A Journey in Sleep Training

I lay in bed tweeting while Oliver cried…only 3 hours after he went down to sleep. The rage bubbling up in me after nights and nights off erratic sleep. It was wearing on me…my life…my mood…my teeth. The nonstop wakings at all intervals of the night were exhausting because…well…it was the freakin middle of the night and my logic minded brain couldn’t handle it. How can you game plan a sleep training method when his behavior is so inconsistent?

I found myself word vomiting all over Twitter and Facebook about what to do. Maybe someone would have some magical thing to try. I mean, I have read everything about sleep. Baby wise, Wiessbluth, No Cry Sleep Solution( hell I have been in email contact with the author!), Ferber, Sears…on and on. While I know a lot about kids and sleep, Oliver has never slept through the night (I also don’t expect him to magically do it either…) and never showing enough consistency to work with. When I would say to myself, “tomorrow night we will start working on it”, he would wake once to eat and be a dream. Damnit. We don’t fit a mold to easily fix. I have done all the known things. Wanna see what I mean?

  • He goes to sleep on his own. For naps and night time, I sing him 1 song and put him down. 99.9% of the time he is very awake. He usually is asleep within 10 minutes. VERY rarely crying to get there. So he knows how to put himself to sleep and there is no association with food to sleep.
  • He has an early bedtime. We are shooting for him to be in bed by 6:45 (note Landon was 6 at this age but we can’t pull that off). We have played around with it and found it works best for us. I hope to get the boys closer to the same time in the future but I am cool with separate bedtimes for now.
  • He doesn’t need a ‘vice’ to sleep. We are past the swing to sleep. I don’t know the last time he had a swing nap. 2 months ago? He only usually falls asleep in the car when we plan it that way or he has been thrown off schedule. (To me, that means he is getting enough sleep on most occasions). Note: Sometimes times his last nap of the day is a wash (he is too over done) and I can Ergo walk him to sleep pretty reliably if needed.
  • He is never nursed to sleep. Even much to my dismay early on when I just wanted him to pass out eating so I could watch Netflix in peace. Exception: night feedings, he goes back to sleep but not passed out when I put him down.
  • He never really wakes at the same time every night. He DOES usually wake within the 5 o clock hour. I hope to make this his only “night” feed. It works because it will tank him up to sleep while we get ready for work and maximize sleep before. I don’t expect him to just start going 13 hours with no food.
  • He has made it 10 hours with no food before. Multiple times.
  • We have never had a dream feed really “work”
  • He can CIO sometimes. We haven’t been shy about giving him time to work it out. We know it worked for Landon, so we have that in our pocket. Sometimes he cries for less than 5 minutes and passes back out. Just not always.
  • He has a humidifier and a fan.
  • He has tons of white noise to block out us and his brother.
  • It is dark as hell in there. Blackout curtains, no lights, and I nurse in the pitch black.
  • He doesn’t take a pacifier and a “lovey” just gets him excited and then frustrated when it doesn’t do what he wants.
  • He can’t roll to his belly yet. To note, we tried to put him on his tummy and he hates it to sleep. Landon was a tummy sleeper so we were prepared for it.
  • Elevating the bed just means he rolls to the bottom. EVERY night he rotates at least 90 degrees. It is part of his self soothe to spin. Even in the swaddle.
  • He wears the exact same thing every night. Onesie, socks, cotton sleeper and light fleece sleep sack. Never sweating, never cold (except hands from spit).
  • During the day he eats every 3 hours with maybe a smaller interval towards the end of the day because of lower supply.
  • We JUST starts solided via Baby Led Weaning. Nothing to really “tank him up”
I think that covers every freaking thing brought up in all the books. So that’s where we are/were. He would sometimes sleep that first stretch for 6-7 hours (perfectly acceptable to me) and then once again around 5. Then the next night, it was all over the damn place. Waking 3 hours after going down. Not hungry (I tried…just comfort sucks), can be held to sleep but doesn’t want to be put back down. Then the rest of the night completely random. Maddening to deal with. Sometimes he would go back on his own. Sometimes we had to intervene after 15 minutes of screams. Then 2 nights in a row, he wasn’t even being comforted after “nursing”. He would cry when I put him back down…and that never happened. Then his cries would be so weak. You could see him on the monitor trying to go back to sleep but crying out every minute or so. He would pass out for like 10 and then start over again…for hours. Mommy intuition kicked in. Something wasn’t right.
So Saturday morning, after another shit night, I packed him up and headed to weekend ped. hours. He had been carrying the same cough the house had for break plus some spit up from mucus. He wasn’t playing as long by himself at wake times. Sure enough, slight upper respiratory infection but a raging ear infection on one side and fluid on the other ear. BLAMO. Maybe it makes me a bad mom to be so excited to hear your kid is in pain but holy crap I was ecstatic. THAT MEANT I WASN’T JUST DEALING WITH A CRAZY BABY! And? We got meds to fix it. WIN WIN.
Moral of the story: Before sleep training, make sure your child is physically well. No teeth cutting, no cold and no major developmental leaps.

While we aren’t into some magic land of sleeping through the night, we have an answer. Hopefully once this has cleared, we can regear our plan for phasing towards more reliable sleep. And because I am sure I will still need some advice, as well as the readers finding this post, what was the magic bullet for you and your infant?




  1. My son has had more ear infections than I can count- even with tubes. I usually know if his sleep goes to crap then he has an ear infection. He doesn’t fever. He’s not super cranky. He just can’t sleep for ANYTHING. Hope Oliver feels better soon.

    Sorry you have been dealing with this.

  2. I would be relieved to find out it was something “fixable” like an ear infection too! I hope he feels better soon and sleep returns for your family.

  3. We have talked I feel like on all SM fronts about this but I swear there is no magic solution. Brady was a DREAM sleeper…12+ hours at 10 weeks. Cate had to CIO at six months and at 16 months she has turned into an awful napper and sleep at night is going backwards. I swear there is no solution. If you don’t let him CIO, can K go in and try to soothe? I don’t have a magic answer clearly but I can send wine but I was so tired that I couldn’t even stay up to drink. Hang in there!

    • K can go in but O really doesn’t soothe. I mean if we pick him up, he goes to sleep in our arms but doesn’t want to be put back down. Trying to pat him in the crib just makes him angry or cries when we stop. We will get there. I have lost the “oh the poor baby” from the first time with CIO. The ear infection (and now poop blowout from the meds) cause me to want to comfort more. Just hoping for some consistency soon.

  4. We never had a magic bullet. I had some coping mechanisms like wrapping and cosleeping, but nothing really helped. My son ate every two hours until he was 13 months old (and he was formula fed, at that point a misguided nutritionist recommended force weaning and then the sh*t really hit the fan – he stopped growing for six months). No, he wasn’t spoiled or manipulating me, he had/has very real medical GI problems. It took the doctors 18 months to diagnose him. Before that, we heard everything – he’s spoiled, texture problems, sleep disorder, possible autism (at 12 months of age, right). We finally saw a pedi who sent us to a GI who discovered very severe GERD, gastroparesis, sensory processing disorder and celiac disease. Also, an ENT discovered very abnormally “massive” enlarged adenoids and after we had those removed, he stopped sleeping like a star fish on crack. He began staying in one place for the most part. He still wakes, but that is because of the GI issues, not his sleep apnea that was caused by the adenoids.
    I guess the point of this is every kid is different. Sometimes no amount of sleep training will get you what you need. For those very dark early days, my only weapon was wrap him to my chest 24/7 in a diy stretchy wrap. I slept with him tummy down on my chest. It was the only way for a long time. In hindsight, that helped the GERD and his constant eating was his coping with the gastroparesis. We still aren’t good with sleep, but at least we know why and we aren’t crazy.
    Oh, and don’t feel guilty for being glad to have a diagnosis. I can’t even tell you the happy dance we did when we found out his problems were caused by an actual disease. It does help to have a reason why.

      • Aw, don’t feel guilty, that was not my intent. I just wanted to share that every child is different and sometimes you can’t pinpoint the exact reason they don’t sleep, or stop sleeping. Sometimes there isn’t a magic bullet, you just gotta slog through. And sometimes by seeing another’s experience, you might think of something you hadn’t thought of before. Like if I had heard that large adenoids were a thing and can affect sleep, I might have pushed for testing sooner in an attempt to help him sleep more peacefully. Or that if I knew it was NOT normal to eat every two hours I would have pushed for a GI. I didn’t know what to look for.
        And go with your gut. Sleep training is right for many families. For some, it isn’t. I knew something wasn’t quite right and that he wasn’t manipulating me or that he needed more firm help in learning to sleep. Sleep training would not have worked for us because the medical issues (even though we were totally unaware of them) didn’t allow him to sleep.

  5. Oh man! I have to say I nursed to sleep a lot… but my boy has slept 11 hours a night the last 2 years or so, so I don’t feel bad.

    Hope you get some consistency soon!

  6. I wish I had some magic advice to give you. My oldest was a dream sleeper. The youngest (4 months now) gives us a run for our money sometimes. I hope you get some sleep soon!

  7. Hello.. My baby is 18 weeks almost 4months.. We’ve never had great napping, always kinda of inconsistent. Worked awhile on wake time and always assumed it was the problem but not sure it really is/was. We’ve been doing CIO since Saturday for day sleep as her nights are great she sleeps from 730-545/6 and goes back asleep till wake time at 8am.. I haven’t seen much progress with our CIO for day. She goes down no problem or crying at about 1hr 20min wake time. I’ve been letting her cry when she wakes after 45min-1 to the next feeding time.. Usually about an hour, she’ll cry on and off.. Wondering how long CIO takes when doing it mid nap? Feeling very discouraged and wonder if I need to adjust

    • Well once again, not a guru at this stuff but I know naps are harder to work out than nighttime sleep. They take a little more guess work and even then it ain’t perfect. In my experience, waketime is usually the culprit. It is also the piece I can’t control sometimes (we are running errands or the older kid needs to finish lunch). But I also take it when I get an hour. I might let him CIO for a bit but I can usually tell he ain’t going back. So I cut my losses and get him up. So sometimes he might have one more nap in. I say take a look at http://www.isisparenting.com/page/webinarssleep. I am loving their webinars and hopefully it gives you some help.
      I actually only have to deal with naps on the weekends so I don’t work with them that much. I also remember with Landon it took time to get a rhythm. Good luck.

  8. We could be twins. Or our sons could. Only difference is when I finally gave in and tried his tummy he slept better immediately, and his fall apart was waking up every hour.

    He’s still only sleeping four hours at a stretch but I think it’s growth / developmental. I’m not asking for ten hours or even 8, but a six hour stretch would be nice. And like you I’ve read everything. With my first I could stick to the routine religiously and get him back on track, with this one, three naps at the same time everyday is hard to manage bc of school, activites and my older son in general.

    I think bc of that sleep training is going to take longer for #2. But as to magic bullet the only one I have is consistency. And that’s been super hard this go round.

    Also my 2nd is teething. I expect bottom two in a couple weeks. I can feel one…

  9. Again, I could have written this post – and, stumbled upon yours while googling for answers to these exactly problems! what age was oliver when you wrote this? we have the same horrible yucky cough and have had 3 horrible nights (even though he’s still never slept through on his own, we were at least down to only 1 waking per night) – all hell just broke loose. I have gotten pretty good at deciphering whether he’s crying because he’s annoyed that no one is come to sing twinkle twinkle little start to him for the 756th time that night… or if he’s really really bothered by something. the past three nights? starving and screaming like something really hurts 🙁

    i wonder too if it’s an ear infection, but he’s scoffing food at night and i would think he wouldn’t be starving if his ear was really hurting.

    was Oliver eating during this awful bout with ear pain? 🙁

    • Ollie was a little over 5 months. He just had a restless night. I could see on the monitor that he wasn’t crying and looking around. He was trying to sleep. He has had 2 more sense then. Now the signs are more clinginess and if I touch his ear, he cries and winces. I make it a point to mess with his ears when he eats constantly so I know when something isn’t right.

  10. THANK YOU so much for writing this post! I read it this morning and thought, "this is my life exactly today!" so I took my little boy (5.5 months) to the doctore and BLAMO – double ear infection! I would never have guessed. My husband called me a worry wart when I booked the appt. Now, both of us are so relieved. I can't thank you enough!

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