Sleep!! What an important topic. By no means am I an expert but I was just given some pretty good advice recently so thought I would share it with you guys.
About one month ago Jase and I found ourselves at a complete loss with our four year old son, Paxton and his sleeping. He was in and out of his room at bedtime. He was then waking in the middle of the night and shouting down the whole house, going in and out of his room and into our room. Then he was also waking early each morning and waking up the whole house at the same time. It was a total mess! And we were a total mess. This was going on for almost three months. At the start we assumed it was a phase that would just pass. Maybe some bad dreams that were waking him. But it clearly wasn’t…
As a dog trainer and someone super interested in analysing behaviour and using positive reinforcement, we tried ignoring the bad behaviour and rewarding the good behaviour. But we got to a point where there wasn’t very much ‘good’ happening to reward and we were at a loss. Paxton’s overall mood was shit! He was just exhausted. We were all sleep deprived and Jase and I found ourselves bickering at each other. So we decided it was time for professional help. I reached out to my amazing social media community and someone put me onto an amazing sleep consultant. We booked in a 60 min phone consult with her. We grabbed a bottle of wine and we just chatted and chatted. She asked us 1000 questions and we gave her heaps of information before she gave us a plan of attack.
The Key Points from our conversation with the Sleep Consultant about what was going on…
- The underlying issue was that Paxton was over-tired. This was making him wired. Releasing cortisol which was why he was so wide awake when coming into our room at 12am, 1am 2am, 3am, etc.
- At his age, he should be getting 12 hours uninterrupted sleep. He was falling short about 2.5 hours each night.
- It was time to set some boundaries and be a little tougher. The aim was for him to no longer be getting out of his bed and to be able to go back to sleep on his own.
- Sleep promotes Sleep – so the more overtired he was the worse it was.
- Stick to a strict bedtime routine. Consistency is key and keep it simple.
First plan of attack was to try and change some things in his environment to help…
- Darker room. We did this by blacking out his windows, something I never saw myself doing but at that point we were willing to give anything a go. We also removed the grow clock. The Sleep Consultant says that the grow clock is too bright so will inhibit the melatonin (sleep hormone) which we need to help us sleep plus he shouldn’t need it to tell him when to wake as his body should be able to tell him this.
- Earlier bedtime. Aim for 6-6.30pm – at least start the bedtime routine at 6pm. The earlier the better as he had lots of sleep to catch up on.
- Make him warmer. Warm pjs, sleep suit over the top. Heater on. Often night waking at this age and younger can be because they’re not able to move their doona onto them properly and as a result are waking in the early hours of the morning feeling cold and then struggling to warm up and get back to sleep.
- Good diet and dinner not too early. Try and get a well-balanced healthy dinner into him. Veggies, proteins, carbs. No dessert after dinner besides a little fruit and yoghurt if need be. We already did this but he doesn’t always eat it. So we started talking about the importance of good food helping us grow big and strong and it seriously got him eating better. Because of our baby I was making dinner too early, so she suggested we push dinner out to 5pm – no earlier to make sure he has a full belly and not waking hungry.
- Positive Reinforcement. Paxton needed lots of positive reinforcement and praise for anything good related to sleeping and staying in his room quietly. We now have a specific Sleep Sticker Chart in his room and for 5 nights of staying in his room he gets something very special.
- What to do when he woke during the night. When Paxton would come into our room, we just had to walk him back to his room and say goodnight. Close the door and walk straight out. We are Paxton’s reward. So every time he would get up and get to us, it was reinforcing this behaviour. So we needed to limit contact and interactions with him. The ultimate goal was for him not to be getting to us because rather he should be sleeping…
We gave all of the above a proper crack for two weeks. But the environmental changes just weren’t enough for Paxton. According to the Sleep Consultant, his night waking appeared to be a behavioural issue.
Second Plan of attack when environmental factors were not fully solving our problem…
- For Paxton, the temptation of being able to open his bedroom door and walk straight into our room, was just too tempting. So we needed to stop this from happening. Our bedroom is directly opposite his. I had a real problem with the idea of locking the door when the Sleep Consultant suggested it, it just didn’t sit well for me. But then Jase made me realise that when Paxton first moved into his bedroom and into his big boy bed, the door handle was too high for him to reach, so technically he was locked in his room and back then we had no issues. We needed to mimic this to fully remove temptation and it would only be short term.
- Paxton needed to learn that his bedroom was for sleeping only and remove all temptations. Due to Paxton’s early waking for such a long time, we had constantly been adding things in his room to try keep him occupied until it was wakeup time. Books, toys, etc. But the problem was, he would literally wake up at 5am, turn the light on and start playing. So we also removed everything and anything from his room that he could play with, any books, water bottle, tissues, games. Everything gone.
After making sure Paxton could no longer open his door, and removing everything in his room he could play with, we had one terrible night and one average night, then after a really good pep talk from our Sleep Consultant, we were smooth sailing. He didn’t feel fully comfortable with us closing his door at bedtime so we made a deal and left his door just the slightest bit open when going to sleep then shut it when we went to bed. Jase and I just needed to stay strong and absolutely ignore him if we heard a peep. For our peace of mind we did pop the monitor back in the room just so we could see him and know he was ok.
When this was all happening, during the day time and before bed, we talked a lot with Paxton about what we were doing and why. And about how good he would feel once he was sleeping better. We made a little mantra with him too that we would say in bed each night, where we made him touch each finger to his thumb and say “I am safe, I am loved, I am calm, I am loved , I’m ok.” After all that, he literally stopped waking and started sleeping through. And once we saw him wake at 2am, get out of bed, walk to the door then quietly put himself back into his bed.
One month after our first consult with the Sleep Consultant, and we have had a solid 2 weeks of sleeping 6.30pm-6.30am!! We couldn’t be more thankful and grateful to her for all of her help. And we also couldn’t be prouder of Paxton. He has done amazing and is like a new kid! And the same with us!
Everyone’s child is different. Everyone’s stories are different. BUT sleep is SO important. For brain development, to recharge our bodies and our minds. So if you are having issues and they are going on and on, first try the environmental tips above and if still no luck, go and get some help. Sleep deprivation is the pits and no one deserves to go through it.