28 November 2007

Twins and Sleep

At Leggy-now-Clover's request, I'm going to share with you all how I got my twins to sleep on (more or less) the same schedule. We all know that the sleep topic is one that can stir up a lot of debate. Let me just say from the outset that I don't expect all of you to agree with what I did, but I do expect all of you to be nice about it and just look the other way if what I did is not your style.

You must all be expecting something really barbaric now. [evil laugh]

Here's how it went down:

From birth to six months, the twins slept in the same room as me and GH. By the six month mark, this was not working anymore for any of us. Riley was waking up screaming almost every hour and required at least ten minutes of walking/bouncing/soothing to get back to sleep, only to get up screaming again an hour later. He was waking up Maddie. They were both still breastfeeding twice a night. I was at my wits' end with exhaustion, things were getting worse rather than better, John was also beyond tired and at that point becoming very ill, and the twins were also exhausted. They didn't really nap well at this point, either; they took three naps/day at of about 45 minutes each time, but it was highly unpredictable and they always woke up cranky and out of sorts.

It sucked.

So one day, we just said, "That's it," and we did our own version of cry-it-out (CIO). We chose to do this when we had the twins home with us over a two-week stretch at the holidays when our daycare was closed, so that we would have total control over their schedule. We also asked our pediatrician about our plan since it included dropping middle-of-the-night feedings.

We decided that bedtime was going to be 7:30 p.m. We got them changed into PJs, did our bedtime routine, and put them to bed. In their own room, not ours. Awake.

Our ground rules:
10 minutes of crying received an intervention, meaning a pat on the back and an "I love you." No picking up.
No feeding in the night.
No getting up for the day before 6:00 a.m.

We had a very stereotypical, by-the-book experience with CIO. It took about 30 minutes (so three interventions) for them to settle down and go to sleep the first night. There were two middle of the night wakings, at 2:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m. that required two interventions each. Already this was a HUGE improvement from the hourly wakeups. Things got even better over the next couple of nights and by night three they were sleeping through until close to 6:00 a.m. By "sleeping through," I mean that they were not crying for more than 10 minutes at a stretch in the middle of the night. They still sometimes cried, but briefly, and often without even waking themselves up (just me!) When they woke up for the day, they were happy and babbling.

We also did CIO at naps at that time, with the same ground rules. We set clock times for naps: 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. When the clock struck those times, into the crib they went. They also usually got a third nap in the car on the way home from daycare, or on weekends we'd plan a drive around 5:00 p.m. The napping followed about the same schedule as the nighttime settling, meaning that it was rocky for the first three days or so, then settled in. Maddie and Riley almost immediately started sleeping longer during naps and waking up happier. I truly think they were sleep-deprived and that this helped them get the sleep they needed.

A key component of our sleep schedule was darkening the twins' room. We put tinfoil over their windows to make the room completely dark, a trick I learned from Dooce. The base to the monitor we use has a night-light to give the room a bit of ambient light, but that's it. They do not wake with the sun because they do not see the sun in their room. They have very cheerful curtains to make up for it.

After a month or so of being really rigid with the routine (and getting daycare on board when they returned after the New Year), we were able to relax a bit. Nowadays, at seventeen months, the twins go to bed between 7:00 and 7:15 p.m. They go to bed without complaint, wide awake, and are asleep within a few minutes of being in bed. Riley sleeps until about 6:15 a.m. and Maddie until about 7:00 a.m.; Riley is content to chit-chat and entertain himself until Maddie wakes up and I go in and get them. They take two naps most days, but we've been between one and two for a few months now, making our way towards one.

One unexpected benefit of doing CIO was that it made me much more aware of the twins' sleep cues. Before we did CIO, the twins were tired all the time, so everything was a sleep cue and they were too tired to go to sleep on their own. Now I can tell when they need to sleep. I no longer put them down for naps at set times, but watch them and put them down when they need it. Same for bedtime. Sometimes they go to bed early because they are exhausted for whatever reason. Now that they are getting old enough to communicate their needs verbally, they will even ask for a nap or to go to bed if I miss the signs.

Like anybody, Maddie and Riley still have their off nights, but overall they are great sleepers, something I never thought I'd say. I know that what John and I chose to do to get the twins on a schedule would not work for everyone—either on a philosophical level or because not all children respond to CIO—but I'm happy it worked for us. And Clover, I hope something in here is helpful to you. Wish I lived close enough to come babysit for you, or take an overnight shift. Maybe I'll just send you some chocolate :).


Menita said...

Snick, did you do the sleep training with both of them in the same room? I wold love to do this with mine but if J (16 months) cries P (2 1/2) gets incredibly upset and then they sort of feed off each other.
What we do now is take P to bed, read her a story and she's out, then soothe J and put him to bed once he's asleep. Fortunately this takes less than 15 minutes, usually, but I do realize at some point he is going to have to go to sleep on his own (though come to think of it P didn;t do it until she was 17 months). Anyhow. Sorry for the ramble.
I guess the question is how did you deal with the feedback/wailing between the two. Did you just wait it out?

Snickollet said...


Yes, they were in the same room. I guess because they were always in the same room, one crying has not tended to wake the other up. During the day, if one cries (for whatever reason: bumped head, lost toy, etc.), the other gets very concerned and worries and wants to help, but in the night it doesn't seem to matter. I guess we got lucky that way. For the first few nights of CIO, when they both cried, we did just wait it out.

That's probably not much help. Sorry.


Heather said...

Thank You!!! Your post couldn't of come at a better time.

I did a CIO type routine with my dd recently and felt horrible. BUT, it worked! We are all sleeping better and she is a happier baby now (she's 10 months).

Good for you for getting them into a schedule. It's also reassuring that they have become good sleepers and continue to put themselves to sleep.

GreenStyleMom said...

Good post! I always say that crying is how your baby/child lets you know that they are unhappy, but that doesn't mean that can't deal with it. I often compare CIO for sleep to other things that kids "have" to do. If your child cries every time you put them in the car seat, do you NOT put them in their carseat and hold them in your lap? Of course not! It isn't safe, and they NEED to be in a carseat. Same with sleeping. They NEED their sleep even if they are unhappy about it. The only mistake I made with CIO was not doing it sooner.

Diana said...

This sounds great. I once asked my mom if my brother and I ever had trouble sleeping and she said no. She just had a set bedtime and that was it. I will remember all this when my time comes!

Anonymous said...

You are a very wise woman. Hats off to you! CIO seemed so mean to me as a first time mom and as a result I lived without sleep with the first child.

When the twins came I was determined they would sleep well from the start! That meant being put to bed AWAKE. Never had any problems :)

Angela said...

Snick, we followed a very similar sleeping schedule(CIO) routine that you did and both my kids are still great sleepers. It really worked for us and I am so grateful for that, it saved my sanity. I am glad to read that you were able to find something that worked for all of you, Bravo!

Anonymous said...

CIO is not a bad or immoral action for parents. It's something that, as you have so nicely shown, can provide relief to children. We don't expect to know children to know how to do much of anything unless we teach them, so why should sleeping be any different? If they don't understand how to have a schedule and don't feel that consistency, you're going to make life much more difficult than if you struggle through a few nights of CIO, but ultimately show your children how to get restful sleep.

Nice post!


Veronica said...

CIO doesn't work for my daughter (worse luck) but I am pleased to hear that it worked so well for you guys.

OTRgirl said...

My sister did CIO with her two and it worked as you said. The funny thing now is that with the older one, even in a big bed, she just chats and plays by herself but doesn't leave the bed until someone comes to get her in the morning!

Becky said...

I've got to do something like this. I have no idea WHAT to do, and I'm at my wits end. I've tried CIO, and it just upsets him so much that it takes longer to get him back to sleep.

Maybe I'll try your method. Lord knows that I can't continue like this.

Twinmommy2boys said...

This is pretty much what I did with my twins as well. Now like yours they ask to be put to bed when they are tired. Bedtime is at about 7:00pm they wake at 6:30-7:00am and usually take one nap a day at about 12:30 usually for 1 1/2 to 2 hrs. It's hard to do at first but it works and everyone else is better rested.

Anonymous said...

Ok-I will be the dumb newbie. What does CIO mean?

Julia said...

My MIL was convinced I was causing permanent neurological damage by letting the baby cry. Bet you can tell how much I liked having her around. She called my husband at work to tell him how terrible it was that I was letting her cry, how we need to take her to the doctor, and how we should never ever let her cry in the night. Oh, fun memories.
I won, and all was fixed (this was an after effect of a sickness-- she slept fine before then) in one hour one night. But I'll be damned if the MIL will ever be allowed to do this ever again, should we be so lucky again as to bring a living baby home at some point, of course.

Arwen said...

I did the same exact thing with my second child at about the same ages. I didn't hit that point with my first until she was about 18 months because everyone kept telling me how evil CIO (cry-it-out for the newbie) is. I learned quickly that it was MUCH more baby-friendly despite all the lies the anti-CIO tell. Before I implemented CIO, my babies cried all the time, I got NO sleep and I was cranky and mad (and, frankly, resentful) all the time. After CIO, both of us were happy and content glad to spend our time together. I'm sure I've offended some anti-CIO person out there and I'm sorry. If it works for you and your kids, fine, do it and let me do what works for me.

nienuh said...

How funny. I just wrote some sort of schedule down for my 8 weeks old son to use during the day (he sleeps very well at night, probably because i have a fixed routine). He will be going to day-care soon and i figured my messy day schedule wouldn't work there. I didn't know it had a name (CIO = cry it out?) but what i wrote down looks remarkable like your method.

Snickollet said...


CIO = cry-it-out. I should have put that in the original post, and have gone back and added a link to a description in Wikipedia.


Mar said...

I love success stories. We did something similar with our son but I feel like (in addition to the schedule and clear expectations) a lot of the benefit came from our conveying (with mood, tone, smiles, etc.) that bedtime, sleep, and quiet alone times were all GOOD things -- just as happy an experience as suiting up for a trip to the park.

Anonymous said...

Ahhhh, Cry it out! Thanks!

LauraC said...

I could have written this post... this is the same exact plan we used with the same results. They were so much happier once they were well-rested.

We CIO in the same room because we wanted them to share a room. Now when they cry and need something, they don't wake the other. Nate is such a deep sleeper I've seen Alex sitting on him and he doesn't wake...

Indie Mama said...

Snick - Glad CIO worked for you guys, sleep is gooooood!

To those whose little ones are CIO resistant - CIO didn't work for my daughter (she would just cry, and cry, and cry and eventually scream and puke) until she was about 15ish months old, when one day i put her in the crib, she squaked for a maybe 15 minutes, then rolled over and went to sleep. Now she asks to go to bed, I put her in awake, and she fall asleep on her own. I guess it was just took her a bit longer...

Leggy/Clover said...

thanks for the description. I have already tried some version of this but my kids (all 3 of them) just cry and cry and cry- my oldest would do the puking thing. And going it at 10 minutes to soothe them just pisses them off all the more. My ped says I have to wait until 6 months to do CIO but I'm seriously functioning on about 4-5 chopped up hours of sleep a night. I'm hoping it will get better, but I feel like I'm a bit at a loss.
I hear you on the tiredness cues- its hard to tell if they are tired or hungry or teething or what because they are just always crabby. I want them to have more sleep but I'm finding that implementing a schedule is just impossible. I think I'm just babbling now, mostly because I'm just too tired to articulate what exactly the problem is. Mainly its just they need more sleep, I need more sleep, everyone needs more sleep and I can't figure out how exactly to do it at this stage.

BrooklynGirl said...

Oh, this is so helpful. I don't (obviously) have twins, but I've been trying to visualize how CIO for #2 would work without disturbing #1. And this is useful as always.

peach said...

Man oh man i wish you had been around to tell me about it when cory was a baby.... hes ADHD and i am not sure it would have worked but i would have loved to try... hes nearly 20 years old now and still sometimes has sleep issues.
cool post

Denise said...

What greenstyle mom said.

That said, CIO doesn't always work for everyone in the same way. We did it pretty much the way you did with #1, but #2 had reflux, constant ear infections, and just a clingier nature in general, and after trying CIO we decided to soothe him to sleep until some of those issues resolved. A few months later, we tried CIO again, and it was a hairy two weeks, but now that little kid who used to take 90 MINUTES to put to bed, and then was up 5 - 6 times a night, now goes down wide awake without complaint and sleeps 12 hours. He's a great napper too.

andrea said...

Oh, wow. At six months old you got them to sleep through the night?
That thought is delicious to me.
Our twins are six months old. They go to bed at about 7pm and one wakes at midnight-ish and again at 4am-ish for feeds (and sometimes again in between - my rule is feeds can't be less than four hours apart so we resettle her then) and the other usually, but not always, lasts till 4am or so. Add in recent insomnia on my part and I am SO TIRED.
They're in our room, so I don't know how CIO would work - and of course a 10 minute feed is so much easier in the middle of the night than endless resettling. But reading this has given me hope that there is another way. Now I just need to get the courage to try it!

PS. This comment is also a delurk. I have been reading you for ages and admire you tremendously.

Sandy said...

I did CIO with our daughter, and I remember crying along with her in the living room, usually eating frozen chocolate chip cookies).

I am someone who needs to get plenty of sleep, and I just didn't have enough energy, at the end of the day, to hold her while she fell asleep (and even when I did, she would immediately wake when I put her in the crib).

My heart goes out to anyone working through this challenge right now. It can be very draining.