Preparing and Scheduling for my baby’s Sleep Training (Part 1)

Preparation is half the battle. Before sleep training, it’s important to read up and research. Equipped yourself with knowledge and know what you are getting into. Also, it’s better to get everyone in the house, or at least the other parent on board the training regime. It’s going to be a “battle”, so best to have less dissuading voices and more moral support.

To be prepared is half the victory.

Miguel de Cervantes

Disclaimer:

All the information in this post and part 2 comes from reading various sources (bibliography at the end). This post is mainly written for my hubby’s and my reference as we embarked on JBL’s sleep training. I was overloaded with information. Hence, I wanted to summarise what I read from various sources and come up with a game plan with my hubby.

The reading materials, questions and answers in the Facebook community, “Sleeping like an SGBaby” have been a great help in my sleep training journey for my firstborn and in writing this post. However, like a few others, I get daunted by the information, excel spreadsheets and calculations. But don’t be deterred! I hope this post will spark your interest to find out more about sleep training. Sleep training was one of the best decision I made for my firstborn. It gave me sanity. So I hope you will benefit from it too!


When should you NOT Sleep Train?


Do NOT sleep train if you cannot do these:

  • Read up on sleep training materials. Be sure to check out RIE Sleep learning in the facebook group or google about RIE (also known as Respectful Parenting) sleep training.
  • Commit 1 to 2 weeks to sleep training, take leave if you must.
  • Choose a sleep training plan and stick to it. Sleep training usually works in 1-3 days with end goal of being able to self soothe to sleep.
  • Be ready mentally or emotionally to be consistent and persevere on. Don’t waste your baby’s tears. Also, giving up confuses the child and reinforces his/her crying.

Do NOT sleep train under these circumstances:

  • Baby is not gaining weight.
  • Baby, toddler or any family member is ill or recovering.
  • Changes to sleep arrangement and environment (e.g. renovation, moving house, or moving to a new room).
  • Vacation or crossing time zones.
  • Visitors staying over.
  • Any sibling going through a difficult time or about to start nursery or pre-school.
  • Either parent under pressure (such as at work).

Do NOT sleep train if you don’t have these (subjective):

  • Child to have own cot and room. If no spare room, at least own cot to sleep in.
  • CCTV/baby monitor to check on the child’s progress.

Not sure if you should start sleep training?

Not sure if you can follow through once you start?

If in doubt, always approach a pediatrician or sleep specialist.


Before you Sleep Train: Environment and Scheduling


Sleep Environment

Have your child sleep day and night in the same environment for at least 2 weeks. This is to familiarise her with the sleep environment, along with the eat/sleep schedule and self-soothing skills.

Tired Cues

Learn to read tired cues. This will help you to put the child down to sleep without much struggle. Younger babies will display these cues more accurately than older babies. Furthermore, the latter switch to over-tiredness fairly quickly.

  • Early tired cues: spacing out, disinterested, avoiding eye contact, poor mobility (e.g. falling down), and yawning.
  • Late tired cues: rubbing eyes/ears/face, and crying.

Wake Time

Most of the time, I fail to read tired cues until they are too late, especially when I am busy with housework and my toddler. Hence, I will try to put JBL down for sleep based on suggested wake times. Wake time (“WT”) is the time a child is awake between sleeps.

To be honest, I am doing a lot of guesswork with her WT. Different resources tell of different wake times. In any case, different babies get tired at different stretches of time. So it’s a hit and miss, trial and error for me to nail the WT. But I do know my overtired baby cannot last a very long WT.

So if JBL doesn’t fuss after a short nap, I will not pick her up immediately. This is to reduce her WT. That’s because time spent in cot is less stimulating than out of cot. If the child is left in cot for 60 minutes, it’s counted as 30 minutes of WT.

Sleep Schedule and Routines

Let your child follow an appropriate sleep schedule to make sleep training easier. You can follow EWS cycle – eat, wake and then sleep. To come up with a schedule, research and find out the age-appropriate wake times, total sleep required, bedtime, etc.

It’s good to have a nap and bedtime routine to signal to the child that it’s time to sleep. The routines usually take 5 and 30 minutes respectively.

Personally I find it hard to follow suggested schedules because of my baby’s erratic sleeping hours. I’m also bad at strictly following schedule. So I gave us a few fixed “points”. I made sure JBL wakes up in the morning and sleeps at night at about the same time. I will then put her down for her next nap based on her WT range. Like I said, the WT is by trial and error. There are days I got it right, and there are bad sleep days when I did not.

Instead of keeping a sleep log diligently and calculating to the minute, I will determine if JBL is getting enough sleep by calculating her total sleep (night + day). And she always fail to sleep enough. Major sleep debt? Speaking of which..

Over-tiredness

Reduce sleep debt/ over-tiredness (cortisol level) before sleep training commences. Over-tiredness decreases with appropriate naps, an early bedtime (decrease WT), and continuous night sleep.

Sleep training inevitably creates an overtired state. The child is awake longer than he should as he learns to fall asleep independently. Over-tiredness leads to more night wakings and early wake up time.

So best to clear sleep debt before it accumulates more during sleep training. Persevere on the sleep training, and once the child knows how to sleep independently, he can self-correct and clear sleep debt more efficiently by sleeping well.

The first thing I wanted to do is to make sure JBL is not overtired before I start sleep training. I tried to give her early bedtime whenever we can. That means fewer outings for the family — which is a bit hard to sacrifice when I have an over-active toddler. So I resort to naps on the go. BUT!

Naps on the go, such as in baby carriers, car seat, and stroller, are not as restorative / deep as in cot. Hence they can easily accumulate sleep debt even if they sleep as long as they are in cot.


Guidelines: Required Hours and Schedules


Requirements for 6 and 7 months old

Babies at 6 months old are on a solid 3 nap schedule and may be down to only 1 night feeding.

General Requirements

  • Max WT (6 | 7 months old): 1.75 – 2.5 hours | 2 – 2.75 hours
  • *Average Total WT: 8 – 9 hours
  • Total Sleep Required: 14-15 hours
  • Average hours of night sleep (not incl. night wakings): 11- 12 hours
  • **Recommended wait time (before responding to night wakings): 15 minutes

Nap Requirements

  • ^Typical number of naps: 3 naps (3-4 hours in total)
  • Max Nap Length: 2 hours
  • ^^End naps by: 5:00PM

*This is calculated based on total wake time in the day, less off any night feeding, night wakes or over tiredness. It’s a bit of a chore to calculate this, so sometimes I skip this, although it’s an important stats for sleep training gurus.

** This is to allow sufficient time for the child to return to deep sleep. Time varies according to temperament, parent’s consistencies, etc.

^For nap transitions, refer to subsequent section.

^^ This is recommended if you need early bedtime to make up for sleep debt.

Suggested Schedules for 6 and 7 months old

*Reminder* EWS cycle: Eat, wake, sleep.

6-month old on 3-nap schedule

6:30/7:00AMWake up
8:30AM – 9:30AMNap 1 (No earlier than 8:15AM)
11:00AM – 11:30AMLunch
12:00PM – 1:15PMNap 2
3:45PM – 4:30PMNap 3 (common to be a 30-45 minutes’ catnap)
6:00/6:30PMBedtime routine
6:30/7:00PMBedtime (to be asleep by this time)

Night feeds:

  • 1 night-feeding (at least 6 hours after the bedtime feeding)
  • You can dream feed at 10:00PM and another at 5:00AM, eventually dropping the 5:00AM feed. Well rested babies without sleep dependencies are typically down to one night feed around 2:00AM.

7/8-month old on transiting from 3 to 2-nap schedule

6:30/7:00AMWake up
9:00AM – 10:15AMNap 1 (No earlier than 8:45AM)
11:00AM – 11:30AMLunch
1:00PM – 2:15PMNap 2
3:00PM – 4:00PMNap 3 (offer this catnap if first two naps are short)
5:00PMDinner^*
5:30/6:30PM Bedtime routine (without/with catnap)
6:00/7:00PM Bedtime (without/with catnap)

^* Offer the last nursing/bottle of the night with dinner or immediately before/after dinner to further separate feeding from sleeping.

Night feeds:

  • 1 night-feeding (at least 8 hours after the bedtime feeding)
  • If solids feeds are well-established, babies usually drop the night feed on their own by this age.
  • You can dream feed at 10:00PM and another at 5:00AM, eventually dropping the 5:00AM feed. Well rested babies without sleep dependencies are typically down to one night feed around 2:00AM.

About Nap Transitions


Sleep training is more challenging during nap transitions, so try to avoid this period if you can. When do nap transitions occur?

  • 4 to 3 naps: 4 – 5 months
  • 3 to 2 naps: 7 – 9 months
  • 2 to 1 nap: 12- 18 months

Early signs of nap transitions: shorter naps, more trouble at bedtime, unusual night wakings, earlier wakings.

From 5 to 6 months old: 4 to 3 naps

At 5th month, the WT between naps will lengthen. Baby is dropping that 4th nap for a solid 3-nap schedule by 6 months. Thus, bedtime needs to move earlier to compensate the loss of 4th nap.

At 7 months old: 3 naps

Usually, a sleep regression occurs around the 7 month because of sitting or crawling milestones and transitions to 2 naps. So as much as possible, try to keep 3 naps until close to 8 months old. This will ensure a smoother 3-2 nap transition. You may need to wake the baby and cap the naps so that all three naps happen before 5:00PM.

At 8 months old: 3 to 2 naps

The 3-2 nap transition begins at this age. If your child doesn’t transit, it can translate to bad night’s sleep. Schedule changes drastically from the beginning to the end of the 8th month. Again, an early bedtime is needed to account for the loss of the 3rd nap.


Age I decided to Sleep Train


A friend said the best time to sleep train her child is about four months old. This is the time the baby starts to develop steadier sleep rhythms and so with sleep training, they can get into good sleeping habits easier. Moreover, it’s easier to sleep train a baby who has yet to sit, crawl or stand. Softer protests and fewer worries during sleep training.

However, I read that for babies under 6 months, excessive wakings in the night are often due to hunger. Since I am latching exclusively, I couldn’t measure her milk intake. I was unsure if JBL was waking up because of hunger or not. I didn’t want to let JBL cry out when she was simply screaming for food. Hence, I prefer to sleep train after 6 months old. Yet you might not want to start at this age because this is when most babies are introduced to solids, although breastmilk or formula is still the baby’s main source of nutrition for the first year of life.

The majority of childcare experts are in agreement that by six month, a baby is capable of getting through the night without milk feeds.

The Complete Sleep Guide, by Gina Ford

Another friend sleep trained at what she thought was the best time, but only to find out in the middle of it that one tooth was coming out. So against her best intentions, she was sleep training him throughout the teething process.

Thus, there never seem to be a perfect time for sleep training, especially when there are so many milestones and growth happening in the baby’s first year. And it gets harder to train as baby becomes a toddler. Hence, it boils down to finding the right time that both the parents are ready for it.


Hope this quick guide to sleep training highlight some of the basics and key points to sleep training. Discuss with your spouse and decide what’s best for your child and yourselves: to sleep train or not, and if yes, when.

Remember that sleep training can be subjective because different sleep consultants say different things, different babies have different needs, and different parents have different styles. So at the end of the day, it’s really trial and error. Also, if one strategy doesn’t work, there is another out there. Don’t lose heart!

Stay tune for the second part to this sleep training series. In the meantime, let me know if you have any queries, or share with me your success/failure stories below.


Bibliography:

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