Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Word About Sleep

Today, if I can muster the energy, I want to talk about sleep. I'm so sleep deprived and delirious at the moment that it's the number one thing on my mind. Sleep, and lack of it, seems to be the biggest preoccupation of most parents. I've written about it a few times (see here), usually when I've been desperately tired, but always with the hope that one day soon, things would get better. Now I'm starting to think that I'm going to have to wait several years before I get enough consecutive nights of sleep to feel remotely human again. After 15 months I'm worn out, strung out and feeling at least 10 years older than I am.

Before J was born I had read somewhere that almost immediately after birth, most babies fall into a deep, sound sleep for several hours. I went into labour late at night, about 10 minutes after getting into bed after a long day. I was awake for almost 24 hours when J finally arrived so I was looking forward to this extended nap. It didn't happen and if anything, he seemed energised by the whole experience, and didn't sleep properly for several weeks. Sleep, and how to get more of it, became an obsession for me. There are so many books on the subject and everyone seems to have a different opinion; from hardcore teach-to-sleep from day one to attachment/baby lead, "no routine is the best routine" regimes, I researched it all. I read dozens of books and spoke to everyone we knew who had kids that seemed to sleep well, but most of the techniques just didn't fit. J had colic and reflux and would go from being sleepy to overtired and unable to sleep in a heartbeat. He hated being put down, and only ever napped in our arms. I knew we had to do something but struggled to find a way to make it work for all of us, and sometimes under exceptional circumstances I found myself doing things I never thought I would. I've never been comfortable with the idea of controlled crying, but there were nights when I was beside myself with fatigue and nothing could soothe my little man, that I had to leave him in the cot and spend 5 minutes outside.

In trying to establish a routine that worked for all of us we made some mistakes and battled a baby who simply didn't want to rest when we wanted him to. Teaching him to go to bed at the same time every night and put himself to sleep, in the gentlest way possible, when he was six months old made a world of difference, but it certainly wasn't the end to our problems. The biggest lesson we've learned over the last 15 months is that every time we thought we had it figured it out, it was always very short-lived, and things would inevitably change again. We'd have a few good nights and then he'd get sick, or start teething, or wet the bed; there was always something.

When J cut back to one nap a day and was for the most part "sleeping through" we really did think we had it figured out once and for all. This week proved just how very wrong we were. Lately we've had enough decent nights of sleep to realise what a difference they can make to our general wellbeing. On the other hand we've also become quite attached to staying in bed all night, and reverting back to bad nights has come as a bit of a shock. After 4 or 5 wake up calls on Friday night, which ended at 6am with J and I in the cot together, we were hoping for a better night on Saturday night. It wasn't to be... He howled every time I left the room and fought sleep for about an hour. At 8pm I gave up and came downstairs, leaving him shouting in protest. That lasted about 15 minutes and after he finally passed out exhausted, so did I. The rest of the night followed a similar pattern to the night before, except Sunday started at 5am and he didn't go back to sleep. When I dragged myself out of bed for the seventeenth time I thought to myself how much it felt like the days when we had a newborn, only now I don't have hormones pushing me through each day, and somehow staying in my pyjamas till 4pm and napping in the middle of the day feels less appropriate than it did 15 months ago.

We had a couple of good nights earlier in the week but daytime naps were then the issue. He either refused to go down without a fight or only slept for a short time. I was worried, and still am a little, that this was going to be the end of naps during the day. Thankfully, by exhausting him in the mornings, I got the naps back to normal but the last two nights he's had me up half a dozen times! I have a mental checklist I go through each time he gets up: dummy, nappy, temperature, position in the bed; and if all of those are fine, I leave him to it. But I still have to get up and check far too often every night! I can't wait for D to get back on Tuesday and take over for a night or two.

On the upside, when he is awake during the day, J is a lot of fun to be around. And the poor sleep hasn't affected his sense of humour or sweetness, as much as it's affected mine. I think a combination of four new teeth and separation anxiety are the culprits behind the disrupted sleep this week, but if this carries on much longer I may need to resort to drugging one or both of us to restore some form of sanity to the household...

1 comment:

  1. My baby is 9 months old and I have not had a stretch of sleep that lasts more than 3 hours since the day she was born. This too shall past... I believe.