Part 1: Can You Top This Sleep Training Saga?

I’m not talking about myself in the title, but rather my friend Jennifer and her husband Matt, whose battle to sleep train their daughter reached dramatic heights that involved urine, feces threats, and lots of screams.  This 2-part blog post follows the story of how this family went to battle for one of the most crucial elements in life: sleep.

Here is some background: The girls both slept in cribs, then their own beds. But when the nighttime fussing began out of nowhere, both parents found themselves too bleary-eyed to be consistent with sleep rules. Jennifer began getting in bed with Eleanor or vice versa and everyone was waking up multiple times.  There were tears, thrashing of limbs and feet in mouth (literally). They tried Ferber, various techniques, but nothing was changing. The whole family became walking zombie’s, unable to function during the day. I watched them all disintegrate into madness.

Eleanor is the cutest little girl, full of spunk. She’s also incredibly strong-willed.  This is a girl who is either going to be President or the world’s best criminal (kidding of course–at least on the criminal part). She doesn’t back down. Even if it means sleeping in her own pee. Or worse.

Remember the best-selling book, Go The F-ck To Sleep? Well, here is Jen’s own version of her sleep training hell.

NIGHT 1:

After many months of not sleeping (it’s been such a blur that I don’t even know how long it’s been since we’ve slept through the night) and many attempts at sleep training, we finally cave and hire an experienced sleep consultant to help us figure out what to do.

For an all-inclusive fee, Renee Wasserman, P.T., M.P.H.  from Sleepyheadsolutions talked to us on the phone for over an hour and e-mailed us a detailed plan to follow. She will be checking in with us every morning by phone for two weeks to advise us, encourage us to stay on course, and listen to my boring and very detailed sleep stories.

After a few weeks of procrastinating (we have friends in town, Eleanor is sick, we’re traveling…) my husband and I finally force ourselves to buckle up and start the sleep training process. Per our sleep consultant’s advice, we have a family meeting after dinner on the first night. We try to make it fun and pass around a toy microphone while we discuss the importance of sleep for our bodies, how we feel when we don’t get enough sleep, and the new sleep rules for everyone in the house.

We talk about how we all need to stay in our rooms and sleep in our own beds until morning. We tell the girls that we love them very much but won’t be coming into their (shared) room if they cry.

Our older daughter Cece (4 years) gets it and is up for the challenge but she’s a great sleeper and has been sleeping through the night since she was six months old.

Eleanor hears the plan and says, “Not Yet. How about tomorrow?”

Unfortunately they’re in this together. If we want them to successfully share a room, we have to sleep train them both. In other words, Eleanor’s problem is Cece’s problem too.

We tell Eleanor that we know she can do this. We’re all going to try our best.

Per Renee’s instructions:

  • We hung up the blackout shades
  • We set up our new light-up sleep clock and explain to the girls that the cow goes to sleep at bedtime and when she wakes up (at 7am) they can get up too.
  • We unscrew the light bulb from the ceiling so Eleanor can’t switch the light on and off in the middle of the night (which she has been tormenting us with).
  • We set up a potty and a roll of toilet paper on a towel on the floor so Eleanor can’t use the potty excuse all night long. If she has to go, she goes in her room, in the potty. (We hope.)
  •  We read our new books about sleep.
  • We go through the sleep rules again: “We will sleep in our own beds all night. We will stay in our beds until the clock changes color. You can hug your bear and talk to each other but we won’t be coming in if you cry…”

We kiss them good night and close the door. There’s a child lock on the inside so they can’t get out.

It’s 7:00 pm. I’m scared of what the night will bring. I hate the thought of Eleanor screaming for us all night. And taking her clothes off and being cold. And peeing on the ground or in her bed. And waking up her sister who would otherwise be sleeping soundly through the night.  But we all need more sleep and I feel like we’ve hit rock bottom. We need to do this.

7:30pm:

Cece is asleep in her bed and Eleanor gets out of bed and is crying at the door. She gets down on her belly and screams at the small crack above the floor. It sounds like she’s yelling through a megaphone. “I need to make a pee pee!” I stare at her on the monitor. “I need to go in the big toilet in the bathroom! Not the little potty in here!” I watch her expertly remove her pajamas and her diaper. “I need a new diaper!” She pees on the new wood floor. It’s going to be a long night. As hard as it is, we don’t go in.

8:00pm:

Eleanor screams like crazy and tries to wake up her sister.

“Cece, you need to wake up and open the door for me!”

When that doesn’t work she yells, “I need to make a poop!” “The poop is coming out!”

This is when I would normally rush in. I would put Eleanor on the potty and move Cece into our bed so she can sleep. This time we stay strong.

Next she resorts to calling me by my name: “Jennifer! Jennifer!” she screams at the gap under the door. If I wasn’t so nervous, this name-calling would be kind of hilarious.

We watch the monitor. We don’t budge.

She leaves the frame and comes back holding a summer dress. We watch her pull it over her naked body – inside out and backwards. After more crying she goes to get pajama bottoms from her dresser, sits on Cece’s bed, and carefully puts them on. She climbs into bed with Cece and goes to bed. I know that since she is diaper-less she will pee in the bed tonight but I’m very relieved she stopped crying. It lasted around 45 minutes and now she’s asleep. Wearing a dress – but asleep!

I get into my own bed, holding my breath. I have no idea what the night will bring.

In the wee hours:

The screaming begins at 12am. It starts again at 2am, then 4am. Each bout lasts about 15 minutes. In between crying fits she’s in her sister’s bed. She stands up on top of Cece’s back to reach the light switch – click click. Nothing happens since we removed the bulb. She tries a few more times before giving up.

Cece wakes up and they scream at us together in harmony. We’re awake all night staring at the monitor but we don’t break and go into their room. At one point Eleanor rolls off the bed onto the carpet. Minutes later Cece gets poked in the eye. Everyone is yelling “Owwwiiieeee.” It’s impossibly hard but we stick to the plan and don’t go in…

I continue watching the monitor so I know they’re ok. And I know that if we walk in because Eleanor rolled off the bed, she’ll pretend to roll off the bed again. And if the eye poke gets us into the bedroom, she’ll fake-poke her sister in the eye next time. She’s that good.

We’re all exhausted in the morning but we (try to) celebrate that we stayed in our rooms. There’s plenty of pee on the floor and in the bed and lots of laundry to do before school/work. I find out later that an exhausted Cece falls asleep at her preschool while eating her lunch. Oy. I feel terrible.

–Tomorrow is Part 2 of Sleep Training Hell. Tune in to see if it gets better. Or worse.

 

Pic of family bed via Shutterstock

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  1. [...] left off yesterday with my friend Jennifer’s saga to sleep train her daughter. Eleanor is 2 1/2-years old and Cece is 4-years old. Both have been good sleepers. They share a [...]

  2. [...] “Part 2: Can You Stop This Sleep Training Saga?”.  To read the original Part 1 article here……. and you can read the original Part 2 article [...]

  3. [...] left off yesterday with my friend Jennifer’s saga to sleep train her daughter. Eleanor is 2 1/2-years old and Cece is 4-years old. Both have been good sleepers. They share a [...]