I wish I had read this when I was navigating the tortures of sleep deprivation – but here it is for you dear tired readers:

Kids go through phases in their sleep routines – and any change in their lives can affect their sleep cycle. When we moved to Los Angeles, obviously our munchkins had to get over jet lag, but they also were acclimating to new schools, a new house, a new bedroom, a new life! That combined with growing older (our Jake turned 3 – and it is just around this time where kids start to get scared of the dark or generally have fears) was the perfect recipe for a sleepless stew.

Jake was waking up sometimes 7 times in the night – and when he woke up, he also woke up his brother and sister. Matt and I were constantly going into Jake’s room and calming him back to sleep.  I was often sleeping next to Jake in his bed just to keep him asleep and comfort him – or sleeping on the floor of his room. By day, Matt and I were zombies, and by night we were being tortured by lack of sleep – AND I was sharing a bed with our 3 year old rather than my husband. We had to tackle this issue head on.

I met with a sleep therapist (yes, this exists) and after trying several methods, these are the tricks that have worked for us:

1. Get a Night / Day Clock. We have the Gro-Clock  which is a UK clock but you can get it in the US – but any sleep clock will do. Your child is taught (and trained) that he can come out of his room when the sun is on the clock (which you’ve preset to come on the clock at 7AM) and that it is bedtime when the star comes on the clock (at your preset time – ours is 7PM).

2. Buy a special Mommy Bear. Your child will have a cuddly toy however buy a NEW Mommy Bear – this bear stays with your child in his bed all night long, and if he needs a cuddle in the night, rather than coming out of his room to come get you for a cuddle, he can cuddle his Mommy Bear. The Mommy Bear is for cuddles in the night as his Mommy (you) are in bed sleeping.

3. Write a Good Sleep Book. This does take awhile to make but it is the one thing that really changed how Jake sleeps soundly through the night. Write a book (it can just be typed out / printed out) and take pictures of your child doing whatever it says on the page – and put it in a binder – and read it with your child every night before he goes to sleep. You can write whatever story you like but it should go along the lines of the below:

  • page 1. Jake has a comfy cozy room. Jake’s bed is so comfy it feels like he is sleeping on a cloud. *take a picture of your child in his bed and print out the picture and tape it on the page in the book*
  • page 2. Jake has a new Mommy bear that stays with him ALL night. If Jake wakes up in the night and needs a cuddle, Jake can cuddle his Mommy bear. (*take a picture of your child cuddling his Mommy Bear and tape it on the page in the book*
  • page 3. Mommy and Daddy decided that we are going to help Jake be a good sleeper, like we know he can be, because if you are not getting enough good sleep, you will be CRANKY! Mommy will be cranky! Daddy will be cranky! (and list everyone else in your family.) Everyone will be sleepy and no one will have enough energy to play during the day.  (rather than taking a picture of your cranky tired family here, instead DRAW a family of stick figures of everyone in your family – with cranky faces…)
  • page 4. SO… after you have your bath, we will put on your pyjamas. Jake will go to the potty and we will put on Jake’s nighttime nappies. We will read you a story and then we will read your Good Sleep Book (this is your Good Sleep Book) and then we will give you lots of kisses and cuddles and we will sing you a song.
  • page 5. Mr. Blue Star will be turned on (this is where you turn on your Night / Day Clock to the ‘Night Scene’) and its time for night night. (take a picture of the clock in the night scene and tape it into this page of the book)
  • page 6. Mommy and Daddy love to cuddle Jake before bed and will continue to do this before bed, but when it is night night time, Mommy and Daddy will give Jake one last hug and then it is time to sleep.  If Jake calls out for Mommy or for Daddy, one of us will check on you, but we are all done with holding your hand or sleeping next to you, cuddling you or rubbing your back because it is time for everyone to get some sleep.
    • *Through our process of getting Jake to learn to sleep, we learned that he thrived on touch through the night – if he knew that he was going to get a cuddle when he called out, then he would continue to call out – but if he was told that he wasn’t going to get cuddles in the night, then he stopped calling out and learned how to self-soothe. It is important here to understand that of course you give your child a LOT of cuddles during the day and before bedtime – and even one last long one before bed – but when it is sleep time, there are no more cuddles until the sun comes up again on the clock – and then roll on the cuddles.
  • page 7. We can leave the door open as much as you want but this is the last question that we will ask you before we leave the room. We will say, Jake, how far do you want me to leave the door open. The answer will always be yes! But with repetition, your child will know that this is the last question that he can ask and then the door will be left open and then it is sleep time.
  • page 8. If you miss Mommy cuddles a little bit during the night, Mommy Bear will stay with you in your bed all night long and you can cuddle Mommy Bear (take another picture of your child cuddling Mommy Bear and tape it in here).
  • page 9. How does Jake know when its time to wake up in the morning? Mr. Yellow Sun will come on and it will be time for everyone to start our great day! (take a picture of the Night / Day clock turned to the ‘Day’ scene and tape the picture on this page).
  • page 10. And since Jake is working so hard to sleep in his bed all night without calling out for Mommy or Daddy AND to stay in his room until Mr. Sun comes on his clock – he gets to put a sticker on his Good Sleep Chart in the morning. When Jake gets 10 stickers on his Good Sleep Cart, he gets to choose a toy at the toy shop.
  • page 11. Everyone is so happy when Jake can sleep well at night! (take a picture of your entire family smiling and tape it in here).

Plan on reading this book every night – for weeks. You will have it memorised very quickly and your child will look forward to the book – and he will quickly understand that was is in the book is how it all works.

4. Good Sleep Star Chart. We are ALL about Star charts. We have them for everything from learning how to use the potty to being nice to your brother to getting ready for school all by yourself. By far, the most impactful was the Good Sleep Star Chart. We found that it was most impactful to tape the Good Sleep Star Chart on the inside of the bedroom door – so that the boys would look at the star chart when they were debating coming out of their room before the predetermined time, and that when 7AM came, the boys would bound out of their rooms and we would reinforce their good progress with a star on the star chart. 10 days later, and we had good sleepers through the night!

The key here with these tricks is consistency. The bedtime routine needs to be the same nightly for at least 10 days (certainly when you are doing the star chart) and after that, your child will understand how it all works.

Let me know how it goes – and if you have questions along the way. AND sleep well!

7 replies
  1. Laura
    Laura says:

    Thank you so much for this. So similar to our story. We moved a mattress next to his bed because we got sick of sleeping in the rocking chair. We have not slept in 3.5 years. Our son is up anywhere from 1-3 times per night. (Used to be 5-7). We are so desperate. Thank you for this I am going to create the book tomorrow and try it. I am a zombie and hubby and I have zero time together. Here’s hoping….xo

  2. Karen Michelle
    Karen Michelle says:

    Dear Marissa,

    I find this post incredibly helpful and generous. As a mom of three I thought I had heard it all, but the tips you offer here are ones I haven’t read before. If you don’t mind, I have some questions for you.

    1. Do your kids sleep in the same room? How old are they when you transition from crib to toddler bed?

    2. How do naps work? Any tips here? How many do they get, how long, and at what time of day?

    3. How do you get your kids ok with falling answer on their own? In other words, how do you get out of the room?

    4. And finally, what time does bed time start…when are the kids finally put to sleep? I feel like mine take an eternity to fall asleep:)

    Thanks so much for sharing!! Do you give rewards for a certain number of stars… or is the star a reward in itself lol?


  3. Maggie
    Maggie says:

    You couldn’t have found a more perfect time to post this! My son is just climbing out of his crib and waking up at 1am to come downstairs and get his day going- he NEVER woke up in the middle of the night & used to sleep until 8:30. This momma is desperate to get some sleep back. And although some of these tips & tricks might be a little old for him, doesn’t hurt trying to instill it into our routine now.

  4. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    What did you do for them when they were learning this process when they would wake still in the middle of the night until they got it down? Would you just put them back to bed and leave the room? My 3.5 year old daughter doesn’t get out of her bed, but she cries in it for me to come to her, which wakes the whole house. I wonder how I could enforce these rules when she is waking in her bed. Just continue going to her but not cuddling? I, too, have ended up in her bed or on the floor.

  5. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    I just wanted to write back and let you know your post has been a lifesaver for our family! In the past month, my 3.5 year old has only woken a handful of times! I wasn’t able to find anything that worked for her when researching until I came across your blog. Thanks again for sharing!

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