Ah, sleep. That long-ago dream. That faraway fairy tale from once upon a time. You remember it, right? Before you had kids, you used to sleep.

Now, of course, you never sleep. Why? Because your kids don’t sleep. It doesn’t matter how old they are. When they’re babies they wake to eat. When they’re toddlers they wake to tell you about their nightmares and beg for a sippy cup of water. When they’re preschoolers they wake to go potty. When they’re teenagers they wake to sneak out of the house and meet up with their boyfriends. Even when they’re off in college, you still won’t be able to sleep for fear of what they’re doing when you’re not looking.

But for now, for as long as you can, you should do whatever it takes to get your kids to sleep. Trust me on this one. You’ll thank me.

Fortunately, and contrary to popular belief, it is possible to force a baby to sleep. It takes courage. Energy. Strength. And extreme measures. But do not fear, exhausted Supermom. You can do this. Here’s how.

1. Swaddle. You don’t like swaddling? You think it looks like a straitjacket? You’re absolutely right. And hello, that’s the point. Here’s the thing about swaddling. A swaddled baby cannot move. He cannot keep practicing rolling over or crawling or jumping or running or kicking you in the face or whatever wonderful skill he’s trying to learn right now. This is a good thing. You don’t want him practicing all that stuff. You want him sleeping. In order to sleep, he has to lie still. Don’t feel bad. Sleep is good for him. More importantly, it’s good for you.

The experts will tell you to stop swaddling when your baby learns to roll over or when he breaks out of the swaddle, whichever happens first. Ignore this. You can keep swaddling as long as you can find a blanket big enough. For toddlers, I recommend the Snug and Tug:

It’s big. You can fit a toddler in it. Yes, he will break out of it. That’s okay. You only need him to stay in long enough to fall asleep.

Once he breaks out, you can either ease the blanket off him to ensure he can’t get tangled in it or sleep very lightly and close to him so you will wake whenever he does and make sure he doesn’t get tangled in it. Both of these options will disturb your sleep. Take your pick.

Hey, I said you could force him to fall asleep, not stay asleep.

2. Rock. Yes, you can rock a toddler. Think he’s too heavy? That’s just because you haven’t practiced enough. You need to do like Milo of Croton did with the calf and rock him every day. If you’ve been rocking him regularly since he was a newborn, then you can continue rocking him indefinitely. I still rock my five year old. Just like a baby. No problem. I will probably be doing this when she’s 45, just like the creepy mom in I’ll Love You Forever

Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s worth it. You’ll see what I mean when you watch those stubborn eyelids slowly start to droop. Movement is soothing. Lulling. It’s a powerful sedative. If it’s not immediately effective, try different types of movement: long, smooth rocking motions; small jiggling bounces; slow back-and-forth rocking. Generally, the more active your child is, the more motion he’ll need to calm down. You are magically channeling all the movement he wants to be doing by doing it for him. This will allow him to lie still. Which, as I mentioned already, is a prerequisite for sleep.

3. Use white noise. You knew about this, right? Of course you did. But white noise isn’t just for babies. It’s for toddlers. And big kids. Actually my husband can’t sleep without it either.

If white noise doesn’t help, consider music. If you can teach your child to associate a particular song with sleep, then just singing that song can function like a magic sleeping pill. It works anywhere, at any time.

True, you’ll be sick to death of the song by the time your child is 3 months old, but that’s a small price to pay for a few hours of guaranteed peace.

4. Breastfeed or offer a pacifier. Think you can’t breastfeed while also rocking a swaddled toddler? Oh, you can. All it takes is practice. If you’re not breastfeeding, use a pacifier. And yes, toddlers can use pacifiers. Preschoolers are not above them. Overuse can be bad for teeth, but let’s be honest — would you rather sleep now and pay for braces later? Of course you would.

5. Set an example. Toddlers like to imitate you. So if you want your toddler to fall asleep, you should fall asleep too. What, you can’t do that while rocking, singing, and breastfeeding? Well, obviously you’re not tired enough. Yet.

It’s all right. You don’t have to actually fall asleep. You just need for your toddler to think you’re falling asleep. So close your eyes, relax your body, and breathe slowly and deeply. This will encourage him to do the same.

6. Rub his eyebrows. I know that may not sound like the most soothing spot for a massage. But try it and you’ll see: when you rub a baby’s eyebrows, this forces him to blink. In other words, it forces him to close his eyes. Yes, he’ll open them again immediately. But if all your work is finally paying off and he’s starting to get sleepy, then this gentle encouragement might be all he needs to convince him to keep his eyes closed. And once his eyes are closed, you’ve won the battle, my friend. He’s going to sleep.

And if none of this works? Then you have only one option left. Child-proof the room and close the door. Then, rest for as long as it’s quiet. And good luck. It’s going to be a long night.


Rodney C. DavisMarch 1, 2013 10:34 pm

For a minute there when you said “extreme,” I thought about the old traditional remedy they used to have out here in the islands. Just go sit under a sour-sop tree with the baby… won’t be long before baby falls off to sleep. It didn’t make any sense to me, but I swear it worked. But to this day I honestly can’t tell you if it was because of the breeze that’s usually blowing in the evenings, or if was due to the tranquilizing aroma that sour-sop leaves supposedly have.

lcbaker March 01 2013 22:35 pm

What are these sour-sop leaves you speak of and where can I get some?

Rodney C. DavisMarch 1, 2013 11:20 pm

Most parents out in the islands are very familiar with sour-sop tea. But I wouldn’t recommend them if you didn’t grow up with them. Depending on the source, herbal products are notoriously inconsistent when it comes to potency. If you can find a specialty shop that distributes Caribbean or tropical products, they might carry sour-sop. I never saw my mother use more than a single leaf per cup of boiling water.

bluemonchuAugust 21, 2014 8:30 pm

I honestly don’t know anything about the soursop aside from what I have found in a google search, but some of what I did find I felt nervous about- I won’t plague you with links you can find for yourself in half a second 🙂 but do look into it! Especially side effects and toxicology; and to make sure I’m super clear I am NOT criticizing the use of soursop. Ok covered my bum sufficiently….

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