All right ladies, let’s discuss: what crazy things have you done to get your kids to sleep? Both of my kids have gone through extensive periods where they were not good sleepers, so I feel like I’ve read every possible article and tried every possible “get your kids to sleep” hack out there. So let’s discuss: What crazy things have YOU done to get your kids to sleep?
Here’s what worked to help get my kids to sleep . . . and what didn’t:
Crazy Things That Worked to Help Get My Kids to Sleep
1. Weighted blankets. This is one of the more expensive hacks, but it was what FINALLY worked with J (and we still use from time to time with H), so I’ll put it first. J went through a long, long, long period where he could not fall asleep — we’d do the routine, rub his back, have the room at optimal levels of darkness and temperature, and he just would NOT give in to sleep. It felt like he was up for hours, and 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. became a normal bedtime for him. I resisted buying a weighted blanket for a long time because they’re expensive (I think our weighted blanket was north of $125), and I wasn’t sure about the general concept, but I really wish I hadn’t dallied so long. The one we got for J was 8 pounds, and even I like to snuggle under it because it’s such light pressure everywhere — it feels like a warm hug. Very soothing.
As soon as we got the weighted blanket, I learned that if I could get him under it for even 30–60 seconds, it helped calm him down enough to fall asleep — and after a week or so, I felt like he had caught up on all the sleep that he had missed and got on a much better sleep schedule. We later had some problems where he would sleep SO deeply that he would sometime have some nighttime accidents, so we ultimately stopped using it on a nightly basis. For H, 8 pounds is a bit heavy, so I would never leave it on him when I left the room, but it’s also very effective, particularly on nights where he has the wiggles and is TRYING to sleep but can’t for some reason.
2. Melatonin. I hate medicating my kids for any reason, to be honest, but H also hit a period where he was having major problems falling asleep. He would fight the weighted blanket on a regular basis, and all of the other tricks that exist (that I’ll go through below) didn’t work for him, so I finally broke down and tried melatonin after H’s doctor suggested it. I was looking for something chewable and very low dose, and the first one I found was Tired Teddies — we’ve now gone through several bottles. It’s extremely low dose (0.3 mg), but it REALLY helps. (N.B.: If you’re giving your kiddos supplements you may want to look for a USP-verified supplement, which is apparently the gold standard for vitamins because that’s how you know they actually contain what they say they contain — a friend of mine uses Nature Made melatonin with her kiddo for that very reason.) We give him a Teddy (or, if we’re being good, we break them in half and give him half a Teddy) about 20–30 minutes before his target bedtime, and we’ve found that he’ll play in the bath or with his toys afterwards and then he just hits a wall and wants to climb into bed. He still has problems with waking up in the middle of the night (usually to come find me — he has an odd love of sleeping on my head), but getting him to bed is no problem.
3. Dim lights/no devices before bed. I’ve written before about our nursery light bulb and use of Philips Hue for the nursery, and I do think these have helped. It’s almost at the point now where if a regular light bulb is on it feels way too bright and blinding, even to my eyes.
4. Breathing exercises/syncing. This is a weird thing I haven’t seen too many other places, but if you’re going to lie down with your kid until they’re in dreamland, it can be VERY helpful to sync up your breathing with theirs so you can gradually take longer, deeper breaths to help them fall asleep. (My kids were always fast breathers, so I would focus on a 3:1 ratio. If they took 3 breaths I would inhale for 3; on their 3rd breath I would start exhaling for 3.) I have a lot of lovely memories of lying in the dark, breathing with my kids. (Yawning at them also helps because it’s widely regarded as a contagious thing — if someone yawns, you want to yawn.)
5. Letting your kids fall asleep by themselves. This one is a “mama has to be ready for it,” and honestly I’m not ready for it yet with H — but if you leave your children to fall asleep on their own (versus staying with them until they’re in dreamland), they build much better sleep skills. This is the number-one thing we’re supposed to do to help stop H’s nighttime wakings and joining us in our bed. I groan about my poor sleep constantly because he’s always in our bed/sleeping on my head, but part of me still views him as my baby, so I’m just not quite ready yet to leave him to his own devices. To be honest, we only JUST started encouraging this with J — and as a first grader/Big Kid, he seems to be ready for it now.
6. The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep. This book kiiiind of worked for both kids — it’s very long for a kids book, with a lot of text (versus pictures), and it’s a good thing to get on your Kindle or phone and read to them from across the room while they’re in their crib or bed. It’s basically a story that uses a lot of repetition about a little rabbit who goes down, down, down the valley to see his friends to get advice on how to sleep. The advice includes things like this little quote:
She suggested that he and you should take all the thoughts that are lingering in your head and put them in a box by the bed. Tomorrow when you wake up you will have the answers to all your thoughts and you will be filled with energy, but now, you will fall asleep, said Mommy Rabbit with certainty in her voice.
Good advice for everyone!
7. Johnson’s Vapor Bath, and VapoRub on their chest (or a wall plug-ins from Vicks). This isn’t particularly a thing for sleep, but I’m going to note this here because I do feel like these things help the kids sleep when they’re sick, by keeping their noses less stuffy. When needed, it’s a great time to put a squirt of saline up their nose and/or suck some snot too. We love our humidifier for keeping them comfortable at night when they’ve got the sniffles, and because chapped lips seem to go hand in hand with colds (mouth breathing?) our Neosporin lip balm works wonders here too.
Crazy Stuff I Tried That Didn’t Get My Kids to Sleep
1. Sleep routine. I’ve read a million articles that say that you need a solid sleep routine: bath, brushing, books, bed! Both of my kids started identifying the routine at an early point, and fighting me on every single step. We still DO the routine, obviously, just because logistically we often need to do all of those things and nighttime is a good time to do them (although Daddy still occasionally thinks that bedtime is a great time for roughhousing and tickling), but the routine alone was not enough, and sometimes feels like it’s caused more trouble.
2. Calming bath soaps. Lavender is supposed to be a calming scent. We’ve tried various products like Babo’s and Johnson’s Bedtime line, and while they’re fine, I don’t think the lavender scent alone is enough to actually help. I could see lavender working as a Pavlovian hack — you smelled lavender while calm, so when you smell lavender now you feel like you should be calm — but for eczema/sensitive skin reasons we usually prefer to go for unscented baths on a regular basis. (One of these days I’ll write about our wild ride with J’s eczema…I just don’t want to jinx it because it feels like we’re finally out of the woods!)
3. Blissed-out light shows. We’ve bought some aurora-borealis type nightlights for the kids, thinking they could bliss out and watch the pretty lights, but neither seems to help calm them down for sleep.
4. Cherry juice. Tart cherry juice is particularly supposed to help with keeping your kid asleep longer, and I can’t tell you how many bottles of the stuff I’ve bought. My kids like juice. They like cherries. I truly don’t understand where the problem is, but if I give them any amount of the juice (even just a splash in other juice!), they won’t drink it. So this has been a nonstarter for us.
5. The Sleep Fairy. My kids HATED this book — it’s all about getting kids to stay in their beds. Seriously, it’s been thrown across the room, ripped, and generally suffered severely for a book that I so rarely got past the opening pages. But a lot of other people seemed to have found success with it!
6. White noise. I can’t tell you how many white noise soundtracks I’ve bought — ultrasounds! whales! calming rainfall! — and after the baby years, neither boy was having it. When H first hit his problems with sleeping, I got a ton of Rockabye Baby CDs out of the library to try them — while the Radiohead one is excellent, it wasn’t enough to help H fall asleep.
Helping Babies Fall Asleep
If we’re talking EARLY baby sleep, swaddles were very helpful up to a point with both boys, although I wasn’t comfortable having them swaddled after they could roll over. Everyone recommended Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, but honestly I thought it was a terribly unhelpful book every time my sleep-addled brain tried to read it, as I’ve noted before in our discussion on essential books for new working moms. There’s a whole separate discussion here on cry it out and so forth that I will leave for the readers who are closer to it than I am to discuss!
Readers, what crazy things have YOU tried to get your kids to sleep? Do you find that there are problem sleepers in general, or do most kids just hit a few problem sleep periods where you just need to get them (and you) through it?