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Hi, I’m Carol and I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

I am using the above as a disclaimer, because this is going to be some classic Carol inconsequentiality.

I’ve read and re-read (parts of) The No-Cry Sleep Solution and I am satisfied that it will meet my needs. As a dog trainer, part of me was hesitant about this book, because the one thing I couldn’t really by-pass in my brain was the little voice that says “cry it out relies on operant conditioning. What could possibly work that does not use operant conditioning, and consequently, CIO?”

After all, how do you teach  puppy to sleep in his crate? Let him whimper. The whimpering behaviour is not rewarded and he learns to stay quiet in his crate. Simple.

But Babby is a lot younger than a puppy. He doesn’t even have his milk teeth yet. If he were a puppy he’d still be snuggling at his mother’s nipples, not whimpering alone in a crate. A puppy, by the time it’s old enough to come home, is developmentally much more like a two year old.

So here I was, trying to find a way to violate basic principles of psychology, and feeling pretty stupid about it.

Then I read the book and wanted to smack myself for being such a moron.

CLASSICAL conditioning.

You know, Pavlov’s dog? Ring a bell and it drools? The form of conditioning that was “discovered” first and the principles of which must be thoroughly understood before operant conditioning (reward/punishment learning) can even be attempted?


The really stupid thing is that I have insomnia.

All the recommendations for people with insomnia are based on classical conditioning:

  • Build positive sleep associations (don’t force yourself to lie awake and miserable because that will make you hate sleep more; just get up for a while before lying back down and trying again)
  • Create a soothing bedtime routine (dim lighting, warm bath, quiet time with a book)
  • Avoid doing things which aren’t sleep (or sex) in bed (so you don’t associate bed with homework, worrying, arguing, stress, etc – actually, I bet they’d rather you don’t have sex in bed either, but I guess they had to draw the line at certain practicalities).
  • Etc

I even read Stanley Coren’s book about sleep years ago and he even talked about how the best way to get babies to sleep well was to build positive sleep associations.


So, yeah, The No-Cry Sleep Solution tells you how to classically condition your child to fall asleep at certain sleep cues. She talks about bedtime routines (we have one, but it isn’t long enough), weaning baby off of the booba (a definite sleep-association which needs to change if the baby is to learn to self-soothe), and creating other cues that the baby associates with going to sleep, such as a “lovey” (don’t have) and special sleep sounds (we only have “shhh”).

I have been hoping and hoping that Babby would turn into a thumb sucker, but it just doesn’t seem to be happening. So I am still his nighttime soother and this results in him needing to nurse every time he wakes up. I know perfectly well that he’s not actually hungry, but he screams like a banshee without it. The author explains that Babby’s sleep association with booba is so strong that he thinks he NEEDS it to go back to sleep, which is a problem because people naturally wake up every couple of hours. Most of us just roll over and go back to sleep, but if you think you need a booba in order to sleep, you might get upset. She has some tips on how to wean him off of booba, namely popping the booba out of his mouth as soon as he starts to fall asleep, so the association at least doesn’t get any stronger.

In the meantime, I am to introduce a lovey to take my place as cuddle-object, and some cue-music. If I keep the lovey with us whenever he is nursed to sleep, it will smell like me and he will associate it with being nursed to sleep. If I play the same music every time as he is falling asleep, he will associate that with nursing to sleep. The goal is to get to the point where the presence of the lovey and the sound of the music kick-off the sleeping process, while I slowly reduce the amount of nursing he gets before sleep until eventually he falls asleep at the sound of the music/presence of the lovey.

While she never once uses the term “classical conditioning” or allude to Pavlov, her instructions are clear. Pair the conditioned stimulus (lovey/music/bedtime routine) with the unconditioned stimulus (however the baby normally falls asleep, i.e. on the booba) so that it is associated with the unconditioned response (sleep). Eventually, the introduction of the conditioned stimulus (lovey/music/bedtime routine) will result in a conditioned response (sleep). It worked for Pavlov in getting a dog to drool on command. It worked when I taught Beloved Dog how  to pee on command. Why didn’t I think of it as a way to get Babby to sleep on command??

All of this is totally psychologically sound, and now that I think about it, is more psychologically sound than the cry-it-out operant conditiong approach. After all, none of the insomnia tips I have ever read have said “cry frustratedly and miserably in bed until you finally fall unconscious.” So if they don’t recommend it for adults, why do we think it’s the best strategy for babies?


Because I’m me, and I overthink everything, I now need to pick exactly the right bedtime lovey and music. After careful examination of all Babby’s age-appropriate toys, I have selected our Eric Carle brand Very Hungry Caterpillar that we picked up in New York, and which you can find pictures of on my Flickr page. It’s a nice, long, huggable baby shape and I approve of its message.

For music, my only option is a hand-me-down lamb that my Boy Cousins used to sleep to, which plays Mary Had A Little Lamb with a wind-up key. Babby already enjoys this music box, although it’s a little sprightly for sleepy time. However, PH is worried about it because the toy is over 20 years old and has metal turn-key. It doesn’t look super safe for a tiny baby. Better for a slightly older child who doesn’t poke himself in the eye when trying to put something in his mouth.

So THAT sent us to the internet to look at other musical options.

Now. I could get a music box or one of those crib-aquarium things that plays music, and use it in combination with the caterpillar lovey, or I could get a glo worm or similar which is music AND lovey all in one.

I’m agonizing over it. Because I am me.

On the one hand, I like the idea of a combo-lovey. If he could trigger his own sleep music, that would be fantastic. Talk about self-soothing! 

On the other hand, I’m an old-fashioned gal and I’m not big on the lovey-needs-batteries idea. When I was a little kid I had (okay, still have) a blankie. My blankie didn’t need no stinking batteries. My blankie didn’t need no flashy lights. I like the idea of my child hauling around a Very Hungry Caterpillar which PH and I bought on our baby-moon in New York. Feels delightfully literary and there’s a family story to it. But it doesn’t play music or give off a comforting light in the darkness.

So, folks, what to do?

Low-tech but literary lovey and music box that I would need to turn on myself at night, or fisher price gadget that plays music for Babby when he hugs it?

The pathetic thing is that I won’t get really serious about sorting out Babby’s sleep associations til I have figured out this important issue.