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7 Days to Chunky Naps and 11 Hour Nights – Reader Q&A

reader mailbag sleep training

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This post is part of a monthly series where I invite newsletter subscribers to ask me questions and I share our email exchange with readers. If you want to participate in a future Q&A session just sign up for the newsletter for more details on how to join in!

I’m really glad I found your blog. Sheesh, the internet is a SCARY place, and I’m so relieved to find your safe, understandable unbiased little island of inspiration!

What I need help with is establishing a routine. I need an initial outline. I’m a terrible habit-former. As in, I smoked cigarettes for a few months, then one day realized I hadn’t smoked a cigarette in a while because I FORGOT TO SMOKE THEM. I don’t wake up to an alarm because I can’t get into the habit of setting one in the first place. I eat, generally, during the day at various points when I wonder why my stomach hurts and then realize I have hunger.

So you see where my main problem lies, and add to it the sleep deprivation is creating fantastical worries of child protective services coming in and declaring us unfit because the infant won’t sleep.

I’ve been reading everything on your blog, and I think we’re at the cry it out stage. Caleb is almost 11 months old and we had a great thing going for a while and then dundunDUUUN – the holidays, travel, in-laws, and catastrophic schedules. It was like a sleep tsunami.

Then I had him going down with a little (5-10 minutes) crying, but my LOVING PARTNER IS A YELLOW BELLIED SAP SUCKER and nixed it because he “doesn’t like it!”. I will admit to you if you never ever ever let him find out that partly I think I may have gone back to boobing the baby to sleep out of spite, instead of sticking to my guns and getting him on board. I am equally at fault. Never tell.

But now, Caleb is too big for a swing, a method I thought would work well since he loves being in the Ergo. He’ll sleep in ten minutes if I walk him in that but that. He’s exhibiting crappy day time naps, late bed time, and frequent wakings, and I’m exhibiting the defeated “fine, I’ll let you nurse just sleep for the love of god!” behaviors.

Also, this child has decided to be a “thrasher” and every morning around 4 am when he’s usually in our bed he begins to toss and turn and throw himself around. I have bruises on my face from his head smashing into mine as he violently tries to “snuggle”.

His bedtime is around 10:30 now too when it used to be 8pm.

I’m going to give you what I’ve come up with for a plan, and see if it’s even remotely reasonable. My higher functions are dull so I don’t trust myself to retain much of what I’m reading. Would you let me know where any faults or flaws lie in this approach? How can I mail you chocolate and presents for your help?

The Proposed Sleep Plan

Night 1:
9:00pm – Caleb gets a bath.
9:15pm – Caleb gets lotion and jammies.
9:30pm – Move to bedroom, Caleb gets stories while we nurse.
9:45pm – Loud white noise, lights dim, a little snuggle-bounce, maybe a song.
10:00pm – Caleb in crib. Kisses, good night song, leave the room.
10:05pm – If he’s crying, go in to soothe. No talking, just lay him back down and give a few head rubs. Leave.
10:15pm – Repeat.
10:30pm – Repeat.
10:45pm – repeat? How long do I keep going with this? Assume he sleeps by 11 per usual.

Then he wakes up around 1:30-2am when I normally nurse him and bring him to my bed. (Rarely I’ve been able to rock him back to sleep w/o nursing). Should I feed him? Should I leave him to cry? How long? Do I go in to soothe him?

Night 2: Begin process at 8:45pm

Night 3: begin at 8:30

Night 4: begin at 8:15

etc until 7:30-8pm is bedtime and he sleeps by himself.

Will fixing bedtime fix naptime as well? What do I do about the terrible day time sleeping? Do I make sure he’s not nursing when he wakes up that first time BEFORE we try to let him CIO? After? Is that 4am nurse still a legit feed at 11 months old or can he make it to breakfast? I didn’t even know night weaning was a thing…

Oh gosh this email is so long. It feels like I’m telling you the same story you’ve heard a million times. I hope this all sounds typical and you can offer some guidance or point me to some specific articles and passages on your blog to study (powers of retention are very limitied these days… I may have read the answers, I have no idea.)

One Thing at a Time

Hey Jennifer,

You can definitely mail me chocolates but you may not want to because I’ve already emailed your husband and told him all about your spiteful night nursing so probably that killed all your chocolate-sending instincts. *sigh*

Methinks there are 3 different things going on and you probably want to tackle one at a time vs. all at once:
#1. Naps are crappy.
#2. Bedtime is waay too late (you must be EXHAUSTED).
#3. He’s nursing to sleep and thus nursing all night. You’re also co-sleeping but you don’t want to. And you’re getting cuddle wounds, so that’s not really working out for anybody.

As a result of this you’re all pretty wiped out. But sadly you can’t fix everything all at once, much as you might want to.

The Sleep Training Plan, Bedtime, and Naps

If you’re going to do CIO you need to put him down when he’s used to going to sleep. What time does he fall asleep now? 10:30 PM? So THAT’S his bedtime. Do CIO at THAT time. Yes it’s too late and all the baby books talk about not letting your baby become overtired so there is a tendency to rush to an early bedtime to avoid the dreaded “overtired baby syndrome.” But Caleb’s biological rhythms are currently set up to sleep AT 10:30 PM so putting him down earlier is quite likely to lead to him simply crying until 10:30 PM.

Personally I would strongly advocate for no checks but your sapsucker probably isn’t keen on that. Fine – checks are acceptable. But don’t muck with the time he falls asleep until at least 5 days post-CIO so that you get him falling to sleep solo settled in BEFORE you start mucking with bedtime.

You don’t mention what time Caleb wakes up. Often kids who have a really late bedtime also sleep late(ish). For those kids, you want to wake them up earlier to shift things up. So if caleb is sleeping 10-11 hours at night and thus waking up at 8/9 AM you’ll want to start shifting his nights up by waking him up ~15 minutes earlier each day (9:00 AM, 8:45 AM, 8:30 AM, etc.) If however he wakes up fairly early (6/7 AM) already your plan of inching bedtime up by 15 minutes a day is a good one.

So start with sleep training at bedtime aka helping Caleb fall asleep without nursing. Then work on shifting bedtime up. Your goal is to do what you can do to extend his night sleep to 10-11 hours. Because increasing the duration and quality (fewer wakeups not changing location) during the night will create a much stronger foundation for your success with naps.

And yes an almost 1 year old can definitely go without food for 11-12 hours. Of course if he’s used to eating a ton at night he’ll continue to demand to do so. Night weaning is DEFINITELY a thing. For sure. But often the desperate and constant night nursing is really about his boob=sleep association that is created AT bedtime. When you separate nursing from bedtime the constant night waking/nursing can quickly and organically turn into 1-2X feedings at night. At his age you’ll definitely want to gradually wean off those feeds but Caleb won’t fight you on it so viciously once you’ve separated the boob=sleep association at bedtime.

So think of this list as your “to do” but remember things go more smoothly when you do one thing at a time.
[list type=”numlist”]

  1. Bedtime Sleep Training

    He falls asleep solo. No nursing near to bedtime.

  2. Bedtime Shifts Earlier

    Either by waking him earlier or by gently moving bedtime up.

  3. Everybody Gets More Sleep

    Total # of hours of sleep at night increases substantially!

  4. Naptime

    Work on putting Caleb down for naps while still awake.


And Then What Happened?

Holy crap. It’s working.

Now, I don’t want to get to excited and do something stupid and mess it up again, but we are now on Day 10, and not only has he slept through the night the last two nights, but he’s going down to sleep with hardly any grumbling at all.

I took your advice about bedtime and just started inching it up after he was showing good progress and responding to the new bedtime routine. Last night he went to sleep at 9 pm, a full hour and half earlier than he was going to bed the last few months. THANK YOU GODS.

We kinda did everything all at once, though. I started before I received your response, and figured I’d best not mix things up AGAIN so I continued with the double-down of trying to fix naps and night time at once. For my kid, I think it was a good choice. But I’d hesitate to advise anyone else on doing it this way. I think this guy is more responsive if he knows what to expect all the time and the consistency of nap time and bedtime having similar routines helped him figure it out, I think.

So it looks like I am made good progress with #1 and #4 in your plan, at the same time, and now we’re beginning #2 by moving bedtime up slowly. Partly this seems to be happening naturally and I’m trying not to rush it. He’s still rising about the same time though, so it seems #2 will fall into place naturally extending the length of night sleep he gets. It feels like it’s all working out relatively smoothly though!

I’m so glad I found your site, and all it’s great advice and thank you so much for the personal response. Having a solid resource to present to my ever-loving sapsucker really helped too. He read your links and was less adverse to CIO, even though the ONE night I asked him to go in when the baby woke up at midnight he went in there for 15 minutes came back out with the kid still wailing and was like “I tried for like, an hour!” (WEAKLING. This is why the women bear the children. I see it now.) Now, though, that the baby barely even grumbles to sleep and stays down for 8 hours, Papa is fully supporting the endeavor!

I took notes this first week and for the purposes of research and data (aka, reminding myself what the heck I did when the next kid comes around), I’ve included it here.

Jennifer (100% less likely to want to murder a loved one), Michael (the sapsucker/Papa) and Caleb (the now peacefully sleeping cherub)


Night #1

9:00pm – Nursed. Potty time, clean diaper and jammies.
9:20pm – Move to bedroom, books in bed; held and rocked. White noise on loud. Laid down, kisses. Left room. (9:35)
5 minute timer – Went in to hug, no holding. Sing, head rubs, lay back down. (5 min? 9:45)
10 minute timer – Went in, hug, laid down. Left room. (2 min? 9:50)
10:00pm – silence, baby sleeps!
11:00 pm – I go to bed.
4:30 am – Woke crying. Nursed, rocked. Put down.
4:45 am – Woke. Put back down. No nursing, just a little head rub.
5:00 am – Woke, or still awake. Sent Michael in, he gave up by 5:13am. I went in, took Caleb to cuddle, no nursing, slept til 7 am.

notes: even this first night was less typical. He seems to “get it” a bit already. Fingers crossed…

Day #2, Naps

#1 – 10:30 (9:30 nursed), clean pants, potty time, white noise in room. Held and rocked. Settled nicely in my arms. Put down, some head rubs, some fussing, went to sleep.
12:00 – woke

#2 – 2:30 pm clean diaper, white noise, rocking. Settles somewhat. Nursed laying on my side, but he got restless, so I laid him in the crib.
5 minute timer – soothe. lay down.
10 minute timer – soothe, lay down. Slept 3:10.
5:00 pm – woke

Night #2

9:00pm – potty w/ Michael, jammies, diaper. Nursed ~8:30pm
9:30pm – story, rocking, lights out, white noise, Thomas in room for observational purposes. Laid down, left. Crying.
5 minute timer – went in , cuddled, laid himself down after a quick minute. BIG sigh. Left room.
10:00 pm – asleep! no fussing.

note: so glad he’s recognizing that he can lay himself down! I thought this was a big step for him, since he has never shown that sort of acceptance (defeat?) before.

Night #3

9:30 – bedtime routine, forgot to write down timers. No memory. ugh.
12:45 – woke. I thought it was 4 am so I nursed him back to sleep :/
3:00 am – woke, took him to cuddle til 7 am. Obviously. still sleep deprived. ugh.

Day #4

Naps got all messed up during errands.

Night #4

9:30 – bedtime routine, nursed first. Stories, etc. Cried when I put him down.
5 minute timer – cried, soothed. Laid down. No holding.
10 minute timer – soothed, head rubs.
15 minute timer – went to sleep before it was up.
4:00 am – Woke. Yay! Nursed to sleep, laid down. Woke right up. Soothed again, and laid down.
8:00 am – woke!

notes: nap and night time def related with this guy. Bad naps made night time a little more difficult. But pretty good compared to last week. He was really ready for this and all signs point to successful outcomes.

Day #5

Nap #1 – skipped, brunch w/ friend
Nap #2 – 2:10, fell asleep on Michael shoulder during our walk, slept ~1 hour in the cargo bike as we walked around the ‘hood. Great weather for outdoor napping! (Also, add to list of places I can get my baby to sleep!)

Night #5

9:15- Bath, jammies. potty.
9:40 – lavendar on temples, lights down, white noise, 2 stories. Rocked in arms. Laid down. He quietly tossed and turned. No cries.
9:50 – left room. Quiet.
10:00 – peek thru keyhole – asleep! no timers needed.
3:00 am – woke, nursed, laid down. Cried a bit. Laid back down. Head rubs.
6:30 – woke. White noise cut out! gggrrr. Stupid radio.

notes: personal goal of getting him to nap anywhere is being realized! Also, white noise effect proven! Need a more reliable radio/machine.

Day #6

Nap #1
9:30 – diaper, white noise, some rocking and cuddles. Laid down, briefly then picked up to get him drowsier. Rocked more, laid down. Toss and turn, head rubs, left room. One squawk, then silent.
12:20 – woke!

Nap #2
3:30 pm – diaper noise rocking. Laid down. Cried.
5” timer – Soothed, laid back down.
10” timer – Fell asleep (bit rougher than AM nap.)
4:20 – woke. stupid radio cut off again.

Night #6

8:30 – Sponge bath, nurse.
9:00 pm – Noise, lavender, stories, rocking (lights out completely now). Put down awake. Toss and turned a few minutes.
5” timer – cried 3” then sleep.
1:45 – woke, soothed, laid down, went to sleep.
3:30 – nursed. radio out again. accidentally fell asleep with him on the bunk. 🙁
7:45 – woke.

note: radio batteries died. Plugged it in instead. Hope this hasn’t mucked it all up.

Day #7

Nap #1
10:00 am – diaper, potty; noise and a quick snuggle, laid down. Cried as I left.
5” timer – soothed. Laid down.
10” timer – cried, then quiet, not asleep.
11:00 am – awake, but calm and quiet. Leaving him be.
12:00 – crying out. No sleep. 🙁

Nap #2
3:00pm – after bike ride/park, clean diaper, nursed in room with noise, laid down, fussed. Head rubs, then left room. No cry, passed out!

Night #7

8:30 – nurse, potty, diaper/jammies. Noise low lights, 2 stories. Seemed ready to sleep, so I laid him down with no rocking. Toss and turn a bit, 2 songs. Left room, no crying.
9:00 pm – asleep!
6:30 am – Woke up, cried a few minutes, then slept another hour. Michael picked him up at 7:30ish.


Closing Thoughts

Jennifer made HUGE progress in 7 days. The keys were that she was persistent and consistent for both nights and naps. She started where Caleb’s bedtime was instead of where she wished it to be. Also she never lost hold of her amazing sense of humor. Is persistence, consistency, and a sense of humor enough to get you through the dark days of sleep deprivation?

Yeah pretty much.

Clearly I used Jennifer’s email because she is hysterical AND included all the nitty gritty details. Because I’m assuming you want details. Is this true or is this TL:DR?

And also to hopefully give you some hope. You could be 7 days away from some really great stuff. Honestly!

Did her journey resonate with you? Anybody have anything they want to share?

And don’t forget, if you want to participate in future Q&A sessions you can only do so by subscribing to my awesome and free newsletter. Cheers!