from Night 1 and how it went. I know it’s a lot of detail, but when I was doing research, this is what I wanted, but couldn’t find, so hopefully this helps at least one other family trying to sleep train their baby.
What Graduated Extinction Sleep Training Looks Like
Night 1: This was a rough night, as I’m sure all first nights of sleep training are. We decided to go for broke, so we unswaddled them and took their pacifiers away. Baby C fell asleep after crying for 20 minutes, but Baby R went through all 5/10/15/20 intervals, so we had to rock him to sleep. About four hours after we put them to sleep, Baby R woke up and cried through another set of intervals, so we rocked him to sleep again. During that time, Baby C woke up, cried for about 20 minutes again and then fell asleep. Other than to eat, Baby C didn’t wake up again until morning. Baby R cried another 30 minutes about 9 hours after we put him to sleep for the night.
Day 1: Baby C definitely got the idea much faster than Baby R. The most he cried at a time was 15 minutes, but Baby R went through the 5/10/15 intervals for his first nap.
Night 2: We introduced lovies, which are supposed to smell like us and comfort them in their crib. Baby C only cried 10 minutes, but he didn’t actually fall asleep for a half hour. Still, I thought this was a good sign that he was just hanging out in his crib trying to fall asleep. Baby R fell asleep after just 5 minutes of crying! Could he have learned that quickly? Unfortunately, no. Just over two hours later, he was awake and cried for 25 minutes. Baby C woke up a few hours later and cried for 20 minutes. Did I mention that sleep training two babies means NO sleep for mom and dad because they don’t wake up at the same time? Baby C was fine for the rest of the night, but Baby R woke up around 5AM and cried for 40 minutes. It was really, really hard to remember that we had to keep going, but what helped is to think about all the crying that we had endured and that it would be wasted if we stopped now.
Day 2: Both babies cried about 30 minutes total, but they also didn’t sleep very much at all (2.5 hours for Baby C, 1 hour for Baby R!) Baby R had a pitifully hoarse voice too. It was hard to let them cry at all today.
Night 3: This was the night before I went back to work and was hoping to get some sleep. Baby C fell asleep after 10 minutes with very little crying, but Baby R cried for almost an hour and we had to rock him to sleep, but he didn’t really wake up again for the rest of the night other than to eat. Baby C cried for 50 minutes later in the night and we put him in the swing to get him to fall asleep. Needless to say, it wasn’t a very restful night.
Day 3: The rest of the days, I don’t have many notes for because my partner wasn’t really into recording the nitty gritty details, but you can look at the graph below to see general sleep/crying patterns.
Night 4: Tonight, we decided to shift strategies a little bit and increase night feedings because they were eating less during the day. Apparently this is common when moms go back to work and it’s also common around 4-5 months because babies become really distracted at that age (see this explanation). We were hesitant to change what we were doing because everyone says that the key to sleep training is to be consistent, but I really believe that if something doesn’t feel right, you know your babies best. At some point, you have to trust your gut, but don’t trust your heart because it will tell you to pick up your baby the minute he cries. So, we decided that if they had been asleep for at least a REM cycle, we’d feed them and then put them down drowsy, but awake and if they started crying, then we’d start intervals.
Night 5: Starting tonight, night time crying was barely an issue! They basically went to sleep when we put them down for the night or just whimpered a little bit until they fell asleep. Also, they stopped waking each other up with their crying because when they did cry, it wasn’t for very long. With the added feedings, there was WAY less crying at night.
Day 5: Both babies took great naps today, about 5 hours each and ate more during the day. Do I dare think that we might be stabilizing?
Night 6: They both fell asleep without crying and only cried 10-15 minutes total the entire night! But, they also woke up more often to eat. Could they be catching on and being manipulative? I think we’ll put down our foot tomorrow night and only feed them if it’s been at least 3 hours.
Night 7: They both fell asleep again without crying and only got up twice. I fed them both times and they ate a lot, which affirmed for me that they needed to eat and I wasn’t being a pushover. Again, they only cried a total of 10-15 minutes all night. I can definitely live with this!
Day 7: Another monster nap day for Baby R (over 5 hours!) and virtually no crying for either of them. Hurray!
From this point on, nights were great. They almost always fell asleep with no crying. They’d get up twice to eat and then go back to sleep with virtually no crying. The few nights when there cried more were generally attributable to something like needing to burp, rolling over, or getting an arm or leg stuck in the side of the crib (who wouldn’t cry if that happened?). So, again, I think it’s really important to recognize that you know your baby. If either baby cried with that hint of desperation in his voice, I knew it was something other than trouble falling asleep. The first few nights, I wouldn’t have been able to tell, but by this point, it was clear when they were struggling to fall asleep (more of a grumbling cry) and when there was something else wrong.
We are still working on naps, but from what I have heard and read, naps are much harder and most babies don’t have really regular naps until around 6 months, so I am not going to worry about it too much until after that!
Yes, I’m a Nerd
Here are my nerdy graphs that show how, especially at night, the amount of sleep they were getting, generally increased and the amount of crying generally decreased. (The blanks are from days where we forgot to keep track.)
As you can see, progress was definitely not linear, but it did feel like we were making progress every day. I’m not quite ready to chalk it up as a 100% success because of the naps, but it’s really incredible to see how much better it got after just a few days. It certainly didn’t feel like that during those first nights! Also, I am 100% certain that we didn’t traumatize them or teach them that we won’t meet their needs and am confident that this will help them be better sleepers as toddlers and even as adults. (See this recent article linking ADHD symptoms in children to lack of sleep!)
Happy sleep training!