10-month Update: In Search of Sleep in Seoul

With all the blog posts drawing to attention to Sophia’s frenzied activity, I thought it was time to showcase a bit more of the opposite: her sleep patterns.

At 10 months old, our main focus with Sophia during this age has been maintaining sleep routines. A culmination of factors brought about our sustained sleep training this past month but in large part we recently read the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child and it made us realize that we’ve been looking at Sophia’s sleep cycle and habits in all the wrong ways. (Disclaimer: I am by no means a sleep expert, but this is what has and has not worked for us as a family!)

Life-changing revelation #1: Daytime and nighttime sleep are connected.

We had no idea that poor napping during the daytime would affect her night’s sleep. We were always under the false impression that if she didn’t sleep much during the day, then she’d just crash at night and stay asleep because she’s so tired. The book describes how the amount of “awake time” between her naps and bedtime matters. If stretched out too long, which we tended to do between her afternoon nap and bedtime, she becomes overtired and finds it harder to settle down after gaining a second wind.

Attempting a photo for her China visa.

Not to mention, we honestly didn’t have set nap times until maybe around six months old. That sounds impossible for most, but Michal and I weren’t big on routines as we still wanted to go everywhere with Sophia. As expats, we either traveled  or entertained/hosted a new set of visitors every month. In the earlier days, she would fall asleep naturally on-the-go while we were traipsing around Seoul or venturing out elsewhere.

It got harder around four months, but then we went back to the States and her whole schedule was flipped any way with jet lag. By the time we returned to Seoul, we hosted three sets of friends over the course of a month and then traveled again in Malaysia and Pyeongchang, Korea.

Plus, Sophia went through several stages and illnesses that interrupted her sleep cycles/schedules during that time period like her eight-month sleep regression, sprouting her first tooth at nine months, a terrible vomit-inducing stomach virus (likely from a kid’s cafe), an even worse bout of diarrhea and diaper rash/infection (likely from daycare), and a very bad cold (likely from a plane on one of our many travels).

Ready to play! Sophia wakes up from her morning nap, still clutching her monkey crib toy.

Now, Sophia’s naps are usually 9-10 a.m. and 1-2:30 p.m. (give or take 10 minutes at the beginning or end of each nap). After this period of intense sleep training and getting her on somewhat predictable schedule, we’ve been able to drop her off for a few hours after waking from her morning nap at a local government-subsidized daycare. (Preview: Affordable childcare in Korea is a future blog post topic).

Sophia’s discovery of tissue boxes at home = Time to find new entertainment at daycare.

The daycare has a strict “Adaptation Program” in which she started with only one hour a day and has been adding time as she adjusts to the schedule of activities and the people. She has been napping maybe 70 percent of the times she has gone, and (predictably) when she doesn’t nap or doesn’t have a long nap, she is incredibly cranky. We’re looking forward to the day she is fully adjusted! That’s a bit of advice we’d love: How do you help your baby have restful nap at daycare where there are so many distractions?

Life-changing revelation #2: We put her to bed too late.

For the past month or two, Sophia has usually fallen asleep by 6:30 p.m. and woken up for the day at 6:30 a.m. During that 12-hour period, she is a bit more unpredictable as she typically wakes once to have milk, but that one time can either be at 9:30 p.m., 1:30 a.m. or 3:30 a.m. (Of course, we prefer that 9:30 p.m. time slot as the whole family can then get in a good night’s sleep!)

She loves sitting on daddy’s shoulders!

We’ve been considering night weaning this middle-of-the-night feeding out of our lives, but as it’s an unpredictable wake-up call with a different amount of milk each time, we haven’t figured out the best way of starting this. Any advice on night weaning is also much appreciated. 🙂

We used to designate bedtime routine duties to Michal so that he could have bonding time with Sophia and I could rest. Once we saw that late night routine was detrimental, we flipped the daddy-daughter bonding time to the morning. Michal now gets Sophia up and ready for the day, changing her and feeding her breakfast. She’s even become his morning workout buddy (AKA she replaces his kettle bell and weights some times or just curiously watches him).

Life-changing revelation #3: Our baby needed to learn how to self-soothe and put herself to sleep.

We had been applying tips from Happiest Baby on the Block way past the appropriate age. (Granted, these tips worked like a charm for Sophia when she was little!) Part of the reason we extended the following habits was due to the fact that Sophia would cough/choke a bit while breastfeeding due to my oversupply and so we felt the need to hold her upright for a while after feeding. While keeping her upright, we would rock or bounce her gently to sleep and that just became habit after time. Around five or six months, my oversupply normalized and then we would just nurse or bottle feed her to sleep.

Crying it Out (CIO) seemed so intimidating and heart-wrenching. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, even though I knew it wasn’t right to have all these sleep crutches for her for so long. We finally gave in around nine months to do some form of “controlled crying” and found that she actually didn’t need to cry it out long.


Bedtimes came easiest first – Sophia usually fell asleep in less than 10 minutes of crying. Of course, I had to complete her bedtime routine before putting her in the crib. (Side note: I do bedtime routine solo during the week while Michal is still at work.) I started doing her last bottle feeding of the night before bath and story time instead of afterward, and then I would put her in bed drowsy but awake.

Nap times were a battle for a few weeks and I would sometimes give in after a while by nursing or rocking her to sleep if she surpassed 10 minutes of crying it out. But after one month of struggles, she was on the road to falling asleep on her own for all naps and bedtime. It was a game-changer as I used to sometimes take up to 30 minutes or more of trying to get Sophia to sleep.

Sleep training has probably been the hardest part of parenting (thus far) that I’ve experienced. What I’ve found is that I now do treasure the routine. I used to hate “feeling trapped” at home during nap times, but I realize how the limitations give way to freedoms as I can better predict when she’ll sleep soundly and when she’ll be in a good mood for a play date or some other event.

Sleep Suggestions Specific to Expat Parent Problems:

Jet lag-

The best piece of advice I got from fellow expat parents regarding jet lag (also applicable to adults): Expose little one to as much bright natural light as possible during the usual “awake hours.”

The sunlight is supposed to help reset theirs (and our) internal clocks. If possible, go outside for a walk in the stroller or carrier to capture the light or sit/play near sunny spots from your windows. Try to keep to the times of your routines regarding feeding, playing and napping. If LO falls asleep during an undesignated nap time, wake him or her up after a reasonable amount of time (maybe an hour or two).

Eager to eat! Sophia’s all set up with her high chair, bib and place mat.

It was a rough go for us in the beginning but Sophia improved by the end of the week after returning to the States and later in Seoul. It actually helped that we had scheduled her baptism for the day after we arrived in the States. (Some may say that is a little extreme, but it worked out for us because we could go to sleep early while family and friends entertained/distracted her.) For the day after we returned to Seoul, we actually went to a big beer festival with freinds so we were out in the daylight and around a lot of people.

Napping on the go –

Before three months of age, anything goes! Sophia slept so well any time she was in the carrier or stroller. We’d go on walks and she’d be sound asleep in no time. Sometimes, we’d even plan a walk before going out to a restaurant or to a party so that she’d fall asleep first and then she’d amazingly stay asleep through all of the ambient noise of the crowd.

After four months, sleep patterns changed. Naps were around every two to three hours and bedtime was still relatively later like 7 or 8 p.m. Around six months, there was usually three solid naps per day. After the eight-month regression, two naps become habit – which usually called for an earlier bedtime to make up for the missing third nap, so closer to 6 or 7 p.m.

We’ve realized that while traveling, we need to emulate home sleep environment and habits as much as possible. We bring travel blackout curtains, a portable white noise maker on our Kindle, her favorite pacifier and stuffed monkey toy, bedtime stories and lullabies on our phones.

Trying to sneak a photo in before walking around Yongsan Family Park

When it’s difficult for us to make it back to our hotel during her afternoon nap session, we’ve found some success in executing the following: We plan a few minutes to stop and feed her milk in a generally peaceful, distraction-less, shady area around her usual nap time. We then recline her in the stroller, cover with a stroller shade, turn on our portable white noise maker, and walk her in the stroller for at least an hour.

The best activities for this are when visiting a park or going around a city. (We didn’t prefer doing this in a museum because it was too quiet when she would wake. Plus, the ambient noise helps Sophia sleep!) About 90 percent of the time, she has fallen asleep and stayed asleep while we’ve walked and continued our sightseeing.

If you have any other advice for us on how to help Sophia sleep completely through the night, or sleeping while traveling, please share!