Learning To Sleep

I started teaching Em how to sleep (or nap, rather) a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t follow a specific method but not because I didn’t want to. It’s because I’m too stubborn (or busy?) to read a 400 page book about how to get my baby to sleep. Publishers of the world: do you really think new parents have time to read incredibly wordy books? And if they do have time, do you really think they want to spend the free time they do have reading about sleep? Doing it maybe, but reading about it?

Maybe it’s just me. But the last thing I want to do whenever I discover a few minutes of spare time is read about how to get my child to sleep in 400 short pages. And believe me I see the irony in this. Because most of the time I have free time is whenever Em is asleep and usually the hours leading up to said chunk of free time are filled with frustration because I couldn’t get my child to sleep.

But the moment he falls asleep, I run for the refrigerator, the shower, or the cleaning supplies. I most certainly do not sit down and pick up a book about how to get my baby to sleep more. Because that would make sense and I don’t make sense. And I certainly don’t read directions. I’ve never read directions and I don’t always make sense.

But this post will hopefully make some sense.

Instead of reading a long book about how to get my son to sleep (like I should have done) I spent 6 months reading paragraphs here and there (sometimes accidentally); listening to friends (and sometimes eavesdropping on conversations of strangers); observing the specie firsthand (like Dian Fossey only my subject is my son and not a gorilla baby. Although, I bet they are similar); and of course reading stuff on the Internet (not something I recommend).

What did I end up with? So much information went into my head, I thought I had too many pieces of gibberish equalling information overload—like whenever you mix every color together with good intentions and end up with something resembling the inside of a baby diaper.

At first I thought I was going to end up with a fountain of misinformation. But I surprised myself. I took all the information, added a little something called “intuition” and I ended up with something that looked OK.

My potpourri of information came out tasting pretty OK.

What good is information if you can’t pass it along to help and/or welcome critique? And so for what it’s wroth, here’s my recipe for getting my son to sleep better (or at all).


(Consider these items necessary, as one might need a spoon for stirring or a bowl for mixing.)

1). ROUTINE ROUTINE ROUTINE!—It’s true. Postpone trips to the store, vacations, and life. Postpone it all. If you want to teach your child how to sleep better, you simply have to make sure you’re around at the times you want him or her to nap. Make a schedule. Stick to it.

2). FAMILIARITY—This could technically go under routine, I guess. But I think it’s different. Routine is more about time and how you react the moment you realize your baby needs to nap or go to sleep for the night. Familiarity on the other hand has a lot to do with where you do this and what they are given when you do it. If you sing “Believe It Or Not” from The Greatest American Hero, then continue to do so. If you offer a bottle every time they go down, continue to give them something to drink.

3). PATIENCE—Said Woman, take it slow. It’ll work itself out fine.

I ain’t no doctor. I ain’t no nurse. Hell, I ain’t barely even a mother, but I bet that if you use all three of the items listed above—no matter what ingredients you use—I reckon it will work.


The moment I see Em rub his eyes or grow increasingly more frustrated for no apparent reason, it’s time. I grab a bottle of milk, my book (or computer), his orange pillow, the monkey, and a pacifier. I put him in his crib on his back and give him the bottle, placing the pacifier next to him (or in his hand). I feed him some milk and place the pillow next to his head.

Then I wait with him.

That’s all I do. Wait. My presence is there only to reassure him that everything is gonna be OK. I sit in a rocking chair near his bed. I am there if he needs me.

The only rule I have is no matter how fussy he gets, no matter how much he cries, I do not pick him up until he has napped. I find other ways to get him to relax. I follow the “no pick-up” rule strictly.

The first few days were difficult. He fussed a lot and I had to console him several times. The whole ordeal lasted well over an hour and half. It could have been two hours. I don’t know.

Day three came around and that time got shorter. He was getting used to the fact that crib equals sleep and sleep equals play with mommy, books and happiness. I think by day four or five I had him asleep within an hour.

And then that time got even shorter. It was taking him about 45 minutes to fall asleep. I was still sitting back there with him, but I was quietly reading or writing the whole time.

On Saturday, Em fell asleep the moment his head hit his pillow. I was shocked as was Tobyjoe. Em slept for one and a half hours that day without making a peep. And that was nap two! Nap one was an hour long.

It became abundantly clear to me on Saturday, that our homemade, half-assed method was working!


I am writing this from a silent apartment. The soft hum of the air conditioner in the bedroom can be heard over the baby monitor. My son is taking his second nap for the day, sleeping soundly after 25 minutes in his crib.

He didn’t even fuss.

I realize that this feeling of elation can (and probably will) fall away as quickly as it grew, but I’m going to enjoy it for now. It feels pretty good to learn that my son knows how to sleep for longer than 30 minutes at a time. It feels pretty good knowing that this week (and this week alone) I feel as though my hard work has finally paid off; I succeeded at something extraordinarily positive.

Dare I say this?

I feel oddly powerful right now. I know that will probably come crashing down tomorrow, crumble in place around me, but right now I feel the strength of a thousand mothers and I want to give you some because I can and I owe you and you’re awesome.

So, here.


  1. Congratulations! I know how much better my life became when the baby’s sleep (both naps and at night)came with ease. It isn’t foolproof, but is a heck of a lot better than where we were at. Enjoy it!


  2. You have done a wonderful job teaching your son to sleep!!! Many congratualtions to you!! Please remember your Patience ingredient when he goes through his next major growth spurt. Growing makes kids cranky for some reason, and it disturbs their sleep. The mind boggles!


  3. I love you. I am book marking this for Liam. So many things I want to say but for now woohoo! Mom congrats. Mom 1 Emory ?


  4. That’s great, we’ve been having babies for many many years now, I think your “homemade, half-assed method” is much more likely to succeed then the millions of money making methods out there. Mothers instinct reigns supreme!


  5. ha! I knew I wrote this too soon and with too much audacity. The night shift? It ain’t going well AT ALL.

    Oh well. 2 out of three ain’t bad, right?

    What’s up with “ain’t” today? Hrm.


  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We’ve been having horrible sleep problems. I think mainly due to wandering from our routine. I won’t do that. We tried putting my son down awake for naps and setting the timer for 3 minutes. He’s usually quiet within 1 or 2 and asleep in 8-10 minutes. But the past 2 nights were awful. He wouldn’t even LET us rock him. He cried so hard he threw up twice. It broke my heart. I was trying to rock him to sleep and he just wanted none of it. I think he was so off his routine it really threw him for a loop. I would even sit in the room with him, but that doesn’t seem to work. I have to just leave and let him fuss for a few moments and then everything seems to be ok. We’ll see. At night he’s pretty good about going down very very drousy but awake. Good luck. I can relate that it’s very hard.


  7. Congratulations! I hope tonight was just a blip and that Em will be back to sleeping in no time. We are in the process of going from two naps to one. So hard


  8. Good job! Even if the night shift has a few hiccups, it’s still great to get him napping. And, I am going to remember all this for future reference. I have some experience from extensive baby-sitting, but this sleep issue is something I fear more than almost anything about having children. Because i am weird. I think it is because I am convinced I am going to be cursed with a ‘bad’ sleeper – apparently, I loved to sleep as a child (still do, in fact) so I never had any problems, but my mother says that my first-born is sure to be a difficult sleeper because that is Sod’s law.


  9. Yay Michele! Way to go for finding something that works for you, TJ, and Emory. It seems everyone has a different tolerance for crying and/or sleep training.
    I have just noticed that my son has started sleeping through the night consistently..and it took me a few weeks to notice this! Not from anything I did however, he is just too tired to wake up during the night these days!
    I’ve got to try the sitting with him for naps. After our holidays in April, his naps have deteriorated into only being nursed to sleep or not sleeping at all (except at daycare, where apparently he is a little angel). At bedtime I usually sit beside the bed and hold his hand until he falls asleep.
    Thanks for the inspiration!


  10. Joey (girl w a boy's name) July 21, 2008 at 7:00 pm

    That’s great that he’s sleeping! And every new development SHOULD be celebrated, even if it changes or baby (or mommy) regresses or shifts back into old habits. It’s still a big accomplishment for both baby and mommy. And I’m so impressed by all the babies being talked about here being calmed by your presence. My baby’s like, WHAT are you doing just sitting there?!!! Do something! And he’d cry for half an hour if I stuck around. I can’t bear hearing him cry (I’m wimpy like that), so I just calm him down w a bottle and a quick song and kiss, and then skedaddle out the door. Then he usually gets the message and is out without a whimper, or maybe 2 minutes of WHERE THE HELL ARE YOUs!!! So, great to hear things are better on the sleep front.


  11. Ah it’s so good to know someone else is reading and doing the same thing as me! I swear in the mess of my friends with kids, I’m the lone wolf. My daughter is 9 weeks and we started her young on the night sleeping and she does decently well as for the day time… that’s a different story. I just bought what I think is the same book you are talking about last night and started the new nap routine today. It’s rough but she’s a much happier baby and I’m a much happier mamma when she sleeps!!


  12. To: Joey (girl w a boy’s name), my son has spent most of his 2 years of life wanting/demanding to be rocked and/or breastfed when he’s tired. The sitting beside his crib and holding his hand is a VERY recent thing that works to calm him. And I’m thrilled. Endless rocking of a 30lb child is not my cup of tea. He has lost the ability to fall asleep on his own it seems, he had it before we went on holidays, but I’m hoping it comes back soon!


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