Every time I look at my sons’ crib, with its organic mattress and cotton sheets and cute little mobile, I laugh so that I don’t cry. Never has a set of purchases enjoyed such a high expense-to-utility ratio. The truth is that sleep is so deeply personal, even to little babies, that buying sleep furniture and accouterments is usually an exercise in futility. When it comes to sleep, I’ve learned that babies care about the process, not the stuff.
These are a few of the methods to get babies and toddlers to sleep, from my informal survey of about a dozen attorneys and law students. I’m sharing the techniques that were common across the board. I’m sorry the list is so short. Blame the babies.
1. To the mattresses — on the floor
This may seem weird, but I’ve heard it from so many attorneys, and it’s also what works in my house (for toddler-aged kids). I put a futon-like mattress on the floor of their room. They’re able to get up, move around, and put themselves back to bed. This obviates the “I can’t sleep/tuck me in” feedback loop.
Another attorney put the futon-type mattress on the floor of her own bedroom. Her kids used to wake her up first when they climbed into her bed, and again as they slept, kicking her with their tiny-yet-powerful feet. She put a futon-type mattress at the foot of her bed, which allowed the kids to sleep nearby.
2. The front carrier + exercise ball
This technique is for babies. And may also seem weird, but I’ve also heard it from half-dozen attorneys. It’s amazing to me that we all independently came to the same bizarre technique: Hold your baby in a front carrier, and then sit on an exercise ball. Gently bounce on the exercise ball.
My youngest son particularly enjoyed lullabies sung to the beat of the bounce. He would occasionally take an hour of bouncing to go to sleep. On those days, I’d watch Netflix on mute, with subtitles. Generally, Netflix + subtitles is an excellent strategy for not going insane with boredom in the early months.
3. Closing time: you don’t have to go to sleep, but you can’t stay here
This method is for toddlers, a version of “to the mattresses—on the floor.” I’m in total awe of parents who get their kids in bed by 7:30 p.m. I believe it’s just not possible if your kids are night owls, like mine. I console myself by theorizing that they’ll be literary giants, brilliant artists or some other profession characterized by late-night fits of energy.
But as a part of sleeping on the floor in their room, I make them follow a rule: they can play with three or so non-noise-making toys, as long as they do not get out of bed. They can stay up until 10 p.m, if that’s what their little biological clocks demand. But they can’t bother me while they do it. Every evening, I read a book, sing a song and let them pick out their toys before I leave the room.
I hope this helps you to get some sleep. Just remember, this too shall pass. But I bet we’ll end up missing it when it does.