Sleep Train 101

Hello. I have a seventeen month old baby girl. She is still napping twice a day for 1 1/2-2 hours per nap. I try to keep a consistent night time schedule by giving her a bath before bedtime. Alyssa will get sleepy after a bath by 7:30/8:00. A few times she seemed to have a “second wind” I guess because she is finally learning how to walk more.

Alyssa usually goes to bed between 7:45-8:30. I never know if she will sleep through the night though. One night she slept until 6:15 am. The next night she woke up around 2:30 am only to get up around 5:20 am. With most mornings getting up between 5:00 and 5:20. This inconsistency is driving me crazy at times. Luckily I don’t have to get up for a job!

What can I do to get her to sleep more consistently? When she wakes up in the middle of the night I do go to her. Sometimes it is for her binky but other times I try to rock her to sleep. Her room is next door to my room. My husband has to go to work in the middle of the night so that is partly why I still get up to comfort Alyssa (so my husband can sleep). I know bringing her in our bed is wrong. I do that mainly when I know she is getting up for the morning. But one night recently she was hysterical crying and I was afraid to put her back in her crib. I can’t rock a baby so long when I am tired! Any advice is appreciated.

P.S. I usually put her in for her first nap between 8:00/8:30 am and her second nap between 1:00 and 2:00 pm. But these are the times she rubs her eyes usually.


Hi Amy,

This is probably THE #1 question we get. So rest assured, you’re not alone.

It sounds like you’re aware that business-as-usual isn’t working well for your family. No one’s getting good rest, but you don’t know how to go about changing the sleep pattern, and we can help with that. Your little cutie-pie is definitely working you. She’s been trained to do that by the habits you’ve all gotten into, but have no fear — you can RE-train her in, at most, 5 days.

First, choose a 5 day stretch when your schedule is as typical as possible. The technique doesn’t work well when you’re away from home or your routine is disrupted. Consistency is the key.

It sounds like you already have a bedtime ritual (the bath) and that’s great. Water time is relaxing for toddlers and helps them release the energy of the day. You may want to follow the bath with a quiet cuddle activity, like reading a story or singing lullabies — anything that makes her feel close and loved, but doesn’t encourage a second wind.

Then it’s time to lay her in the crib, say your goodnights, and quietly leave her room and close the door. Don’t try to get her to fall asleep in your arms. The goal is to teach her to fall asleep on her own so that IF she wakes up later during the night, she can put herself back to sleep again. This is an important and empowering skill for her.

If she cries when you leave the room wait 5 minutes (you’ll need a clock for this, ’cause every minute will seem much longer) before going to the closed door and reassuring her with your calm voice. Something like … “You’re OK, Alyssa. Mommy’s here and I love you” works well. If she continues to cry (and she likely will) wait another 5 minutes and repeat the same mantra at the door. Continue this every 5 minutes until she falls asleep.

On night #1 this may take awhile. Hang tough! Remember, this is a training program. She’s learning a new skill that takes practice. If she wakes during the night repeat the same process. Go to the door every 5 minutes and let her hear your soothing voice. Do not go into the room. No matter what. Chances are, this won’t be easy for you. You’ll be tired and frazzled. You’ll feel guilty. Remind yourself that you’re teaching something really important. And that it will take 5 days or less.

Repeat this every night, no exceptions. Each night you’ll find that the crying periods get shorter as she learns the skill. Trust the process, stick with it, and don’t enter the room.

A few caveats about the technique:

Before you start, make sure that her crib is a safe place and there’s nothing in it that will cause you worry later. Dress her comfortably so you’re not concerned about the temperature or binding clothing. If she uses a binky, make sure she’s got more than one within reach.

You may need to shorten her nap time to encourage a longer sleep stretch at night. Try abbreviating that second nap a bit. Wake her 5 minutes earlier each day, wash her face (or whatever helps her wake up), and energize her with an active game. Shoot for shortening the nap time by at least 1/2 hour to an hour.

Once you start the training, be committed to sticking with it for 5 days no matter what. If you do, it will work. But if you backslide by going into the room to comfort or hold her, you’ll have to begin all over again and it will probably be tougher.

Remember, you’re teaching a skill. If she learns mid-way through that she just needs to scream louder and longer to get you to fold, she’ll understand that she can outlast you. Not good.

Very often, this method works in less than 5 days. Sometimes in as little as 3. But be prepared for 5 and you won’t be disappointed. You’ll all be sleeping better and longer.

To take a look at our answer for the mom of another rockin’ toddler, click here.

Good Luck!

~ The Mamas

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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One response to “Sleep Train 101”

  1. Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves.

    […] more tips, see our past post, Rock-a-Bye Baby.  Email This […]

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