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Sleep Expert Fixes The Most Common Family Sleep Issue

Today we launch our new column, Sleep Fix. Sleep expert Heather Turgeon, co-author of "The Happy Sleeper: The Science-Backed Guide to Helping Your Baby Get a Good Night's Sleep--Newborn to School Age," will fix your family's sleep problems in this space as she does in her home consultations. Turgeon's solutions are nonjudgmental, kind and — best of all — based on science. No situation is too challenging. Leave your sleep problem in comments. Let's all, finally, get a good night's sleep.

Dear Heather,

We cannot get our son out of our bed! We've been trying since he was old enough to be in a toddler bed but nonetheless chose to come into our bed — every night — in the middle of the night. He'll be 6 in March. Problem is, my husband can't sleep when our son comes in — he is a big sideways stretcher sleeper. Sometimes it keeps me up too, but very rarely. In fact, I don't mind that much except for the fact that it hurts my husband's sleep. That, I don't like.

We've tried bribing (LEGOs, Pokemon cards, cake for breakfast). As soon as the bribe is too much, he's right back in.

I feel he's scared and needs comfort. As a result, both my husband and I don't feel like tough love (locking our door, etc.) is okay to do to a kid who is already scared of the dark and being alone. Obviously, we'd love it if he slept in his own bed through the night.

— April

Hi, April,

This is one of the most common sleep issues for older kids, so No. 1 is to know that you are certainly not alone.

The first step is to make sure he’s falling asleep independently in his room at bedtime (without anyone there as he drifts off). It’s really important that the conditions at bedtime and through the night are exactly the same (parent’s presence vs. alone). Assuming that’s already happening, I’d suggest you (1) help him feel comfortable and empowered to be in his room and (2) give him the clear boundary and new arrangement.

First, let’s make sure he has all the “stuff” he needs to feel comfortable. His cozy blankets, favorite stuffed animal. I’m sure you’ve already tackled that, but it really helps to do a once-over on the room to make sure it’s the most sleep conducive possible.

Next, talk to him about ways to feel comfortable in the dark. For example, turn the lights off together, play with a flashlight or light up toys, and talk about how his bedroom is the same at night as it is during the day — all his favorite toys and books, everything is just the same.

Brainstorm some “techniques” for getting comfortable (self-soothing), like flipping over his body or his pillow to “change the channel” on a bad dream, or having YOU give his stuffed animal “10 hugs” before bed in case he needs them at night. Include him in the process of coming up with these and practicing.

Then, you want to establish the pattern of him falling back to sleep in his own bed. When he comes into your bed, gently walk him back to his own bed and tell him you will check on him in five minutes. Follow through with a quick little succinct check. Keep checking on him until he’s asleep. If he pops up out of bed, you’ll need to walk him back to his bed. Say a short sentence (reassuring but short) and walk out again. At first, he may keep popping up, and you can keep walking him back.

The most important thing is to fill him in on the new plan before you start. Let him know exactly what you will do when he comes into your bed that night.

Follow up here and let me know how it goes!

Sleep happy,

Heather

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