I had a lot of success using the techniques outlined in the “Dream Baby Guide” by Sheyne Rowley. When Alex was 6 months old, using one week of preparation as detailed in the book, then implementing a new routine, Alex went from waking and feeding 3 times a night to sleeping through 7 pm to 7 am consistently. The book is massive, repetitive, and I found it patronising in places. Most advice fits with the research I have done so far, and there is a lot of useful advice for forming a positive relationship with your child while teaching them important skills and boundaries. I will attempt to summarise the key recommendations here.
*P* for Preparation marks steps you can introduce at least a week before the routine starts.
*R* for Routine marks steps that should only be introduced with the routine.
Dream Baby Guide Recommendations (for 6 month olds and up)
The Dream Baby Guide recommends the following for repairing sleep-disturbances (I have excluded a lot of the nuance, specific-case, and flexibility detail for simplicity).
- Formulate a new bedtime routine with verbal cues for settling, resettling, and waking (see below), but only implement the waking routine initially.
- Help your baby to practice the skills needed for self-settling during the day (see below).
- Keep a sleep diary for 7 days before implementing the new routine (You can download a sleep diary from the child and adolescent sleep clinic here).
- Determine whether your baby needs a time-specific routine, and if so, which routine would be best.
- Remove night feeds from 2am-6:30/7am on the night before starting the new routine (assuming that your baby is old enough and medically fit to do so).
- Maintain strict routine, with environmental aids for 3 weeks before introducing more flexibility.
Your baby requires a number of skills before he can fall asleep alone in his cot. These should be practised during the day. For a quick reference list you can sign up to get your copy of “3 skills to teach during the DAY for better SLEEP at NIGHT”. Your baby needs to learn to:
1. Understand and follow your direction *P*
Parents should govern non-negotiable sequences such as nappy change, errands, and bed-time. The Dream Baby Guide recommends using the same simple but specific language to prepare and guide babies from 6 months through these sequences as follows:
- Pre-empt: “Almost time to activity (e.g. change your nappy).” “Almost time to expectation (e.g. lie on your back).”
- Forewarn: “Last x, time to activity.“
- State event: “Time to activity.“, and “Expectation (e.g. Lie on your back please).”
- Define using action: E.g. If your baby is trying to roll over physically hold them (kindly but firmly) on their back until they stop struggling. This communicates the meaning of “lie on your back”.
- Follow through: Repeat the previous step as required throughout the process.
- Complete: Indicate the end of the process and your direction. Sheyne suggests the wait game (see number 2 below).
Sheyne emphasises the importance of using downwards inflection to make statements not questions and modelling respectful communication.
I have used this communication strategy consistently since Alex was 6 months old and have found that when I neglect to pre-empt and forewarn I am much more likely to have a fight on my hands.
2. Wait *P*
The Dream Baby Guide recommends the wait game. In essence, at the end of a parent-governed event, you say and sign “wait” with a cheeky grin. Wait a moment (which can be longer and longer as they get to know the game). Then pick baby up with a tickle, kiss, and/or spin that you know they enjoy.
Patience can also be practiced during the day during cot-playtime (4), high-chair, pram, shopping trolley, and car-seat playtime.
3. Stay calm when alone *P*
Again Sheyne’s solution is communication. Every time you leave your baby’s sight say “I’ll be back”, and “I’m back” on re-entry. This gets baby used to the fact that you don’t disappear without warning, and always come back.
When you leave your baby for a significant amount of time, say a proper goodbye. For example I say “Goodbye, I’ll see you after (your sleep/dinner/lunch), can you wave bye bye to me?”. By getting him to wave, I’m requesting acknowledgement of my departure so that I don’t accidentally sneak out because he wasn’t listening.
This communication makes your presence and absence predictable, which should help your baby to feel calm in your absence.
4. Feel happy in their cot *P*
The Dream Baby Guide recommends cot playtime after each sleep (or at least once a day), where you give Baby toys and gradually transition from playing next to him, to doing your own thing in his room, to leaving him to play alone.
The end of cot playtime should signify the end of the parent-governed sleep time. Sheyne suggests getting your baby to help you pack away, then playing the wait game before getting Baby up.
5. Interpret ambiguous emotions such as tiredness, and calm down from negative emotions such as anger *P*
Sheyne recommends modelling calm, confident emotions at sleep time. Sheyne also provides specific advice for helping babies to cope with their emotions during the day. The Dream Baby Guide provides tables of causes and possible solutions for distress, frustration, impatience, bossiness, and attention seeking. Also see my posts on interpreting emotions and coping with emotions.
6. Understand the bedtime routine, what is expected of them, and what they can expect from Mum and Dad
a. Role Play *P*
Sheyne recommends role play to communicate expectations to babies 6 months and up. Sheyne suggests that you choose a special soft toy. You can increase attachment to this toy by including it in your day to day activities (gently as if it were another child). Once your child shows an attachment to the toy, role play the bedtime routine with the toy while your baby watches, preferably in someone’s arms. If the toy is safe to sleep with, the toy could then become a cot-time only toy. I have detailed our experience with the role play and theory behind role play in bedtime routine modelling, and Sheyne provides far more detail in the book.
b. Waking routine *P*
Having a waking routine that is very different from the re-settling routine has a couple of major advantages.
- Baby understands immediately whether you expect them to go back to sleep or get up for the day.
- You can separate the association between crying from their cot and being picked up.
The Dream Baby Guide recommends that you delay entering with your waking routine until you are sure that Baby is fully awake and there is a lull in crying if possible. Important elements of the waking routine are cot playtime, pack away, and the wait game (see 2 and 4 above).
Dream Baby Guide Routine
In addition to the waking routine above, Sheyne recommends a settling and resettling routine.
Settling routine *R*
Important aspects of the settling routine, are:
- There is 10-15 minutes of positive in-arms time. This way when your verbal cues and routine associations communicate to your baby that he will soon be lying in his cot, he can prepare himself in the comfort of your arms.
- At the end there is 1 minute of settling cues or song while your child is lying down in their cot. This section becomes the resettling routine.
- You are honest with your child about leaving the room. You do so confidently and do not sneak out.
Resettling routine *R*
The resettling routine is point 2 of the settling routine above.
The Dream Baby Guide recommends responding based on the type of cry. Emotion-based cries should be responded to (see this post for relevant research), communication cries should not be. Emotion-based cries include distressed (prolonged cry, silent cry, repeat, sometimes heard when you leave the room), upset, and angry cries (deep, raspy, furious yell, often accompanied by coughs). Communication cries stop or escalate as soon as you respond and often include pauses where baby listens out for you. They include call out cries that are trying to get you to respond, and settling cries or vocalisations when baby is trying to fall asleep.
Sheyne recommends a detailed schedule around how long you leave it before responding to cries. The important points are that you leave enough time (usually 3-10 minutes) to be sure you understand the cry, and to check whether your baby is able to calm down without help. Pauses can mean that it is a communication cry, or your baby is beginning to fall asleep, cries with frequent pauses should, therefore, be left for longer if you have to respond at all. When you need to, you respond with your resettling cues.
I very rarely needed to resettle Alex after implementing everything else. The same approach didn’t work for Liz, and I was unable to maintain responding with resettling cues only, so my response to crying was more similar to the Sensible Sleep Solution.
The Dream Baby Guide recommends temporary environmental measures while baby is learning to self settle including removing light, sound, and movement from the room, optimal temperature, and a firm wrap and tuck in. Sheyne goes into great detail on all these points, and I found her advice on using rolled towels between the mattress and cot to secure a tight sheet tuck-in particularly valuable.
Sheyne provides a lot more than the tips above. If you have a trouble time during the day, or any difficulty implementing the ideas above, Sheyne probably addresses it specifically in her book. I found the following particularly valuable:
- A baby who falls asleep at 7pm, is likely to wake at 10-11pm, 2am, and 4-5am if they don’t know how to self settle. This is what made me realise that Alex didn’t necessarily need his three night feeds.
- Sheyne provides detailed minute-by-minute schedules that take into account your baby’s age and personal sleep requirement.
- Based on the time of night-wakings Sheyne suggests likely causes. This is based on her experience, not scientific study, but I also found it a very useful and usually accurate diagnostic tool. If you buy the book via any of the links on this page, just email me your receipt, and I will send you a quick-reference chart with the times and causes of night-wakings as per the book. The timings assume that the baby is on one of the Dream Baby Guide schedules, with a 7pm bedtime.
Further Research Required
There are some elements of the Dream Baby Guide that I don’t personally agree with and need to research further. Firstly, she simplifies language to the detriment of grammar. Given how important modelling is I prefer to use good grammar and respectful additions such as please and thank you. Also, Sheyne gives very specific recommendations on nutrition. I agree that nutrition is an important factor in sleep, and Sheyne understands the specifics of this better than I do. However, Sheyne suggests that mealtimes, what, and how much a child eats should be a parent-governed event. I agree that parents should govern what types of foods are available and when, but I think how much children eat should be child-governed. This is something I intend to research. I also had great success with baby-led weaning, starting at around 6 months, whereas Sheyne recommends purees, I intend to research this also.
If you think the Dream Baby approach would help your family, I recommend the Dream Baby Guide book because Sheyne adds nuance and detail that I cannot. I reiterate though that the book is huge and repetitive. If you buy the book via one of my affiliate links it will cost the same, I will get a small commission, and in return, I will give you a page-referenced guide detailing where you can read more about each strategy mentioned here, as well as quick-reference charts for assessing night-waking triggers. Just email me your receipt and I will send the resources through. For a summary of the method in Sheyne’s own words, or more about Sheyne Rowley (the Australian Baby Whisperer), visit her site.
If you have any questions about the book or the above recommendations, or if you have had any experience using the Dream Baby Guide recommendations, please add your comments below or email me.
The recommendations above, along with many other suggestions, are included in the Sleep Options Wizard (for 0-5 year olds) when they seem appropriate for your child.