9 September 2009

Advice From The Sleep Professor

Professor Gregory Stores rang me earlier this week. Don't worry, he's not a random caller. He's one of the experts at The Pampers Village. I won the lovely A Modern Mother's Pampers Golden Sleep Train competition and this was my prize. I had an hour on the phone with a sleep professor. Would he be able to help my family get a good night's sleep?

Cash, who has just turned one, used to sleep for twelve hours per night, only rarely waking up. Over the last few months he's started waking at random times throughout the night, about once a week. All he wants to do is play, so one of us (usually me) takes him downstairs to play.

I know!

I can hear you shouting at your screens. Clearly this isn't helping him learn to sleep at night. For the sake of peace and quiet for the sleeping partner (Andy, who has to work the next day) we go and play. As I'm typing this I know how silly it sounds. Anyway, this is the problem I put to the Prof.

A few of you had questions for the Prof too. If anyone would like to read them, they are in the comments here. They follow a similar pattern to our little problem: babies who in the past have been capable of sleeping through, but now wake up at inconvenient times, or too early in the morning.

Drum roll please.....

Here is the advice:

First a little disclaimer. The advice given here is in the form of general principles. It is not intended to replace the advice of health care professionals. If you believe your child is unwell you should seek advice from your GP or HV. These principles only apply to children that are in good health. Oh, and all babies are different.

Okay, here is the advice, coming up.... now:

At around six months a baby develops its biological clock. They learn the difference between day and night. At around six months most babies no longer need a night feed, particularly as they move onto solid food.

To encourage proper day/night associations, try to make night feeds and nappy changes as quiet and calm as possible. Keep the lighting minimal, avoid talking and eye contact.

Sleeping though the night is a habit. If this habit becomes disrupted the baby may need help to get back into the habit. The disruption could be a heatwave, teething, a cold, too much light in the baby's room, loud noises, a change in routine, a holiday or any kind of upset.

It's important for your baby to learn to settle themselves. If you're at home, daytime naps are best taken in the night-time cot. Follow the same routine every day where you can. Put the baby in the cot and give a dummy and/or comforter and leave the room.

Daytime naps are important. If the baby has too little sleep in the day they will become over-tired and may not sleep well at night. The acid test to find out whether the baby has had the right amount of sleep during day is how easily they settle at night. If they have had too much sleep during the day they won't settle so well at night.

Waking up in the night is normal, but the baby needs to learn to self sooth.

Try not to go to your baby straightaway during the night, certainly not at the first sign they are waking.

When you go in, check for all the usual 'baby can't sleep because...' issues. You know, dirty nappy, leaking nappy, too hot, too cold, teething etc. Once you have eliminated all of the above, say goodnight and leave the room.

You shouldn't reward the baby who should be asleep with cuddles, a sneaky feed or playing downstairs with mummy.

You can see where this is heading, can't you?


Anyway, back to the advice...

If the baby is well, you leave them to cry. You can go in to check on them, but once it is clear they are otherwise okay you leave the room. They may cry for a long time the first night, but the crying will reduce each night. After a few nights they usually stop crying as they have learnt to settle themselves, or self-sooth.

Babies do not feel abandoned during controlled crying.

Controlled crying is a quick solution to what can be a long-term problem. It's in the whole family's interests to get a good night's sleep.

If, as a parent, you find this difficult, try getting support from your health visitor. Make sure you and your partner are both consistent in your approach to controlled crying.

The controlled crying technique can also be used for daytime naps and early wakers. If your baby wakes at 5 every morning and you have done the usual checks, let them stay in their cot until you are ready to get up.

Your baby won't come to any harm in their cot.

Controlled crying definitely works.


So, there you have it.

I found the Prof easy to talk to. We had a chuckle about my horrified reaction to controlled crying. I believe I said 'you mean you leave them to cry? Oh no!'.

I've never left a baby to cry in my two years as a mother. It goes against every maternal bone in my body. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a co-sleeping, continuum mum - our bed isn't big enough for a start. Both my boys slept better once they were moved into their own rooms at seven months.

We do have a sleep problem though. I'm getting on a bit (it's the big 40, or the big-four-oh-dear next year) and Andy and I both feel pretty shattered most of the time. So what do we do?

This is a head verses heart dilemma.

Do I follow my head and take the Prof's advice? Or do I follow my heart and go to my baby when he cries?

If I go with the former, I'm going to follow the controlled crying technique as explained by the fabulous Rachel at Really Rachel. I can see from the comments on this post that controlled crying seems to work, but I'm not sure I've got it in me to try.

If I go with the latter, I can guarantee Andy will never agree to baby number three, we're just too tired.

What will we do? Watch this space...



  1. Great post as usual Sandy, I am afraid I could just never make myself hold out with the controlled crying, just made me feel like a horrible mother, even though I know it shouldn't have, and I admire those who were able to follow it through.

    Hope you find something that works for you and Cash

  2. Just dropping by from Chic Mama. As the mother of an almost 15 year old; it works. It really, really works. It will be the hardest thing you ever do - but it is necessary. My boy wouldn't sleep for ANYTHING as a baby. Finally, I caved and took this advice. When he'd cry, I'd either get on the phone or go outside (with the door cracked; just in case). It only took a day or two. And then, he knew. Bedtime meant bedtime. Like I said, it's hard (because who wants to hear a baby cry?) but it works.

  3. I had four of them. While I was in my thirties/early forties. I slept with them and breastfed them. I always went to them when they cried. I don't really think it's a bad thing. I suppose everyone's entitled to their opinion. You have to do what's right for you.

    Thanks for your lovely comment on my potd the other day and for your good wishes. I love reading your blog too.

  4. I've just done it for two nights and got my sleep through little girl back again.

    It was a tough couple of nights, but we have both come through it ok and now sleep better.

    I never, ever thought I would do it, but things change when you have the baby!

    Good luck

  5. Oh I was such a hardass when it came to sleep. I would check that she was dry, fed and not jammed her leg between the bars or anything dangerous then I just let her cry. I was hell but she was colicky for a while so we'd set up some crappy sleeping habits that NEEDED to be changed. Took a couple of days and thank you sweet jeebus she goes down around 7:30 and will sleep until 8:30 if I let her (which I usually do- what??!?!)

  6. I am such a softy when it comes to my children, but even I use the controlled crying thing. It sounds much worse than it is. And I truly believe the kids end up happier and healthier. And we all get some sleep.

    What it came down to was that whenever a child wouldn't settle properly and wasn't sick or in discomfort, I would go in and reassure them every minute twice, maybe three times, and then every five minutes. I think this has brought us, between two children, maybe a total of an hour's crying, over six years. Not so bad at all. And they are not harmed for life. The key is to be one hundred percent consistent. You have to have a clear plan and stick to it.

    What I do have is children who will sleep through twelve plus hours most nights. When they cry, I can now be pretty certain there's actually something wrong.

    I'm guessing if you introduce the method this late in the game, you are going to have a little more crying than we did, but I'm also guessing within a week you will have some sleep and your baby will be much happier and less tired. And not crying.

    Good luck whatever you decide!

  7. I haven't had to confront the issue yet, but I dread it. I think I've deluded myself into thinking it's just all going to fall into place as we've been pretty lucky so far, but I guess time will tell!

    Good luck with whatever you decide xx

  8. Lorraine, thanks, I hate it when they cry. I wish someone had a magic wand!

    Gigi, wow, only a day or two sounds encouraging. Good idea about getting outside. Thanks for stopping by.

    Gaelikaa, I've never let mine cry either, but someone I know never gets up to her children in the night. We're all different. You're welcome re POTD x

    Surprised, another two day testimonial! You're right about your ideas before you have a baby and after!

    Lindy, it must have been so hard having a baby with colic. Great to hear how much sleep she (and you) get now :-)

    Mwa, thanks for the advice. I'm glad you managed it with only an hour of crying. I just worry my little boy would be the exception! I suppose starting at twelve months won't be easy either. I like the sound of him only crying when there's something to cry about. I'll let you know... x

    Leslieanne, thank you and fingers crossed LD is a model sleeper x


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