You Won’t Believe How We Finally Got Nora to Sleep!

posted by Andrea | 02/19/2015
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nora sleeping

I’ve been waiting to write this post for 3 years now… and I’m sure there are at least a few of you who are somewhat anxious to read it!

That said, I should tell you right off the bat that as far as we know, there was no ONE specific thing we did or didn’t do that magically helped Nora to finally sleep. I have a feeling the biggest factor was that she grew up and we could reason with her more effectively. However, I do also think there were a few different factors that contributed in her ability to finally sleep through the night… shortly after her 3rd birthday.

Yes, you read that correctly… she was THREE years old before she ever slept 100% all the way through the night! 

The Back Story:

In case you’ve never read my blog before, let me just share a quick summarized version of Nora’s story.

Nora is apparently “high needs” with some major “sensory issues” as diagnosed by a local Occupational Therapist. We didn’t find this out until she was about 17 months old… and the minute I realized what her issues were and did a little research, the previous 17 months of her life all fell into place and made total sense.

READ :: Our Journey With a High Needs Baby. This post documents everything about Nora’s high-needs personality from about birth – 20 months, along with various tips, tricks, and therapies we tried.

Along with not sleeping, crying all the time, being completely freaked out by strangers, and not letting me out of her site, she also REFUSED to eat anything except breast milk (straight from the source) for the first 21 months of her life… this was also due to her crazy sensory issues and high-needs personality.

READ :: Nora’s Food Journey (and my thoughts after 21 months of nursing). This post documents everything about  Nora’s sensory issues with eating and the food therapy we used to help her get back on track.

Also, here is the 1-Year Update for Nora’s food journey, along with what worked and what didn’t work for us.

In case you can’t tell, she LOVES food now 🙂

nora loves food!

Where We Are Now:

Aside from the eating and the sleeping things, Nora is completely “normal” in my opinion. She is VERY smart, cute as a button, interested in everything, and she will eventually open up to almost anyone if they just give her 10 or 15 minutes to “scope out the situation” and make sure she feels comfortable.

Yes, we have SO much to be thankful for — and I do realize our “issues” are hardly anything compared to what some families go through. But it has still been a rough 3 years with very little sleep for Dave and for me… until recently!

We were thankful to get her eating issues under control by age 2; but since she was born, we struggled daily with getting her to take any type of nap, to go to bed before midnight, and to sleep longer than a few hours on her own before screaming non-stop until one of us would finally give in and sleep in her bed.

However, right before Christmas time (roughly 2 months ago) we made huge progress and she not only started sleeping through the night — but she also started falling asleep ON HER OWN, without us in the room for hours and hours each night!!

Can I get a hallelujah! 

For the last 2 months, she has slept fully through the night (usually from 8:00pm – 7:00am) about 80% of the nights. The other nights, she has only woken up once or twice and has gone right back to bed when we bring her back upstairs. She still doesn’t take naps, but that’s been a non-issue for over a year already.

Some of you might be wondering why we are so excited about our 3 year old “only” waking up once or twice at night… but after 3 years of VERY little, VERY broken sleep and almost never sleeping in the same bed with Dave (I’m totally serious), this is honestly life changing for us. 

How We Got Here:

It was obviously a long process, especially when I think back to how awful the first year of her life was (Dave and I seriously contemplated only having 1 child). I can remember when she was 6 months old and someone told me, “don’t worry, they usually grow out of it by the age of 4 or 5”.

I had all I could do not to break down in tears right there on the spot. I was SO tired and SO overwhelmed after only 6 months. I didn’t know if I could do another 4+ years — and thankfully, we only had to endure 3 years of sleeplessness!

That said, here is a list of the many things we tried in attempts to get her to sleep. This list is not complete as I’m positive I left things out unintentionally — we just tried SO many different things I can’t even remember them all.

I will say that to the best of our knowledge, nothing listed below offered any noticeable change in her sleeping habits. Also, the list is in random order by how I remembered it 🙂

  • Fans and other noise makers versus no fans or noise maker
  • Nightlight versus no night light (multiple different night lights with different brightnesses, colors, etc.)
  • Music playing in her room and on headphones
  • Sleeping in a swing, bouncer, car seat, and stroller
  • Taking long walks and/or drives and transferring her inside
  • Different pajamas
  • Different laundry detergent (in case she was sensitive or allergic to anything)
  • Pacifiers (totally not interested)
  • Swaddled versus not swaddled
  • Letting her sleep with various toys, stuffed animals, blankets, favorite books, etc.
  • Different sheets and blankets
  • Different weighted blankets
  • Different mattresses (we were getting desperate at that point)
  • Different pillows once she was older
  • Humidifiers and portable heaters
  • A heating pad to warm up her sheets before we laid her down
  • Several natural and herbal remedies
  • Melatonin (3 different times — it made her EXTREMELY hyper each time)
  • Essential Oils (this was even before they were a fad and they totally did not work)
  • Full body massages and using special “brushes” to brush her skin
  • Lavender lotions and bubble bath
  • Strict bedtime routines that we followed night after night for months
  • Room darkening shades (these are totally amazing, but still didn’t help her sleep any better)
  • Rocking / feeding her to sleep versus putting her down awake
  • Chiropractors
  • “Regular” Doctors
  • Various Specialists (including an ENT as we thought there might be something with her ears)
  • Occupational Therapists (these did help for her eating issues but not the sleeping)
  • Various changes to my diet (since I was nursing her exclusively for so long)
  • Altering her diet once she was old enough to start eating regular foods
  • Transitioning her to a big girl bed at 10 months old so we could lay with her (this was by-far the BEST decision we made off this entire list!)
  • Adding in various vitamins
  • Eliminating red,  yellow, and blue food coloring from her diet for set periods of time
  • Giving her a liquid iron supplement (this stuff was SO nasty and started turning her teeth gray)
  • Giving her lactose pills to see if she might be reacting to dairy
  • Reading boatloads of books before bed
  • Watching TV versus no watching TV in the afternoon and evening
  • Lots of playing and extra activities to hopefully “wear her out”
  • Staying home and being “low key” to keep her from getting over stimulated
  • And of course… crying it out for HOURS and HOURS

The list goes on…

One of the only things we didn’t try (but seriously thought about) was getting a dog and training the dog to sleep with Nora in her bed.

The only way we could ever get her to fall asleep and stay asleep for the first 2.5 – 3 years of her life was to lay with her. Period. NOTHING else worked… until recently.

What Finally Worked:

#1 BRIBES: 

For starters, about a month before her 3rd birthday, we started talking about how 3 years olds never slept with their moms and dads because they were too big. We told her over and over and over again that once she turned 3, we wouldn’t be sleeping with her in her bed anymore.

Every day for at least a month we talked about how much fun it was going to be for her to sleep in her own bed, all by herself, all night long. We also talked about how happy it would make mom and dad to be able to sleep all night long in our own bed.

I could tell she was excited to make mom and dad so happy — but also that she was pretty unsure about sleeping all by herself. So the “kicker” was that we told her she could have sleepovers at both sets of grandparents’ houses once she learned how to sleep by herself.

That little bribe almost immediately changed her disposition and she started looking forward to turning 3 so she could sleep all by herself.

So literally, on the night of her 3rd birthday, Dave and I put our foot down and we agreed that no matter what, we would NOT sleep in her bed.

It was a couple of very sleepless weeks for us as she is very stubborn. Dave slept on the floor of her room a few times, I slept in the guest bedroom right next to her room a few times… and I even slept at the foot of her bed a few times — but we never slept in her bed with her.

Within about 2 weeks, she was starting to sleep much longer periods of time without waking up and then she magically slept through the night several times during Dave’s Christmas break (so we got even more sleep because we could sleep in!)

She ended up sleeping over night at my parents’ house and Dave’s parents’ house over Christmas break and was THRILLED to have that privilege.

#2: PERSONAL CHOICE: 

We let her keep her door open if she promised she would stay in her bed (it took about a week before she actually stayed in her bed). We also let her keep a little lamp on in the hallway outside her room — along with the nightlight in her room.

I have no idea why, but apparently the light in the hallway with her door open is very comforting to her and every night she opens her door to the exact “right” spot and then she’s satisfied.

She also wanted to sleep WITH a water bottle — like in her bed. So we said fine, as long as she didn’t spill it (it’s a spill-proof cup).  I’m not sure if that’s helping or not, but it certainly isn’t hurting anything.

And finally, she insists on wearing Pull Ups to bed and not big girl undies. I feel like it’s kind of obnoxious that she’s already 3 and still not potty trained at night, but at the same time, if 1 Pull Up every day allows Dave and me to sleep — she can wear Pull Ups as long as she wants!

So… like I said at the very beginning of this post, there is no “one thing” that we did or changed or altered to magically get her to start sleeping through the night.

I honestly think that for us, was HAD to wait for Nora to decide that she was ready to suck it up and just stay in her bed, even if she woke up or didn’t fall asleep right away. Once we could reason with her and “bribe” her into staying in her bed, everything else just seemed to click into place within a few weeks.

My Advice for Sleepless Parents:

Sleep deprivation is awful… yes, I totally get it! There were MANY MANY nights when I got little to no sleep at all — and if I did sleep it was in a chair with Nora on my lap or laying on the floor of her nursery with my arm squeezed through the bars of her crib.

I know for a fact I have never been more tired and completely exhausted than I was the first 2 years of her life. In fact, I still VIVIDLY remember driving to the dentist when Nora was about 9 months old. I was so tired that I didn’t come to a complete stop at the light and was coasting into the intersection. I realized it before I caused an accident, but I remember thinking that if I got in an accident, they would take me to the hospital and I could sleep as long as I wanted to.

THAT’S how bad it was! 

I hesitate to give “advice” to others who are also super sleep deprived because every situation is so different and I know how defeated I felt EVERY time I tried something others said worked for them… and of course, realized it wouldn’t work for us.

That said, here are some very practical words of advice that helped me a lot.

1. Don’t forget to think BIG picture.

This is SOOOO hard to do when you’re in the thick of things, but it was the one thing I kept coming back to time and time and time again when I didn’t know what else to do. I would remind myself that she certainly wouldn’t need me to sleep with her forever — after all, she’d go off to college at some point!

I know 4 or 5 years can seem like an eternity (especially if your baby is only a few months old) but I promise, the time will pass eventually and they WILL start sleeping on their own at some point (even if it’s not until they go to college!)

2. Don’t listen too closely to what others say.

Now, I don’t want to tell you never to take anyone else’s advice — but I will say to “take it with a grain of salt”. Don’t buy into it too much and don’t let yourself feel totally defeated if someone else’s advice doesn’t work for you and your children. Also, DO NOT let someone make you feel like a bad parent because you “can’t get your kid on a sleeping schedule.”.

You know me, I’m super scheduled and organized. I had Simon on a really awesome sleeping schedule within 2 months of his birth — and he’s been sleeping through the night for MONTHS now (even before Nora did). So obviously, it’s not my fault for not being able to get Nora to sleep better. And it’s not YOUR fault or something you did or didn’t do that is causing your child not to sleep either.

3. Don’t feel lazy or like a failure if you “give in” to your children.

There were so many nights when I told myself, “I will not sleep with her” but by 3:00am when we were both totally exhausted and I was so sick of hearing her cry, I had nothing left to do but give in. I often felt like a failure or like I was so lazy for not sticking with my plan — but there is a point when you are just too tired to care or to do anything differently.

Just do what you have to do right now, keep trying new things, and try not to get discouraged (I know, that’s practically impossible).

It’s been a LONG, sleepless 3 years for us — but we made it through and I know you will too! 

Also, I need to take a moment to say thank you to the hundreds and thousands of you who sent me comments, suggestions, ideas, emails, tips, and your sleepless stories in hopes that you might help Nora to sleep.

Although most of the tips and suggestions didn’t work (just being honest!), it was still very encouraging to know I had so much support, encouragement, and empathy from parents around the world. Plus, your sleepless stories helped me realize that we were not alone!

Thank you. Thank you! 

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64 comments

  1. Ann

    11/27/2017

    Hi,
    This describes my son exactly – we can also add: birth to 3 referral and support (wouldn ONLY take breast milk from the breast – NEVER took a bottle) a sleep study, allergy testing, a chiropracter (because he could never be in the car seat without screaming), a sleep specialist (consultant).

    He turned 3 in sept. I haven’t slept in 3 years (single mom) and have been away for 3 separate nights at a hotel while a friend kept him so I could sleep.

    I am exhausted and have been unable to parent the way I want (I have an 18 year old, 16 year old and 13 year old as well – THANK GOD for them).

    About 3 months before his 3rd birthday, he began (no reason what-so-ever) sleeping for 5 hours at a time (prior to that he would wake up screaming every 1.5 hours). And he has NEVER had a problem falling alseep – only staying alseep. On a good night, he will go 3-5 hours initially and then go back to sleep. Bad nights consist of waking every 1.5 hours screaming and being very difficult to sooth or calm down.

    He is super smart, talking like a teen at 2.5, very active, insightful, funny, charming…..with all of the characteristics that you had shared about your daughter.

    I feel like a zombie all of the time, I have gained 35 pounds (after initially having lost all baby weight) because all I want to do is SIT down and rest.

    Everyone says, “it’s going to get better….. , it has to.” That is what EVERYONE has said since he was 6 months old. I’m still waiting.

    Thank you for your honest and supportive blog.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    oh ann — It WILL get better, but it’s horrible waiting. We started to see big changes in Nora between 3.5 and 4 years old — and at 6, she sleeps amazingly well now.

    I know you might not want to share a bed with him, but that’s one of the only ways I was able to get any sleep when Nora was little. We got a queen size bed for her room and I slept with her almost every night. it wasn’t ideal, but at least I wasn’t a zombie.
    Sigh…

    [Reply]

  2. Rochelle Shaftic

    03/06/2015

    I had some issues with my now 13 year old son similar to you. My son refused a bottle (no matter what type we tried) and sippy cups from the time he was born till he was about 22 months old. Oh the milk I wasted that I would pump while working! He ate solid foods fine, but refused to drink anything but my milk for so long. He slept good until he was 2 but then had started having such horrible night terrors. He still has them and we have no idea why or what triggers them, but it’s hard to get him back into bed (he walks around in a trance like state screaming and crying). He also does not like to sleep in his bed alone at night, this started around age 4/5. We tried everything to get him to go to bed alone and stay in the bed. Up until 6 months ago he was sleeping in bed with one of us while the other slept in his bed. We finally resorted to putting an extra mattress on the floor by our bed. It’s not the best solution but we can’t figure out anything to get him back in his own bed!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    WOW!! that’s a lot! glad you finally found something that is working for you and sorry it took so long 🙁 I do think Nora would have “bad dreams” and that was why she was waking up some of the time. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be a huge issue for us anymore — and hopefully it doesn’t start up again!

    [Reply]