Every child can learn to sleep

sleeping

The book “Every child can learn to sleep” by Hartmut Morgenroth and Annette Kast-Zahn was literally a life changer for us with our first child. But, when it comes to recommending it, I have to say it’s not for everybody.

This book describes different sleeping problems with children of various ages (waking all throughout the night, wanting to sleep with you,  wanting to be snuggled …) and how to solve them. We had a problem where our son was waking up all through out the night,  5  to 6 times, sometimes sleeping for only an hour or so and could only fall asleep while breastfeeding. I think I do not have to explain how difficult and exhausting this was (even the most resilient terrorists and spies can be cracked with sleep deprivation :)).

I actually read the book when our son was 6 months old, but did not have the willpower to implement the techniques it suggested. I used to always find a reason to explain why he was sleeping so poorly: maybe his tummy hurts, maybe he’s teething. The torture ended one night (which resembled almost all of our nights) when our son was 8 months old, it was 2 AM and my son had waken for the god knows what time and I thought “enough, no more”. Luckily, my husband was still awake and we said let’s go for it.

Before going into any detail about our experience with the book Every Child Can Learn To Sleep (which is very hard to acquire) we recommend you also take a look at these top rated and highly recommended books for children’s sleeping problems; some of which promote the similar approach and technique described in Every Child Can Learn To Sleep.

Sleeping-Through-the-Night-Revised-Edition-How-Infants-Toddlers-and-Their-Parents-Can-Get-a-Good-Nights-SleepMindell promotes crying to sleep with parent soothing once per night. Solve-Your-Childs-Sleep-Problems-New-Revised-and-Expanded-EditionFerber promotes crying to sleep with parent soothing with larger intervals.
Healthy-Sleep-Habits-Happy-ChildWeissbluth promotes crying to sleep without parent soothing at all. The-No-Cry-Sleep-Solution-Gentle-Ways-to-Help-Your-Baby-Sleep-Through-the NightPantley on the other hand describes “gentle” techniques to avoid crying that take longer to start working.

Different sleep phases

One of the basic principles the book speaks of and teaches is that a healthy baby over the age of 6 months is capable of falling asleep by itself and sleep through the entire night (without feeding, carrying, pacifiers, bottles and other gizmos). Every night we all go through a sleep cycle which consists of a short REM phase, deep sleep, short REM phase,…, and the latter is accompanied by wakings which we do not recall in the morning. The purpose of this, according to the authors, comes from ancient age when our ancestors did not have the luxury of safe sleep and needed the ability to check every once in a while if everything was normal in their surroundings, just the way it was when they fell asleep. They believe that here lies the root of most children’s sleeping problems that wake multiple times a night. Every time a child wakes it sees and feels that its surroundings are not the same as they were when it fell asleep: it is not on its mother breasts, its father is not carrying it around, the baby is not sleeping in the same place for example and is then alarmed by this and wakes up.

Sleeping method

The method to achieve sleeping through the entire night  (for some parents and unimaginable goal) is this: You put the child in its bed awake and leave the room. If the baby is crying (which is most probably a given) you should enter the room after 3 minutes and console the baby for one minute, keeping in mind that you must not pick the baby up! If your presence makes the baby even more nervous just caress and soothe the child and try to let it know you’re there for it and then leave the room. Afterwards you should enter the room after 5 minutes, then again after 7 and so on until the baby falls asleep. During the next few days the method is repeated, with slight time variations (please look at the table below). Crying periods of up to 10 minutes do not leave psychological marks on your child according to the authors.

First Time

Second Time Third Time

Next Time

First Day 3 minutes 5 minutes 7 minutes 7 minutes
Second Day 5 minutes 7 minutes 9 minutes 9 minutes
Third Day 7 minutes 9 minutes 10 minutes 10 minutes
Fourth Day 10 minutes 10 minutes 10 minutes 10 minutes

In order for your baby to fall asleep more easily the book recommends that the child must be awake for at least 4 hours before going to bed at night. It helps if you have a bedtime ritual and if the method is conducted by fathers because in their first year babies are more emotionally connected to their mothers.

Our experience with the book’s method

I can still remember quite vividly the heartbreaking screaming of my son that first night. I could not have lasted it for just a few minutes so my husband took over and I closed myself in the furthest room and put headphones on. Honestly, it was one of the hardest things we’ve had to live through; the mother instinct is raging inside you and every bit of you screams for you to stop but your intellect stays in control and says it’s the right call. We lasted through it somehow and after two hours of crying my son fell asleep and slept for several hours until the morning. It was a miracle! The second night he was screaming for half an hour before falling asleep and the third night the crying lasted for only 5 minutes and our baby boy was sleeping like a baby :). From that moment on he would sleep through the entire night like. He would sleep for 8 – 9 hours straight, like it was the most normal thing in the world. A few months after that however, he got sick and had ran a fever for a few days and that messed up his sleeping rhythm. But as soon as he felt better we repeated the method; it took him only 10 minutes to soothe himself and we were back to sleeping through the entire night.

Consistency, consistency, consistency…

As you can see, the basic method is pretty simple in design, but very hard to execute; even brutally hard. The hardest part is being consistent and not letting the crying unsettle you. If this happens all the hard effort goes down the drain because you are sending a wrong message to the baby. What you’re doing then is telling it that the point isn’t to fall a sleep but that it just has to cry long enough until you come; you’re telling it that crying “gets the job done”. The book worked for us and I can say without any hesitation that it allowed me to be a better mother and a wife.

After we applied it, we were all reborn and started functioning much better as a family. Our son was far less nervous during the day and we could finally do what to us is the point of parenthood – enjoy our own child.

 

 

Information and table source: Annette Kast-Zahn, Hartmut Morgenroth: Every child can learn to sleep.

Btw, the book is sometimes pretty expensive online so we suggest you either find a copy in your library or find an online version.

  • Rakshita

    My baby falls asleep in my arms , and wakes up every hour. I am interested in trying out this method, of letting him fall asleep on his own with the help of the table mentioned above. What do i do if my baby wakes up in the middle, should I try the same method of letting him cry to sleep.

  • Hi Rakshita,

    The book “Every child can learn to sleep” suggest to repeat the method every time the baby wakes up at night. I know it might sound scary because your child is waking up every hour but, according to our experience, when your son falls asleep on his own he will not wake as often (hopefully not until the morning 🙂 ).

    Also, pay attention that your baby has had enough meals during the day and is well fed so it will not be bothered by hunger during the night. For more info on this please check our article on The
    New Contented Little Baby Book.

    Good luck 🙂

  • Ana Keleminec

    When our son was 7 months we decided to take some measures for sleep based on the book “Every child can learn to sleep.” Before that, he had very bad sleeping patterns. Luckily we had no problem falling asleep in the evening, but after he fell asleep he woke every hour and a half to two hours for breastfeeding. For me as a mother that was very exhausting, especially because his daily nap time was also very bad, so I couldn’t compensate sleep during day.

    His nap time was very short, twice during day for 30 minutes or an hour. All in all, he always slept less than he should for baby his “age” (14 hours), daily naps and night sleep all together for about 12 hours. During day I had to asleep him in the arms and then put him down on the bed, he did not sleep in a cot, hoping that, when lowering him he won’t wake up. At night he slept in his cot and he would fall asleep alone without our help.

    According to the book, it is desirable to carry out the treatment at least two weeks before some travel, and we adhere to it because we planned to take a trip in three weeks, knowing that there is a high possibility that the sleeping rhythm might deteriorate again due to the change of sleeping place, travel and so on.

    First we started the treatment only during day so his nap time would get better, four days later, during weekend we (husband for the first two nights as recommended) started night treatment so I wouldn’t have to breastfeed him during night any more. Nap time got better in a few days, but after night treatment got worse. Even today, after a month of the beginning of treatment, his nap time isn’t so good, but luckily nights are much better. Not even the trip we took, and change of two cots, didn’t affect his night sleep. On the journey he took his nap time in the car while driving, or in his baby carriage so we wouldn’t have to stick in a hotel room for most of the day.

    Now he sleeps from 9 pm to 6-7 am, and twice during day. First nap time 2 – 2,5 hours after awakening for about an hour, 2nd nap time around 2 pm for 30 minutes to an hour. Again, he is sleeping less than he should for his age, especially during day and is often weepy because of it. But night sleeps are great.

    From our experience, we would recommend the treatment for everybody whose child has
    this kind of sleeping disorder. Not every child is the same, and won’t react the same to the treatment. Luckily for us, our son didn’t scream or cry that long we wouldn’t withstand, but if you are determined and ready for every scenario, you can make it. It is hard to listen to your baby cries, and worry if he isn’t really hungry during night, but when you make it you realize that all those patterns and sleeping rituals you had before were just bad sleeping
    habits that can change.

  • Natalie

    Hi thanks for this … I just had a query about nap times and whether this process should also be applied for falling asleep at nap times? My sweetheart will only goes to sleep whilst nursing, at night and for her morning & afternoon naps. To ensure consistency, I imagine I would have to do this process every time she needs to sleep? Thanks Natalie

  • Dear Natalie,

    the book “Every child can learn to sleep” suggests to repeat
    the method every time the baby goes to sleep, both during the day and at night.
    It probably sounds like mission impossible, but don’t be discouraged. You’ll be
    surprised how quickly babies learn the right sleep pattern if you’re consistent
    (it took 3 days for us).

    Besides, it’s not written in stone. Our family friends first used the method for daily naps only and it took them 1 week to get their baby to fall asleep on its own during the day. Afterwards, they repeated the method for night sleeping and succeeded in having their baby sleep the night after 3 days. So it was more time consuming, but in their opinion less painful. And what’s more importantly it also worked.

    Whatever you decide, just keep in mind that you can teach your baby how to sleep and that it’s not easy at all but it’s worth it, at least in our mind. Good luck!