When we last left Sleep Tactics Ayla needed to obliterate our pinky fingers in order to get to sleep. Exiting the room, once what remained of your digit was prized free, was also an ominous task. We’d heard about controlled crying but were still in denial she would miraculously nod off without us lying by her. This is the point we started to look for advice.
As an adult, as soon as my head hits the pillow I can be out like a light. My wife meanwhile struggles to get to sleep as all of her thoughts seem to keep her awake. She often needs other distractions to nod off. She’s been known to fall asleep to the sound of the TV and even put headphones in with music on. With this in mind, if me and Rachel are polar opposites in getting to sleep we can’t assume that one tactic fits all when it comes to a baby. We began reading up on it.
Apparently, around the eight-month mark children become more aware of their surroundings and can actually recall parts of their day, keeping them awake at night unable to shut down their brains. I’d say for Ayla this was certainly true. It seemed that no matter how tired she was, or the fact that she’d fallen asleep on my knee downstairs, as soon as she was put down in her cot she’d be wide awake and Operation: Go to Sleep Ayla would begin again. During this period, Rachel and I would do anything to get her to sleep.
We spent hours lying on Ayla’s bedroom floor, one hand twisted through the cot bars whilst being slowly tortured. We’d lie on our bed with Ayla willing her to give in to sleep before transporting her like an unexploded bomb to her cot, sometimes it took twenty minutes, sometimes two hours. We’d said goodbye to grown up time and instead would argue about irrational things such as, one of us had stimulated her brain too much at story time for this to be happening.
Many nights we’d finally get her down only for her to awake three hours later, inconsolable unless she was with us. With both of us working day jobs and struggling with lack of sleep, we took what some would call the easy route, we called it the ‘staying sane option’ and she’d end up in bed with us for the remainder of the night. This came with it’s pitfalls. Ayla managed to have a sound sleep whilst still finding cuticles with her nails and digging her little toes into my spinal chord.
They say we spend 33% of our lives asleep so I’m thinking around that time I was spending 10% asleep and 23% hovering over Ayla’s cot, having my hands held and picked while wishing I was asleep. I even learnt to catch some much needed Z’s awkwardly perched on the side of Ayla’s cot. There were a few times that Rachel would come up to find me slavering onto Ayla’s carpet, arm wedged through the cot like a contortionist, unsure of who or where I was.
Rachel had heard about controlled crying from different places and one of her best friends who’d successfully used the strategy explained the process in detail. We looked it up and the theory behind it, seeing lots of mixed reviews and opinions. It made a lot of sense that because Ayla was only going to sleep with one of us beside her, if she woke in the night and we were no longer there, she needed us at all times.
We were her comforter and she couldn’t self soothe as she’d never needed to. Therefore in order for her to realise it was okay to wake up alone, she needed to be alone when going to sleep. I must say that the thought of leaving her to ‘cry it out’ was unnerving. My main concern was that she’d get so upset that she’d start flinging herself about her cot and hurt herself in the process, after all that’s what I’d do.
We talked about controlled crying a lot and planned on trying it several times but chickened for various reasons, Rachel was scared that Ayla would no longer feel loved and be traumatised. Then there was the turning point. One night after over two hours of trying to get her down to no avail, we took the plunge.
This was the plan;
- Follow the bedtime routine as usual (bath, bottle and story) then singalong to The Bedtime Song on CBeebies.
- Take Ayla up to bed lay her straight in her cot, no hand holding permitted, say “goodnight, I love you” then promptly leave the room.
- Leave her to cry for fifteen minutes then re-enter the room, calming saying “time to sleep” and lay her back down. This process would continue every fifteen minutes. She wouldn’t suspect a thing!
We followed steps one and two to a tee. When it came to step three, I’m not going to lie, Ayla wailed like I’ve never heard before for a solid four minutes. Yes, my wife set a timer on her phone. She screamed “Mammy, Mammy, Daddy, Daddy” intermittently between sobs. We spent all four minutes talking each other out of going up.
Then the crying subsided and was more of a forced whinge. After a couple of minutes of Ayla’s fake cry she settled. The timer didn’t even make it to fifteen minutes. I still went into her room though, just to keep our minds at rest. There she was, sound asleep. After the third night we had no tears at all and we’ve never looked back. On the odd occasion when Ayla wakes during the night we follow the plan and she’s straight back off to the land of nod.
Now in a routine, our daughter has stopped wanting to hold hands at bedtime, more rather pushing us away and preferring to intertwine her fingers or snuggle up with her favourite cuddly Bambi, making me instantly regret begrudging those long, tiresome nights of hand holding. When working on night-shift recently, my Wife text me telling me our daughter had awoke crying out for “Dadadadada!” to which I hastily replied “GOOD!”, I’m still wanted! Obviously I followed up with a more considerate message checking she was okay, only to feel instantly disappointed that Ayla was fine and was fast asleep once more.
Now, it’s such a strange feeling taking Ayla up to bed. She kisses Rachel saying “Goodnight Mammy” then I scoop her up while she pretends to go straight to sleep by tightly shutting her eyes. We share an in-joke that “Aww, she’s fell straight asleep”. The bigger our girl gets, gently putting her down in the first place has transformed into more of a strategic drop to avoid putting my back out. Then I tend to loiter around the room waiting to be noticed like the ugly kid at the prom (we’ve all been there, sigh!) Sometimes I am told “Go!”, “Close door Daddy” or ushered away with a simple hand gesture. One bedtime exchange went as follows:
Me: Night, night Ayla.
Ayla: Night, night Daddy.
Me: Love you Ayla.
Ayla: Love you….Thumper.
It comes to something when you get jealous of a plush version of Bambi’s sidekick. Despite the rejection, I am really pleased to say that this was the right strategy for us and, most importantly, for Ayla. I also know that it doesn’t work for everyone, as I said before we’re all different, it’s all about trial and error and a little bit of luck.
What works for you and your little one? Comment below and join us on the next installment of Sleep Tactics as Ayla moves into her big girl bed. *Worried emoji*