Good Night, Sleep Tight

Good Night, Sleep Tight by Kim West with Joanne KenenFull Title: Good Night, Sleep Tight: The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep, Stay Asleep and Wake Up Happy
  Kim West with Joanne Kenen
Publisher: CDS Books (2004)
Number of Pages: 331 (350 with index/reference guide)
How long it took me to read: Ongoing
Where I got this book: Took it out from the public library
ISBN: 1593150253

Like a Moth to a Flame

Lack of sleep—it’s a powerful motivator, and that’s what inspired me to read this book. It’s one of many ‘sleep coach’ books marketed to parents with infants; the books promise all-night sleep, in just a few easy steps. This happened to be the book I chose, partly because I’d read online that the techniques it suggested didn’t involve ‘crying it out’ (more on that later).

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Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “One of my hardest tasks is convincing mothers that most healthy six- to-eight-month-old babies on a normal growth curve don’t need to eat at night. Even the smart, thoughtful mother who knows this in her head may still have a fear in her gut of letting her child go hungry.” (p.89)

4. “As you make changes you may have to tolerate some tears—but you don’t have to let her cry endlessly or alone.” (p.79)

3. “We can help our children learn how to fall asleep, but we can’t keep doing so much of it for them, not beyond the newborn stage. When they have trouble sleeping, we can empathize, we can reassure, we can guide, we can support—and like the coach we can help them acquire the skills to do it better next time. But then we have to let them do it themselves.” (p.8)

2. “Inconsistently reinforced behavior is the hardest type to modify or extinguish. It takes the longest to change, and it often provokes even more of the tears we are trying to avoid.” (p.15)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “We all know that the need for sleep is biological but we don’t always realize that the ability to sleep is a learned skill. All children can learn it. All parents can teach them.” (p.3)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“A year away from paid employment has its perks—matinees (there are special screenings for people with babies…), lunches on the town, trips to the shopping mall. There were times when my maternity-leave social schedule kept me away from home all day long, not leaving any time for naps. I figured my daughter didn’t need naps because she wasn’t too cranky, and if she did she’d catnap in the car seat. The book changed my mind. The author argues that all babies need a certain amount of sleep, depending on their developmental stage. My daughter, at five months, would need three naps during the day, according to the author. So, my social life has suffered a bit. I now pay pretty close attention to both the clock and my daughter, knowing that her ‘sleep cues’ (rubbing her eyes, being fussy) will come just over two hours after her latest nap. And it’s like clockwork, give or take an hour. I have a kid who sleeps at night (sleep begets sleep, the theory goes) and is less annoyed during the day. And despite the fact that I now schedule things around her naps and sometimes have to leave functions early because she’s ready for sleep, I feel better. I feel like I’m giving her what she needs and we both know what to expect from one another.”

“There’s nothing quite like the screaming of your baby. My daughter doesn’t cry that often, but when she does, you’d think I was dipping her into scalding water—the kid’s got a pair of well-developed lungs. Her tiniest whimpers send me flying to her bedside (or, at least, peeking through the door of her nursery) and her outright cries are difficult to handle. It’s crazy to think that this sweet, adorable creature has her own will and is trying to get her way, and that the only method she has to express her displeasure is by screaming bloody murder. And yet, everything I’ve ever read about babies says that after about month four, the little buggers know their cries will get them what they want—picked up and played with. I’m all about lots of play-time with my daughter, but I also know that if she doesn’t get enough sleep, she’s miserable (and, therefore, I’m miserable). Letting her “cry it out”—leave the room and allow her to cry, without comforting her, until she eventually wears herself out to sleep, even if it means vomiting from the whole ordeal—is not something I even contemplated. Some parents swear by the method, but for me it was a non-starter.

“My thoughts about comfort and love from a baby’s first day were confirmed when I read In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts (see previous review I did) which cited research about parental love and response to infants’ cries and its ties to future drug use. Not that I think letting my daughter cry for a bit will make her a drug addict, but hey, anything I can do to minimize the risks, I’ll do. My husband and I want her to feel like her needs are being met and like she is being listened to; crying it out just wasn’t going to do that. The Sleep Lady’s method involves some tears, but it also involves parents “coaching” their kid to sleep—with rubs or pats on the back, songs, whatever. The baby is supposed to feel like you’re there for him or her, but that it’s time to sleep (so give it up already and sleep). The method allows for comfort and love in a way that crying it out doesn’t, which appeals to the softy mother in me. It also allows for tears, which are a natural part of being a baby. The author takes into account developmental stages, and notes that her method shouldn’t be started until after month three and probably a bit later. That sits a lot better than the idea of having a newborn just cry until she’s exhausted.”

“I remember vividly my daughter’s first good cry. I don’t mean the kind after first being born, or the ones when she was a newborn, asking constantly for food and human contact. I mean the, ‘I’m angry at you, why won’t you do what I want you to do?’ cry. She was about 4.5 months old, and she’d woken up yet again at 3 a.m. and didn’t want to go back to sleep. Desperate, we took her into bed with us. I told myself I’d let her cry, without picking her up, for 10 minutes, and not a moment more. You’d think we were skinning her alive, the way she sobbed, for exactly 7 minutes. Then she fell into the most peaceful sleep you could ever imagine. And I was still alive, bothered by her tears but happy that really, in the grand scheme of things, they hadn’t lasted that long. Before that, the longest she’d ever cried without one of us rushing to pick her up and hug her or feed her was probably 15 seconds, or the time it took to hear her and get her. During the day, no question, I go to her if she’s unhappy about a toy or a situation. But before sleep (and sometimes during, if she wakes up in the middle of a nap), I know I can let her cry, and she rarely goes on for longer than five minutes before drifting back off. It’s almost empowering, to know that my pat on the bum, song or rub will get her through a bit of crying before peaceful slumber. Hell, I sleep better after I’ve had a good cry, so why should she be any different just because she’s a baby.”

“Control. I think that’s what this book has given my husband and I. Not that my daughter has ever been a bad sleeper, but sometimes she decides to switch things up a bit and keep us up all night. We weren’t in control of our baby’s sleeping, and it was starting to drive us nuts. The Sleep Lady’s system gave us a roadmap to follow, which happened to work wonders with our baby. Before the book, my daughter was not napping at regular times during the day; I thought she didn’t want to. She was going to sleep at a consistent time, but had somehow started waking up at 2 a.m. or 4 a.m., wide awake, and wanting to play—not cool. Since I’ve started reading the book, that’s gone. She would never, ever go to sleep without falling asleep while nursing—until I read the Sleep Lady book. Now, she falls asleep in her crib. Basically, this book easily showed us how to ‘coach’ our five-month-old to better sleep. The idea that babies are learning how to sleep and need help (or, a coach) to learn this skill, just like any other, really appealed to both my husband and I. To keep the metaphor going, we’re determining the rules of the game, not our baby; when she goes to sleep, when she eats, is up to us, her coaches. The Sleep Lady allows for flexibility that takes into account our lives and our daughter’s temperament.

“Sleep was my first glimmer into real parenting. My husband and I learned a valuable lesson: consistency. The bad sleep habit was a real self-perpetuating cycle: our daughter would wake up at weird hours, and sometimes I’d feed her, sometimes I’d walk around with her. She, in turn, would sometimes go back to sleep, and sometimes not. Neither of us knew what to expect from the other. Now, she knows that if she’s put in her crib with ‘Blanket A’ and the lights get turned down and I start to pat her back, it’s time for sleep. She might protest, but she knows that no matter how much she protests, I’m not giving in.

“It’s fun to be in a battle of wills with a five-month-old, because she’s super cute and her tears are almost irresistible and I just want to pick her up and hug her when she’s crying. I, a grown woman, turn to mush. But if I don’t give in, she surprises me and sleeps. Maybe she surprises us both. Being consistent with her bedtime routine—determining when and how she goes to sleep, when she gets picked up, etc.,—is the first time my husband and I have needed to work together on a real parenting issue and it’s been an interesting challenge. We’re constantly asking each other questions, reassuring each other, thinking about what the Sleep Lady would say about our tweaks to her technique.”

“I consider myself fairly intelligent, but I never even thought of putting my daughter down unless she fell asleep nursing. As she transitioned through her fourth month, though, she got more sophisticated in expressing her desire to sleep in the comfiest possible place: me. If she fell asleep on the boob, she’d cry if I tried to put her down—not cool if I was trying to get anything done other than carrying a baby around all day. The Sleep Lady’s technique involves putting your baby down ‘drowsy but awake,’ and helping her figure out how to drift off (the way an adult naturally does). It won’t happen instantly and that makes sense, too; I rarely fall asleep immediately after getting into bed, so why should my infant?

“Now, my little one rarely falls asleep while feeding and she knows that when she goes in her crib, she’s going to get her butt patted and will have to go to bed. Again, the Sleep Lady method has given us control over our daughter’s sleep—we decide when she needs to go down, and that’s pretty empowering, especially after the first three newborn months spent responding to her every whim and need with food and cuddles.”

“I haven’t read the book cover-to-cover. It’s not that kind of book. The general principle of the book appeals to me as a parent—that I can teach my kid to sleep better, no matter the developmental stage. I’m at the very beginning of the sleep training battle, and likely in one of the easiest phases. My baby hasn’t learned too many bad habits, and the ones she does have can be undone within a couple of days. The Sleep Lady technique (she calls it the “shuffle,” because it involves parents shuffling further and further away from their kid’s bedside and eventually out of the bedroom entirely) doesn’t fully kick in until month six, which for my daughter will be next week (though we’ve done many of the steps already, just because they naturally fell into what we were doing anyway).”

Kate Dubinski


  1. Kat Kiddles says:

    A very interesting change in Gabor Mate’s perspective on how to teach children to fall asleep on their own.

    “Can we trust other human beings to recognize, understand and honour our needs, or do we have to shut down emotionally to protect ourselves from feeling vulnerable?”


  2. Mariateresa Bombardieri says:

    I agree in putting babies down “drowsy but awake” ….

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