From Crib to Co-sleeping to Solo Sleeping

T1 started his life out sleeping in a First Years Close and Secure Sleeper (it actually goes in your bed and I plan on using it with T2 as well), moved into the swing, and then transitioned to a pack-n-play at 4 months. Until October of 2012 he slept alone in a crib, and then we decided to potty train, which meant he needed to be in a bed where he was freely able to use the bathroom whenever he needed (of course, he still won’t go pee alone, but that will come with time I hope!). I liked the Montessori approach that puts the mattress directly on the floor, which meant we didn’t have to buy a bed frame, he would be able to easily get in and out of bed (and he loves being able to lay on his side and play with his trains as he goes to sleep!), and also gave us the space to keep the futon in his room that we use for guests and reading books.

On October 20th we put him in a big boy bed for the first time.

The first few nights, he came out a few times to ask for milk* or tell us he had to go to the bathroom again, but things were going surprisingly well. I thought maybe this was it. He was both potty-trained and sleeping in his own bed at night!


Two weeks later, he started coming into our bed in the middle of the night. He was starting in his own bed, but then I’d be tapped by a little hand in the middle of the night asking to sleep in mama’s bed.

When That Husband is out of town, I actually don’t mind having him sleep with me as there is more than enough room. There were still several issues to work through though. The first was that to get him to go to sleep, I had to lay down with him until he drifted off, which would sometimes last 1-2 hours. So much for time to myself in the evenings. And knowing that soon I would have a husband out of town over half the week with a baby waking up to eat every few hours and a toddler demanding I lay with him at all times while he is sleeping, I knew that this wasn’t going to be an appropriate long-term solution.

To make things worse, T1′s nighttime needs were eating up all of my alone time with TH! For the 3 nights that we were together, TH would take over the bedtime routine, and he found it was easiest to lay down with T1 in his room until he was sleeping. This would happen at around 8pm at night, and so I would go to sleep before he would come out of T1′s room. Soon that transitioned into TH sleeping in T1′s room the entire night, and we had zero time together to talk and be adults without T1 demanding our attention.

Over Christmas with my family here we had him sleeping in our bed all the time, because my parents were using his room. I started to worry that we were officially a co-sleeping family for good, something I was not interested in maintaining for the long-term.

And so in January, a few weeks before my due-date, I launched Operation Take Back The Night. We would establish a routine, we would follow it every single night, and sleeping in mama’s bed wouldn’t be an option. Our routine involves the following:

Use bathroom
Wash hands
Brush teeth
Put on pajamas
Read two books
Talk about our day
Hug and a kiss
Tell him that he is allowed to play, as long as he stays in his room

All of it worked fabulously, except the part where he is allowed to play as long as he stays in his room. I’m not worried about a little time spent winding down (look at me, playing Candy Crush and reading tweets before I fall asleep!), but there were nights when That Husband would come home at 11pm and T1 would still be playing with his toys! This isn’t good for him developmentally, and means that he is overly tired and throws extra tantrums the next day.

I asked some mom friends for advice, and they suggested putting a lamp on a timer in his room. He’s allowed to play until the lamp turns off, and then he needs to lay down and go to sleep. I bought this timer, and it worked really well the first night. Unfortunately, the next day T1 broke the timer (he is obsessed with electronics) and we were still having issues with him wanting to have the lights on while he went to sleep. Our latest solution involves this adorable little elephant night light, which he can hold in his hands while he’s sleeping if he wants. He loves watching the colors change and can sit with us for 15 minutes straight asking what color Ellie is each time a change happens. I’m adamant about not letting him play with it in the daytime and only giving it to him when the nighttime routine is all done so that elephant is associated with laying in bed and sleeping.

My mom made one small change to the routine that helps as well. We still give him time to wind down and play with his toys with the lamp on, but 15-30 minutes later (depending on how late at night it is) we go into his room and turn all of the lights off and give him Ellie the elephant.

In no way do I think this is the end of our sleep issues. Since That Husband went on paternity leave he has had two straight weeks of dad sleeping in his room (we prefer to split duties, I take the baby and husband takes the toddler), but starting tonight I’ll be doing the night routine all by myself for 4, sometimes 5, nights a week. I’m sure I’ll be filling Twitter on in on all the gory details as we adjust to this new normal.

What has your big boy/girl bed transition experience been like? How have you made it work with multiple kids?

*I dreaded weaning him off of milk at night, but it was surprisingly easy. That Husband told him he didn’t need milk at bedtime anymore because he is a big boy, and that was pretty much it. For a few weeks he asked for it, but he seemed satisfied with the answer each time. Now he just asks for water.

19 thoughts on “From Crib to Co-sleeping to Solo Sleeping

  1. What’s that saying?? Start how you mean to go? Anyway, we start our kids on the bedtime routine we want them to have on the day they are born (yes, really, the bed changes, but not the routine). And they always just go to bed. It’s all they’ve ever known. I know that doesn’t help you with T1, but could for T2, if you choose :).

  2. we’ve had some similar bedtime issues with charlie and had been letting him play in his room with the light on too. but our latest idea is to build a lamp that automatically dims slowly until it shuts off. there are apparently lots of tutorials online. hope to get to it soon and blog about it! :)

  3. We love this clock:

    It’s not cheap, but it has been worth every penny. It glows yellow, and then at the time you set it turns to glow green. We use it in the morning (Eli is not supposed to wake us up until his clock is green at 6:45, even though he often wakes up and lays in bed much earlier than this). Each day that he waits until it’s green to wake us up he gets a sticker on a chart, and after 10 stickers he gets to download a new game on the ipod (usually free, sometimes 99 cents). We’ve had the clock for a few years (only done the sticker thing more recently) and I can’t rave enough about it. We also used it for naps, and now “quiet time”. It doesn’t work perfectly because obviously he still has the choice/option to ignore the light, but for the most part it has been great for our not-very-great sleeper.

    You could use it the opposite way, and have it glow yellow in the evening, and turn to green when it’s time for him to get in bed?

    Jenna Reply:

    We will definitely consider this! He loves identifying colors, and he learned what the stoplights mean and loves to yell that I’m supposed to stop, go, slow down. Is it easy to change the glow time? We are not so great at getting him to bed at the exact same time every day.

    Lisa Reply:

    At first it seems a little complicated at first, but once you get used to it you can switch it in just a few seconds. I switch it every day (for quiet time) and at night and it’s not a big deal to me at all. So yeah you can easily adjust it each night.

  4. Actually, now that I think about it, you could use it both ways. You can have it not glow at all, then set it to start glowing yellow when you want him to stop playing, then glow green when it’s a good time to wake up!

  5. You know, we really haven’t had major issues with bedtimes. We’ve been more like Cheltz. Kids sharing a room has its moments, to be sure, but before we did that we had no big issues. Our routine is pretty similar to yours, without the laying down with the kid, but I know we used to give lots of “consequences” for coming out of the bedroom for age 2/3/4 – until whenever they get it down. First time out of the bedroom, they get a reminder that if they come out again, I take away something he/she likes to sleep with. And I follow through. If it happens, they can “earn” it back by laying in bed quietly for at least 10 minutes (long enough to fall asleep, many times) – and the converse is also true and they occasionally lost additional special sleeping buddies. Really though, the best way for us to get easy bedtimes is to make sure they get plenty of activity so they’re good and tired by bedtime. Kids are all different, though. They respond to different things, and what works for one kid may not work for the next one. And parents are different too: we don’t and can’t all parent the same because we’re different people.

    Jenna Reply:

    Love this idea. We’ve said a few times that we wish we had something to take away from him (but it needs to be something that has immediate consequences so he can relate the consequence to the action) but I kept thinking of just taking away TV or ipad which would have to happen the next morning. And taking away his elephant all night seems cruel when it brings him so much comfort. I like that you found a way to have a small punishment for coming out, but also a way to redeem what was taken away when he demonstrates good behavior.

  6. Our major parent philosophy has always been “Don’t start habits that we can’t keep going”- so we haven’t had any sleep issues because from day 1 our kids have been in their own cribs. When it was time for Bean to go into a big girl bed she’d come out every once and a while and we’d put her right back in her bed. Some nights she creeps into our room but I just get back up, give her a sip of water, and put her back in her big girl bed. Our 17 month old sleeps in his own crib in his own room.
    That doesn’t mean she hasn’t screamed/cried because she doesn’t want to go to bed, we let her do that because we know in the long run that a child sleeping in their own bed is the best thing for us.
    If our kids want to cuddle, we allow them to do that in the early morning during the weekend (weekdays are too stressful).

    We also do not allow for our daughter to play with toys to wind down. I don’t think it’s safe. She gets a little stuffed animal and whatever book I read to her that night to sleep with. Her wind down routine is to read the book to the animal (she pretends to read it..and yes in the dark, ha! We don’t do night lights) or talk to the animal about her day and after about 40 minutes she’s sleeping.

  7. Hmm…interesting. I am actually really nervous about this issue. My daughter sleeps really well right now: we do the little routine (teeth, pyjamas, read 3 books, lights out, into crib) and that is that. She usually protests getting in bed, but once she’s there she falls asleep within 5 minutes.

    I am so worried that once she doesn’t have the structure of a crib, she won’t be able to pace herself and will instead be up all hours of the night playing with her toys (since she dislikes going to bed so much), and then be sleep deprived and horribly grumpy. Keeping her in the room is easy (since I can just return her if she comes out) but if the door is closed (which I would want for noise reasons) how will I know what she’s up to? I don’t want to keep appearing at every little peep, because that is disruptive (what if she’s just chilling in her bed like she’s supposed to?). She can turn on the lights quite easily, so having it dark isn’t going to accomplish much. How do you keep tabs on T1?

    There also is no way I am patient enough to lay down with her (you are a better woman than me, by the evening I am DONE with child time), which is yet another reason to be nervous about non-sleeping playing toddlers. Maybe I can just keep her in a crib until she’s 10?

  8. I am a full time nanny, and a family that I worked for uses a bedtime routine similar to the one you use with T1 for their little boy. The only real difference is that all of his toys are kept outside of his room. At night he has a doll or a couple stuffed animals to sleep with and a few books, but no other toys. He usually spends about an hour winding down pretending to read to his animals and then put himself to sleep. However, when he has toys in his room he’ll stay awake playing for hours. Maybe removing T1′s toys and leaving him with fewer options will help T1 fall asleep earlier instead of playing until 11 or later.

  9. Well, I have two little ones and my son (the first child) is a horrible sleeper. He has never been good, he wakes up several times a night, gets night terrors, and went through a phase of sleeping in our bed, because the boy would cry over two hours and I just wanted some sleep. He is now almost 2 1/2 years old and we have him sleeping in his bed, but we also would have to sit next to him and if he wakes up at night we would have to do the same thing.

    Last night just happened to be really bad (of course I had a meeting to go to and daddy didn’t put him to bed on time…so the whole routine was off! I was mad, and frustrated). By 4 am I was done with the up every 15 minutes and we locked him in his room. He shares with his sister (who happens to be a perfect night sleeper) so we had to get her out of there and put her in the pack-n-play in our room. He cried for 20 minutes and it was so hard to hear him trying to open the door but he went back to his bed and went to sleep. We will try this again tonight…I’m sure he will wake up a lot and cry a lot, but maybe, just maybe he will learn to sleep on his own. We are just done with rewards, waiting, etc. It has to be super tough love over here in our house. Especially because these sleepless nights make my husband and I very cranky with each other….which is also no bueno! Now, lets hope I don’t act like a zombie all day with my lack of sleep.

  10. I’d say pick a routine and stick with it. Every sleep book I’ve ever read says to put them down at the same time each night within 15 min or so. So if you want 8pm as bedtime then between 7:45 to 8:15 is your window.

    Also, maybe getting a thicker mattress may help. The one he’s currently sleeping in looks awfully thin. Maybe he can’t get comfortable????

  11. Consistency is really important. I don’t keep anything but books in my son’s room. No toys. We have a playroom and a toy box in the kitchen. He would never fall asleep if he could play all night. You might want to do check backs and not let him just play all night.

    Sleep is when their brains develop. No nap means he should be going down around 8. It must make your life so hard when he’s overtired and miserable. T2 should get on a scedule as soon as she can. Especially with T1 not bring on one. You’ll go crazy!

  12. As you know I don’t have kids…but bedtime is one of my favorite subjects. I actually remember many years of my mom’s bedtime routine with me and my sisters. I can still remember her voice changing with the characters as she read to us.

    Our bedtime routine was:
    (at about 5-5:30 pm)
    (we washed and dried our own dishes starting at about 4 years old…my sister was closer to
    3 because we did everything TOGETHER)
    -We got a few minutes of playtime while she bathed and dressed my baby sister for bed.
    -Brushing teeth
    -Combing hair
    (On the weekends my dad would braid it for us, because he used to braid his little sister’s
    and he was really good at french braids.)
    -Pick up any toys we hadn’t already, with my mom’s help
    -Tucked into bed with a chosen soft toy
    -My mom would then read us a picture book or two while she fed my baby sister
    -Light’s out (by 8pm at the latest)
    -Next she would put the baby in her crib and go sit in the doorway and read us a couple chapters from a chapter book…I remember Native American Legends, American Tall Tales, Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, The Hobbit, Treasure Island, Peter Pan, and Little Women.

    I only remember my mom having to come in and pick us up from the floor (after getting out of bed to play/read) a couple times, she would notice when she came into check on the baby. Mostly we just really loved falling asleep to her voice. Sometimes if she was really busy or my baby sister wouldn’t go to sleep she would put on a tape and sing or put on a recorded book while she rocked her back to sleep.

    I don’t remember “exactly” why we never seemed to play in our bedrooms after lights out…maybe because the expectation was that we played outside or in the living areas and the bedroom was pretty much for sleeping or napping. We didn’t have many toys in the bedroom. Most of them were in the living room or outside.

    I remember when we got a little older (6 or 7) we would sometimes wake up when my dad got home at 11 pm. He would give us a hug, check on our littlest sister, make sure we had our slippers on, and then offer us a little treat (ice cream, popcorn, some warmed up pie, cheese and crackers -whatever he was fixing for himself). After the treat he’d put us back to bed, turn on a music/book tape, and we’d fall right back asleep.

    I think consistency is the key to lifelong good sleep habits. If you set a bedtime routine now it really does help as your kids grow up…even today I (at 26 yrs old) do best with an early bedtime and a consistent routine.

    EB is right…the more we played…the better we slept. Make sure he’s getting plenty of activity during the day. The other thing I’ve read is that if the child isn’t sleeping well at night try making the bedtime earlier or adding in a nap. Being overtired can cause a toddler to not want to sleep.

    And secondly, I agree with Erica…maybe he needs a softer or bigger spot to sleep…my littlest sister needed a nest of pillows in order to sleep well. She just slept best on a super soft thick mattress topped with pillows. My younger sister likes a hard mattress and one pillow…I on the other hand like something in the middle, firm mattress but topped with a down pillowtop, a couple pillows…and we all showed those preferences by the time we were preschoolers. My older sister and younger sister do best with huge beds…they didn’t share space well while sleeping and both have king size beds as adults.

    Lastly…have you tried lavender essential oil sprayed on his pillow? My sister uses it in her “Monster” spray. It’s water and EO’s in a spray bottle that she uses to “scare” bedtime monsters away.

  13. My 22 mo old is still in her crib so this definitely is an eye opener. We have a 3 mo old too but thankfully there is no sleep drama with the new babys arrival. A friend of mine does this with her big kids – they have the option of open door/lights off but they have to be in bed. If they want to be out of bed the door is shut and they have a flashlight. Seems weird but she says they always want the door open. Also only books and 1 stuffed animal in bed.

  14. Man, I know what you’re going through with tough bedtimes. My daughter has a hard time falling asleep too, and sometimes I have to lie down with her for a long time before she goes to sleep…it can be maddening especially when I’m itching for some long-awaited “me” time! I think you’re right that T1 staying up late playing with his toys after you’ve gone to bed is not healthy (kids that age need a good twelve hours of sleep at night, and if he’s up til 11, he’s probably not getting anywhere near that before he has to get up and ready for daycare). It also doesn’t seem safe – he could pull his dresser down on top of himself (there was a little girl who died from this happening recently), put his finger in an electrical socket, etc etc. I agree with other posters that a thicker mattress would probably really help. The one you have looks better suited for a baby, but T1 is older and heavier now and so it probably isn’t offering him the support/comfort he needs. We did a Montessori bed on the floor as well, but with a full-size actual mattress and box spring – that way you could get comfortable lying down while putting him to sleep, and might not mind so much the time spent doing that. Just a few thoughts — good luck! And congratulations on T2, she is truly a beautiful baby and looks so much like her handsome brother!

    Jenna Reply:

    I think I saw that post you are talking about, with the twin who pulled a dresser on top of herself and died? I immediately bought dresser restraints for his room after reading that. So scary.

  15. I always put my kids to sleep, they never really fell asleep on their own in cribs as babies since we didn’t use the crib (they mostly nursed to sleep or were walked/bounced to sleep in a sling). But starting around age 2, for each of my 3 kids, it was important to me to put them to bed in their own bed to start out the night. And I stayed with them until they were asleep… until gradually we didn’t need to at around 3 or 4. If you don’t want to do that I think it’s still important that you have your son *go to sleep* at bedtime instead of leaving him to play.

    I agree with the idea of a good night time routine and then I think you ought to tell him things are going to change… he can have a certain amount of time to read in bed, and then lights out and time to go to sleep. You will probably need to sit with him, or be willing to check on him repeatedly to make sure he’s laying down, or sit in/right outside his doorway to keep an eye on him. I know you have the baby too (and she looks super sweet, congrats), but that’s almost more reason to give him more attention at bedtime now than he’s been getting. He needs the security of you enforcing this rule which is important for his physical and mental health.

    One more thing, the best advice I was ever given about the older kid after a new baby is born is to *not* tell the older one that they are big now, but to treat them like a baby (holding them like one, talking to them like a baby, occasionally), and talk to them about when they were first born. It helped tremendously with my 2 olders.

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