To Sleep or Not to Sleep: Parents Control that Question

My son’s sleep issues are infamous in our neck of the woods.

He didn’t regularly sleep through the night until age 6.

The poor kid had issues—colic, asthma, hip dysplasia—and spent most of his first year crying and coughing while sporting an uncomfortable-looking leg harness.

He rarely slept, and I responded to every call, cough and cry—even after he outgrew his issues. I was desperate for sleep, but my actions enabled him to continue his nighttime no-nos for years.

“The sooner you get your sleep issues set, the easier it’s going to be,” says Dr. Virginia DePaul of North Suburban Pediatrics. “The main trick is to teach them to fall asleep without you in the room.”

DePaul says the older your child is when you sleep train, the longer it will take. At 4 months it might take 15-20 minutes; at 9 months, about an hour; and over a year, it could take 2-3 hours for a child to learn to sleep without your help.

“If they fall asleep in your arms and wake up in the night—as everyone does after 7 months of age—they will jump out of their sleep,” she says. “It’s the absence of the parent that is waking the child.”

Here’s advice I could have used from moms who have also encountered sleep issues:

“In the early months, my son would not sleep. It was awful. Once we became so matter-of-fact about ‘now it’s time to sleep, here’s where you sleep, no games about it,’ he quickly adapted. Now he’s quite awesome.”
Alisa Gilhooley Brown, Skokie

“Keep a clean stroller as an ‘inside’ stroller. Stroll around the house to help infants sleep in the middle of the night.”
Alyssa Weller, Glenview

“Letting your baby cry it out a few nights is easier than dealing with issues for months. A glass of wine helps—for you, not your baby.”
Jennifer Wade, Northbrook

“Get support from family and friends, and switch off nights with your spouse so you can get at least 4-5 hours of unbroken sleep. If you need professional help, don’t be afraid to ask. You’d be amazed at how many people have dealt with this and have had to get help or medication or therapy.”
Nili Yelin, Wilmette

“My child learned to sleep through the night early but got sick and experienced chronic night waking until she was nine months old. Once she was better, I should have weaned her off night nursing. As my pediatrician put it: ‘If my wife got up and made me a sandwich at 1 a.m. every night, after awhile, I’d probably start waking up and be hungry for a sandwich. It wouldn’t mean I really needed to eat then, though.’”
Becky Gillespie, Lincoln Square