Monday, January 11, 2010

ramblings about sleep, and the myth of "sleeping through the night"

A few nights ago I was lying next to Donovan in his room in the dark at about 2am, waiting for him to fall back asleep (usually signaled by a change in his breathing.. and his hand finally falling away from being affixed to my face) when a thought occurred to me-- "I never thought I'd be here."  And by "here" I meant mother to a(n almost) two year old who still wakes up in the middle of the night half the time.

I think the number one piece of advice I would give to new parents is this: don't believe the bullshit that baby books tell you about sleep.  They lie.  They are evil.

Every book I read basically made it sound like if your baby wasn't sleeping 12 hour stretches by 6 months of age (or sooner), it was the parents' fault for allowing/instilling poor sleep habits.  Perhaps I was reading the wrong books, but they are among the most popular baby books out there (which worries and angers me now, looking back).

Sure, I remember other parents talking about how their own kids didn't consistently sleep through the night until ages 2 or 3 or even later.  But I honestly never thought that would be the case for us.  In my naiveté I assumed they must have "allowed" their children to continue sleeping "badly" and that we would do what we needed to help teach D to sleep better.

We did "sleep train" Donovan.  I don't regret it in the least, as it taught D how to fall asleep on his own (rather than requiring the hours and hours of daily jiggling and pacing- and often screaming, usually on his part- otherwise needed to get him to fall asleep).  This was crucial for my sanity, and has made the past year and a half much, much easier on all of us.  I'm not saying this to brag, and I realize a lot of people disagree very strongly with letting an infant "cry it out" and I respect that difference of opinion. But I also won't apologize or back down for one of the few instances in the past two years as a mother where I had to put myself first (and refuse to think of myself as a lesser mother because of it).

(Well that was an interesting tangent...)

Sooooo, D didn't need rocking and cajoling to fall asleep, but he still woke up at night off and on.  I thought we were on solid ground after his first birthday when he started sleeping 11 interrupted hours at night and kept it up for a few months, but somewhere along the way, thanks to colds and travel and nighttime temperature fluctuations (is he waking up from being too cold? Too hot?) and who knows what else, we're back in a cycle where he sleeps through the night (about 10hrs) maybe 50% of the time.  Interestingly, in the past month he has also started needing me to lay down next to him till he goes to sleep.  Not always, but a lot of the time.  I usually only have to stay in there for 10-20 minutes or so.  Not ideal, but I'm also not too sure what else to do about it.  I'm hoping it's a phase that he'll just outgrow in time (he's been very attached to me in general lately, and I'm sure they're related).

I sometimes get so frustrated when D keeps waking up at night, or wakes up at ungodly hours of the morning for days/weeks on end.  That one night a few days ago I was up with him for an hour, and then had to kick Zach out of bed to trade places with me because I was starting to get frustrated and even angry at the situation.  I sometimes wonder if we should try to do something to try to get him to sleep better, and what that even could be. The thing is, by now I kinda believe that sleep (like so many other things about children) is one of those things that we as parents just have very little control over.  I could agonize and go on forever about the things we did right or wrong or things we could have tried or might have interfered with his sleep in the past and what could have made it better... but really I don't think any of it would have made much of a difference.  I think some kids will naturally sleep well starting from just a few months old.  And others will not sleep well for years.  And while there may be things we as parents can do to help strengthen (or weaken) sleep habits, the reality is that the amount of real control we hold is, I think, pretty scant.  Which is scary. But also, kind of liberating in a way.

Just not necessarily at 2am...


  1. I agree with you that a lot of the times it is nothing, they just wake up (or we don't know what it is).....

  2. brraustincold5:59 PM

    did you try following the ninety minutes cycles?

    what happens if you just let him cry it out in the middle of the night? how long does it last? would it work to let him cry it out and not lay next to him...same as you did when sleep training?

  3. What do you mean by following the 90 min sleep cycles?

    I suppose we could try CIO again, it just seems like it wouldn't work nearly as well since he's now in his own bed and thus would be screaming at the gate of his room. The other thing is that it doesn't seem like he's waking up out of habit but out of something being wrong (like his nose being stuffed up so he can't breathe well), though I guess we could still try to do that after checking in on him. But by then we're usually already up and it doesn't usually take *that* long to get him back to sleep afterwards (which was why it was frustrating when I was up with him for over an hour that one night).

    It's never a simple answer, is it? lol

  4. Hey Marcy,
    I agree with your comment about certain kids being good sleepers and other kids just being good SOME of the time. I didn't follow any sleep training books because I didn't (and still don't) believe there is a magic recipe for getting a kid to STAY asleep. If your kid reacts positively to a book's suggestion, you'll think the book is right. If not, you'll question the advice. Trial and error is fine, of course, but sometimes it still won't work for who knows what reason? I think it's luck more than anything! I remember a hazy couple of years when our kids were little (remember that we had two in just over two years). I remember Tate wanting to "cuddle" EVERY night and my falling asleep next to him because I was so tired. The only thing I am certain about is that it doesn't last indefinitely. It will eventually get better and I hope, for your sake, that it's soon. Many years later though, I have to confess how much I miss cuddling next to my son. Though it's a hard start, it truly is all too brief. (Let's pick this conversation thread up in a few years, ok? I'd love to know how it plays out for you.) Much love for you and your family. Kathy

  5. I tend to agree with the post about CIO. My fear if that were happening with C now (it did when he was a baby) would be that he would get used to us helping him back to sleep, and no matter what was waking him, he'd become dependent on us being there, and when would that end? It has to at some point. Just like CIO is used to help them sleep on their own as babies, I believe it could be tried at this age, too. As with babies, if you're sure nothing is seriously wrong with him, maybe try seeing how long he will cry, alternating with comforting him briefly and tucking him back in, then hopefully eventually he will learn he needs to go back to falling asleep on his own. Again, you know I'm a new mom to a toddler, too, and every kid is different, so take all this with a grain of salt--just my thoughts on it. C's been waking up on occasion lately and we've been giving him motrin, as his molars are popping through, but if it persists, we plan on trying a version of CIO to get him to go back to his bed to sleep (this morning he pushed down his gate--argh--hopefully that doesn't continue!). Otherwise, I think he will get used to us coming to him to either change his diaper or tuck him back in, and we definitely don't want to "reward" his crying with middle-of-the-night attention (sounds harsh, but hopefully you know what I mean).

  6. FWIW - we *didn't* sleep train. I just nursed her to sleep. Eventually she started waking less and less, but yes, we have a child who took forever to sleep through the night. And of course, if we mentioned that, people blamed us for our bad parenting and "spoiling" her and letting her "manipulate" us. So I learned "Never complain, never explain." The reality is, *I* do not "STTN." I wake up a few times per night, as does DH, so it's not shocking that our kid would too. At 3.5, she does STTN most nights, but she does want us to lay down next to her to fall asleep still. And honestly, I don't think that is so bad. I notice she gets especially needy about that if we've been busy or not spent much time with her (and she chooses which of us she wants, which generally reflects whom she's been without that day). It makes sense that she wants some time to connect with us and give her a bit of security in a dark lonely room.

    We survived the night wakings by co-sleeping. After awhile I barely noticed it. However, letting her cry (and we did do that on occasion) was a disaster - she would just get more worked up. After awhile all it took was me reaching out my arm to soothe her (at that point she slept in a crib next to our bed). If I did nothing, it was guaranteed to be hours and hours of screaming.... She's been in her own room now for awhile, and if she does wake, we go to her for a minute or two. It helps that our rooms have a connecting door. But it's a rare occurrence.

    I do think it's a myth that babies *should* do ANYTHING. They don't read the books. They do what they need to do when they want to do it...L is a lot more calm, and so far a better sleeper. I don't envision us doing anything substantially different.

    Everyone has their own opinion of how you should parent. What matters most is to find what works for you and your child, and recognize that every child is different and has different needs and responses.

  7. Hi Marcy,

    I realize this is an old post, but we also had to do CIO in the middle of the night and then redo it when my daughter got a toddler bed. The more we went in, the more she woke up b/c I think she was relying on us to get her back to sleep. We had long repetitive talks with her about how everybody was going to stay in bed till morning ("Mama's going to stay in bed, and Daddy's going to stay in bed...") and how she would know when it was morning ("when it's light outside!") and then we braced ourselves for the worst (this was after one night of her waking up four separate times) but the talking about it ahead of time REALLY helped. Within a week she was sleeping through the night again.

    Granted, she has always been a decent sleeper and we've employed a modified CIO in the middle of the night for a while now but it really helped. I think they also need to learn to put themselves *back* to sleep when they've woken up in the middle of the night. This is not to say that we haven't gone through cycles of sleeping next to her on the floor--we've totally gone that route too!

    Somebody else also suggested to me a toddler alarm clock (see Amazon) or a sticker reward chart.

    Good luck!

  8. He's probably waking up because you've screwed up the feng shui in the room. If you put some orchids in the northwest corner of his room the chi will be completely different, much more relaxing, and he'll sleep like a baby. I guarantee it.

    Also, remember to not let him do work in his room. The bedroom is a place to rest. All those books and puzzles are just stressing him out.

    Maybe he should do some yoga before going to bed. That will help to.

    PS -- You know all this will work, because I read it in a book.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...