What Crazy Things Have You Done to Get Your Kids to Sleep?

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? 

Both of Kat's kids have gone through phases where sleep was elusive -- so she's read every sleep hack out there, from weighted blankets to melatonin to white noise to better sleep hygiene. What crazy things have YOU done to get your kids to sleep?

Comments

  1. So this is probably my favorite example of newborn sleep-deprived craziness. When my daughter was around two weeks old, she would start to fuss as soon as we went upstairs to go to bed. Instead of realizing that she probably just needed to go to bed earlier (we would keep her downstairs with us and she would sleep on and off), we thought we could “trick” her into not realizing it was bedtime by not going upstairs, so we all slept on the couch in the living room for two weeks.

  2. A bit before our daughter (always an excellent sleeper) turned two, she started waking up around 5:30 AM (instead of 7), and telling us it was time to get up. We’d tell her it was still time to sleep, and she’d proceed to call us every 5-15 minutes until was got her out of bed. We decided that, in her defense, she had no clue when it was time to get up–it was the middle of winter, so it was still dark out at our normal wake time. So we got the Ok to Wake Clock (we have this one: https://www.target.com/p/ok-to-wake-33-alarm-clock-and-night-45-light/-/A-11852371), and after a few days of repeating that she couldn’t call us until it turned green, it worked like a charm. So much so that we now have duplicates at both grandparents’ houses, and have given one to my nephew. (So we’ve now spent $120 on clocks.) He is not a naturally gifted sleeper, so the results have not been as dramatic with him, but it has still been helpful.

  3. Anon for this says:

    The Sleep Fairy book
    Melatonin
    Putting the door knob on backwards so we could lock kid in room. don’t report to DFACS–we haven’t done that for a long time now.

  4. The few times I’ve taken melatonin myself I had really weird unpleasant dreams so I’d be nervous giving that to my kids. I think the craziest was when we my daughter was a baby and we would play whatever song worked to calm her down once on loop thinking it would repeat the magic. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not, but we listened to a LOT of Willie Nelson’s City of New Orleans!

    My biggest issue now is getting oldest to stay in her own bed, I may have to try that book out.

  5. avocado says:

    Figuring out our kid’s natural sleep schedule and rolling with it was the only thing that worked for us. She is by nature a night owl who likes to stay up late and sleep in late. Trying to get her to go to bed too early was a recipe for disaster. We couldn’t get her to fall asleep at anything approaching a normal kid bedtime until she was in kindergarten.

  6. Baby got colic. Best $10 ever spent. It’s crazy white noise that it supposed to sound more like the not so consistent sounds baby hears in the womb. There’s a free youtube clip, which includes a creepy video, but the 1-hr track on itunes is $10 and can be infinitely looped.

  7. shortperson says:

    our three year old had an extended period of repeated requests with a touch of getting out of bed after baby was born. what finally worked was providing her with 3 cardboard hearts at night. she can spend a heart on any request, like “rub my back” or “i need more water” but once she’s out of hearts it’s emergencies only. getting out of bed means she loses all hearts immediately. in the morning she gets 2x the number of hearts in chocolate chips or m&ms or whatever we have, if she remembers which now that she’s better with the system she usually does not. she used to ALSO get a sticker and after a certain number of stickers a prize but that has been forgotten.

  8. Co-sleeping with my 9 month old on really rough nights, which I swore I would never do, but it is the only way she will sleep (CIO was a failure because she will scream bloody murder for hours on end) and has been that way since she was born whenever she’s not feeling well, has gas, etc.

    • You’re not alone, both of mine were this way too. CIO was a miserable failure – hours on end for weeks on end, with no improvement in sight – so we co-slept with each kid every night until about 1 year.

      If it makes you feel better, although the transition to their own room was awful for a week or two, now they’re both great sleepers who don’t get out of bed and sleep the entire night (9pm-7am) at ages 3 and 5. So it doesn’t last forever and doesn’t mean you’ll have a co-sleeper in high school or anything.

  9. When we first converted Kiddo to a toddler bed, he had a major sleep regression. We ended up moving all the toys and books and a lot of the furniture from his room to other places in the house. That doesn’t sound crazy, but our house is not large…1100 square feet, 2 bedrooms. We had toys all over the living room, the bookshelf and an ottoman in the hallway, an extra laundry basket in the bathroom (it was wicker, and he would pick it apart instead of sleeping). This lasted for a little over 6 months. But it worked–along with a bunch of other tips from our family friend/child psychologist/sleep expert. We finally moved most of the toys back just a couple of months ago–we’re down to one toy shelf in the living room and his play kitchen in the corner of our kitchen.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Avocado I’m glad im not the only one whose baby is very late-shifted! When our daughter was a newborn we started putting her down when we wanted to sleep, ie 11 pm. We never woke her up because I was on mat leave for a while and DH works at home. When I went back to work we shifted her bedtime to 10 pm so she’ll wake naturally by 8 and I can nurse her before work. And that’s what we’re still doing now, coming up on her first birthday. My friends all think I’m crazy but if she only needs 10 hours, I’d so much rather have it be 10-8 rather than 7-5 or 8-6 since later fits my natural schedule much better.

    • bellatrix says:

      That sounds like that works great — good for you for figuring it out and sticking to it! The baby sleep books drove me crazy with their insistence that babies should always be in bed by 7, but after a while I realized there’s nothing magic about 7 p.m. If there are no external factors governing their sleeping schedule (have to be up by 6 to get to daycare, etc.), then do whatever works best for them AND you.

    • Anon2Mom says:

      Bless you for writing this! You are the first person I see who does the same 10pm bedtime (, to accomodate my pre-bed and wakeup nursing session) as I do with my baby. The whattoexpect forum posts had me thinking I am literally the only one doing this with everyone talking 7/8pm bedtimes!

  11. HRHNYC says:

    My daughter is almost 5 and is great once she is asleep, but has a lot of trouble falling asleep. Our latest thing is letting her listen to podcasts (she loves Wow in the World) to help her calm down once we leave her room. I usually let her listen to one episode and then take the phone away, but she loves it and it helps her get calm and stay in her bed.

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