"Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” Never mind snoring, if you don’t sleep, no one wants to come near the grumpy, raccoon-eyed monster anyway.
When you become a mother, you give up the right to sleep. Initially your days are divided into three-hour sessions between feeds and nappy changes.
Although you have given up your figure, wine, preservatives, sugar, fizzy drinks, coffee, fish, chocolate, rest, exercise regime, perky breasts and lower abdominal features to produce a healthy and happy bundle of joy, society expels any possibility of you being anything but this portrait of bliss.
Society places such pressure on mothers and fathers to cope. What’s worse is that they expect it to be easy. If you are able to cope in these demanding conditions, you should put on your superhero costume and cape and say to yourself: “Job well done”.
Since life is unpredictable, the one thing you are able to control are your children’s sleeping patterns should you train them from an early age. If you get this right, you will be saving your marriage, your metabolism and your sanity.
I love being a mother and would not change it for the world. I would, however, have started sleep-training my children earlier. My eldest has just turned eight and my youngest will be six next month. I have only now mastered the art of sleep routine and independent sleeping.
I was one of those mothers who would be told that other mums had their infants sleeping through from six weeks.
At my youngest son’s sixth birthday party I will finally say that my children are now falling asleep by themselves.
Obviously factors, such as temperament, health and support, play a role. Joshua having nearly died at birth, then fighting a three-month battle and my husband working hospitality shifts, I was not brave enough to venture down this road alone. Unfortunately, the later you leave it, the longer it takes.
I would often fall asleep next to the boys or on the floor and only wake up after 10pm to then eat dinner and bath.
I decided to take my control back. I made the decision there was never a better time than the present, and guess what? They are now doing it.
You can do it too. Let’s start by discussing sleep routine:
After a certain number of weeks, if your baby has already started to sleep through, “let sleeping dogs lie!” If not, anywhere between four and six months of age is a good time to start
Keep to the following:
● One method
● Daytime ritual
● Bedtime ritual
If you choose a method, stick to it. For example, if you choose to diet, diet with either Weight Watchers, Weigh-Less or Banting. Amalgamating all three will give you worse-off results, possibly even the opposite effect.
Cold turkey: This approach requires strength (and possibly an abundance of wine). Here you allow your baby to cry it out. Eventually they will realise you are not responding and fall asleep independently by means of self-soothing.
“Crying it out” does not mean left to cry for long periods. If your baby does not calm down, you re-enter the room and console without ever picking up baby. This method was invented by Dr Richard Ferber and can be done, provided the child is not injured, sick or negatively affected in any way.
No tears: This is a more comforting approach for parents and baby; however, it can take longer. Every time the baby cries, you pick it up. This may encourage dependency rather than self-soothing; however, keep putting baby into his or her cot when calm to set a precedent for sleep time.
Gradual approach: This approach is a weaning process. The parent moves further and further away from the baby until no longer in the room. When out of the room, you can pop in every so often to prove you are still nearby.
I personally feel the last approach is the best one. I could not tolerate the first and with the second I found it defeated the object of the training. In fact, I found it resembled the theory of Pavlov’s dog in reverse.
Whatever you decide to do, make it a joint decision and a team effort. Holding one person liable is a great burden to carry and having different methods only confuses the child and creates an insecure atmosphere all round.
We all need routine in our lives. Routine generates expectation, which gives rise to security. Routines act as signals, screening our way through the day, hinting at meal times, nap times, play times, bath times and so on. Your baby will realise that bed comes after bath time after repeated exposure. This makes it easier to settle your baby later because there is no element of surprise.
If you practise the same procedure with regard to times and activities, you won’t need to train them as much. As previously mentioned, I did not sleep-train my children, and if I could redo it all, I would do so before the age of one. The baby is still young enough not to have night terrors, the memory bank is extremely limited; he or she cannot manipulate you and cannot climb out of their cot. My circumstances were different in that when you nearly lose a child, you can stomach the sleeplessness in return for his or her well-being.
Now my children are old enough to reason with and although their manipulation is rarely used to take me on, I am stronger and wiser to ricochet it comfortably. If you are doing as I have and are sleep-training a school-going child, keep the following in mind.
This again is where predictability comes to play. Without saying the child knows what is coming next and can psychologically prepare for it.
Get into the habit of switching off all screens an hour or more before bed. Whether it be television, cellphone or iPad, the light on the screen and the visual stimuli activate the brain rather than prepare it for sleep.
You initially need to keep the child interested, so bite the bullet and reward him or her daily until a routine has been embedded. Your child will not be motivated if he or she has to wait a week for a reward, rightly or wrongly. Choose your battles, it’s temporary – a sacrifice for a permanent solution.
Reward children with a free app download or a new book from the library. These things don’t compromise their health and don’t cost a thing. It has worked for me and I am better for it. I now can enjoy my children before bedtime, rather than dreading it.
I hope my experience has inspired you to not give up and shown you it’s never too late. As Pablo Picasso once said: “Action is the foundational key to all success.”
● Lee Koetser is a remedial therapist with more than 10 years' experience. She specialises in developing programmes to build learning bridges for pupils.