Getting Your Kid to Sleep-- without CO

This week on Car Talk, Tom and Ray heard from Jayne in Fairfax, Virginia who was trying to get her baby to sleep-- without idling her Subaru Outback ad nauseum and risking a dose of carbon monoxide, not to mention pollution.

Got suggestions? We’d love to hear them, as would the thousands of sleep-deprived new parents, we’re guessing.

Share your ideas right here.


On the 2/1/2008 program a lady called in
about an infant that would only sleep in the
car. Unfortunately this is not that

  1. There is at least one product out there
    that produces a sound and vibration in a
    crib similar to what happens in a cer being
    driven around. I never used it but I have
    heard it works well for some kids. That
    would eliminate the concerns of carbon
    monoxide and keep the gas bill down. I am sure a quick web search would find it and any similar products;

  2. A Prius sitting still probbaly would not
    work because it is too quiet. I have been
    in one recently as I am thinking of buying
    one, and I think you would need to be
    driving it to produce enough noise and
    vibration to sooth a child.

By the way, great program you both run!
Really infomormative and funny.


Gary DiMuzio

My first born was about as active as any child I’ve known. At first the car was the only solution but I was uncomfortable leaving him in there unattended. We inherited a wind up swing which worked as well and switched to that. At the time I was writing my PhD dissertation and could keep my own hours. My wife slept at night except to breast feed (I couldn’t help her with that) and I’d work all night periodically cracking the swing. When it stopped he’d wake, I’d crank, and bingo-right back to sleep. They have motorized the swings now so you don’t have to crank them. Within days (week?) he started sleeping right through the night. No CO and save on cost.

Definitely worth a try.

The problem is not how to get a child to sleep. The problem is that anyone would even consider leaving a child alone in a car under any circumstances. It is very dangerous.
There are many easier and safer ways to encourage sleep.

There are white noise CDs made especially for babies with car (and hair dryer, washing machine, etc) sounds. Maybe the CD or a CD/swing combo would be a good solution.

You’re right, but don’t worry. She wasn’t leaving the child alone–those who heard the show know she was talking about driving around until the baby fell asleep, then staying in the car with him until his nap was over.

During that call, at one point somebody mentioned Carbon Monoxide detectors. I should warn people about our experience with them.

Private airplanes provide heat to the cabin using heat exchangers on the exhaust system, just like old VW Beetles, so carbon monoxide is a constant worry, especially as combined with the reduced oxygen at altitude it can be quickly fatal. Our flying club bought a bunch of carbon monoxide detectors for our airplanes (Aeromedix brand), but we discovered that after a just a month or two of being explosed to the extreme temperatures of sitting out in the planes when they aren’t being used, all of them were broken. Some of them would break in a mode where they beeped all the time which was really annoying.

You should warn Jayne and anybody else considering using a house-style carbon monoxide detector in a car that they should bring it into the house when they aren’t driving.

I learned a much simpler and effective method 12 years ago when my first daughter was born. Put the kid in the carseat, put the carseat on the dryer, and turn it on in the “no heat” mode. Works like a charm without pollution or CO hazard, and lets mom and dad relax indoors.

Leaving a baby alone in the car, heater or air conditioner or nothing running, is obviously not safe. It also represents an appalling waste of gas and the danger of heat prostration in the summer if the A/C shuts off. These parents need some parenting help! In thirty years of practicing pediatrics, I’ve never encountered such an impractical way of dealing with this problem. If one is unwilling to tough it out - and ultimately, I assure you, every baby will learn to go to sleep - there are various devices one can purchase which imitate the sound of a motor; or one can buy a motorized swing; or one can run the vacuum cleaner… or play music or do all the above. Get “The Happiest Kid on the Block” for more suggestions. One can only wonder with a certain amount of dread how these parents plan to deal with later behavior problems.

Nora Klein, MD

As has already been pointed out, they WERE NOT leaving the child unattended in the car. The mother was staying in the car also.

There are car seats that come in two parts: the base that remains strapped into the car at all times, and the cradle section that snaps in and out of the base. They are a lifesaver, even for parents whose babies are capable of falling asleep in other places. So Jayne can drive until the baby falls deeply asleep, then take him into the house in the carseat and enjoy her evening. I won’t mention the brand, but it is a very highly rated safety seat and can be found anywhere that sells baby stuff.

Maybe Jayne is already aware of this kind of carseat and her baby sleeps so lightly that moving the car seat into the house wakes him up. In which case I recommend the dryer solution elephantEngineer offered above, or get earplugs and wait until he outgrows this phase… Good luck!

Amy, mother of an 11-month-old