Sleep at One Year – 10 Things We’ve Tried, What Worked… and What Didn’t
Sleep. It’s the one thing that EVERYONE talks about in the world of babies.
Complete strangers would coo at Theo as a newborn and virtually all of them would ask how he was sleeping. Or “is he a good baby?” By which they meant “is he sleeping?” Me and the friends I made at NCT have a What’s App group. To date, in just over a year, we’ve used the word ‘sleep’ 2,438 times.
So yeah, sleep is a big deal.
Theo was an absolutely terrible sleeper for the first six months of his life. Actually no, that’s a lie. I’ve taken a photo of him every day since he was born in a lovely little app called Collect. Friday night, on his first birthday, Simon and I sat and watched a film of all of the photos from the past 12 months and he’s asleep in a high proportion of them, especially in the early days. But the point to note is that these photos were taken DURING THE DAY. And even then, he’d never nap for more than 20 minutes at a time.
The four-month sleep regression was the lowest point. It lasted about 8 weeks and at his worst he was waking every 45 minutes through the night. I’ve no idea how we made it through, I lost count of the number of times I broke down in tears through sheer exhaustion. But it did get better! He turned 6 months and we went to Cornwall for a few nights. On the first night there, he slept for 9 hours. I, on the other hand, woke up every hour and went into his room to make sure he was still breathing!
From pretty much that point onwards, he’s been a wonderful sleeper. He’s down by 7.30pm latest, and usually wakes between 6am-7am. Don’t get me wrong, he has his off nights when he’s poorly or teething or otherwise unsettled, but generally, he’s a dream.
So how did we do it? Achieve the magical sleeping through the night baby? Well believe me, from 4 to 6 months we tried a lot of techniques to get him to sleep. Spoiler alert – there’s no quick solution. Otherwise we’d all do it and the sleep trainers and consultants charging thousands would have no business. Second spoiler alert – I think that age has a lot to do with it, which I appreciate isn’t helpful, but maybe gives an element of hope that it will get better?
Here’s the list of what we tried, what worked for us, and what didn’t…
1. Establishing a bedtime routine
I do think this is one of the things that’s worked. Our routine starts at 6.30pm, when I sing the bath time song from our Sing & Sign class. It makes Theo giggle, and he now knows that this is the start of our wind down for bed. Then Simon does the rest of the routine, which is nice as it gives them some quality time together. He gets Theo’s bedroom ready, draws the curtains and puts on bedtime music (see point 2). Then it’s teeth brush, bath, drying off, LUSH Sleepy body lotion (see point 3), into his grow bag, quick story, bottle, dummies (one for his mouth, one for him to hold – see point 4) and then down in his cot. We put him down awake these days, but previously we did rock him (see point 5).
Whatever your routine is, consistency seems to be the key thing. If we’re staying away from home, or bedtime is later than usual, as long as we keep the key elements, Theo still seems to settle.
2. Bedtime music
I’ve no idea whether this actually works or not, but as Theo sleeps with it playing, and it’s quite nice to hear on the monitor, we’ve carried on with it!
When Theo was tiny we played white noise on our mobile phone, or via Ewan the Dream Sheep. Again, I’m not sure there was much difference whether it was on or not as he was never a great sleeper, but it was quite nice for us so we carried on.
The music we play now is three tracks from an album called “Sleep Easy Deluxe Album” by Relaxing Records. We have ‘Fall Asleep”, “Calm Sleeping Music” and “Deep Sleep Music” on a playlist that loops all night. The tracks use binaural beats and delta waves, which supposedly put you in a relaxed state of mind. I did a bit of online research and the view is it’s safe to use with babies.
Relaxing Records have lots of free tracks available on YouTube, and we bought the album on iTunes.
3. LUSH Sleepy Body Lotion
Last year there was a bit of hype about this body lotion, claiming that it helped babies and toddlers to sleep through the night. So obviously I bought some! It’s also on my list of things I can’t prove if they work, but it smells ruddy delicious, Theo likes a bit of baby massage and he’s sleeping, so it’s a part of our routine. Note that while it meets all safety standards, LUSH recommend it’s only used on babies over six months.
4. Something to hold
We’ve found that Theo drops off to sleep better if he has something held in his hand. At the moment he has two dummies in his cot, one for his mouth and one to fiddle with in his hand, but as we wean him off his dummy, we’re going to need to replace it. Obviously it needs to be something safe to be in his cot with him overnight. I’m currently thinking of his Matchstick Monkey, a teether that’s also nice and tactile. Any other suggestions welcome!
This was a technique we used when Theo was younger, and we still use it now if he’s poorly, we’re out of routine or we need him to go down for a nap quickly as it does work! I don’t want to go back to using it all the time, as the best scenario is of course for us to be able to put him down to bed awake, but it’s handy to pull out of the bag in an emergency.
Best rocking motion we found was moving hips in a figure of eight, while slightly bouncing him too. And carrying on for a couple of minutes after he was asleep, just to make sure he was in a deep state before putting him down.
6. Singing or humming
Again, this was something we did when he was tiny, but it still works now too. He now seems to associate Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with sleep, but when he was little Simon humming to him would often get him to nod off. I think it’s something to do with the reverberations he could feel when being held against his chest.
7. Pick Up, Put Down and the Shush Pat methods
In the midst of the four-month sleep regression hell, I decided I’d try proper sleep training. I read up on the Baby Whisperer and decided to give her techniques a go.
You can find out the full details online and on the Baby Whisperer Forums, but in a nutshell, Shush Pat is a technique by which you pat the baby on the back, while making a sssssssh noise. Pick Up, Put Down or PUPD as you’ll often see it referred to online) involves introducing a key phrase (e.g. “it’s sleepy time”) with sleep. When your baby cries, you pick them up and repeat the key phrase until they stop crying, then put them down. If they cry again, you repeat, over and over again until they sleep. There are different nuances to follow depending on the child’s age.
There are also other elements and techniques that you build in around Shush Pat and PUPD.
I followed the Baby Whisperer’s suggested routine and used Shush Pat and PUPD for night and naps. I lasted about 3 days before the stress of trying to get Theo to nap for 2 hours instead of his usual 20 mins wore me down and I gave up. It just wasn’t for me, I was sleep deprived and didn’t have the patience required to see it through. That said though, we did continue to use Shush Pat, and still do if Theo wakes in the night. Picking him up is our last resort, if we can settle him in the cot, we do.
8. Closing my eyes
Random, but I’ve found that if I have my eyes closed (or nearly closed so I can just see out!) then Theo seems to calm quicker. Especially if he’s laying in my arms or I’m rocking him, and he’s looking up into my face.
9. Reading a story
This is part of our bedtime routine, but I also do it when putting Theo down for a nap. It’s a chance to calm down and unwind between whatever we’ve been doing, and putting him down in his cot. It seems to work better than just putting him straight in his cot.
10. Letting him cry a little bit
We’ve never done the cry it out method, but we do let Theo cry for a minute or two before going in to him, both immediately after we’ve first put him down, and if he wakes in the night.
He generally has a little grumble as we leave the room when putting him down, but by the time I walk down the stairs he’s usually asleep. We know his crying well enough to know if it’s an ‘annoyed that you’ve left me’ cry versus a poorly or scared cry, when of course we go straight in. We also go in if he continues to cry longer than a couple of minutes, or if it ramps up to the next level of upset. We’ll always try to settle him in the cot though, rather than pick him up, unless he’s poorly.
I really hope some of this is useful to anyone whose baby isn’t sleeping well. Above all else, try to remember that this too will pass. It feels awful when you’re in the middle of it, but it will get better at some point. It has to! And you wait, in the future we’ll be complaining that we can’t wake our kids up and get them out of bed…
What are your tips and techniques for getting a baby to sleep? Please do share below.