Sleep Wars Episode VI: Return of the Sanity

In Parenting by Jenn1 Comment

When 900 hours of sleep you lose, look as good you will not, hmm?

I procrastinated on writing this post because I was waiting for the post title to feel a little more true and not just like an overly optimistic rah-rah. But if I follow Science Guy’s advice and zoom out a bit to the big picture, things on the sleep front are much better than they were a month ago, though some other things have cropped up to make me feel less sane than I have in a long while. (More on that next time.)

Sleep training often gets a bad rap because most people, myself included before now, think it just means letting your child scream themselves to sleep. Sleep learning, on the other hand, was a family learning experience in which Fire Monkey learned to self-soothe and tell the difference between his own feelings of sleepiness and hunger, Science Guy and I learned to read the baby’s sleep cues (and the second wave of overexcitement that comes when we miss those cues), and we all learned new routines and schedules that have made everyone significantly happier. (And for the record, there was crying involved but there’s always crying involved with babies, and Fire Monkey is a quick learner.)

Before our sleep learning bootcamp (because while the results were worthwhile, it wasn’t easy, let me assure you), I lived in a Faulkner-esque blur of feedingplayingfeedingnotnappingfeedingsleepingfeeding with no punctuating naps or syntactic routine to lend our days any structure. That’s what we did when he was a newborn, and all the baby sleep books I read basically agreed that any kind of scheduling was pointless before about four months of age. Routine was never my strong suit anyway, so I embraced the chaos hoping that everything would work itself out.

But children need routine. (And so does the A-minus Mama, but she’ll never quite admit it.) Knowing what to expect and knowing his needs will be met is key to fostering a secure attachment, which I learned during this process is different from bonding. I had been reacting to most of his expressions of need by nursing him or picking him up, but maybe he really needed to sleep or wanted to play quietly by himself. Our sleep consultant, Kristi, helped us figure out a routine that fit the range of natural circadian rhythms and sleep cycles in an infant brain, and wouldn’t you know it, within a week we had night-weaned and he was able to put himself back to sleep when he woke up at night. Naps took another week and a half to come together and they are still hairy sometimes, but I can almost always get him to take a morning and afternoon nap, and he is in bed for the night by 7:00pm. (Previously, we had let him play and nurse until at least 9:00 because we didn’t know any better.)

The benefits of this new schedule are more than just a relatively full night’s sleep. It has completely changed the quality of our interaction during the day as well. Prior to sleep learning, the sheer quantity of time that Fire Monkey was awake meant that I spent a lot of my time multitasking, or at least multi-minding, because there was literally no time in the day when I was awake and he wasn’t. (The “sleep when the baby sleeps” advice is real, you guys. Also often impossible.) And while he’s cute, I can only handle so much touching and grabbing and liquid-smearing from him in one day, so I’d often be scrolling my phone or working on my laptop with one hand and keeping him away from said electronics with the other, just to get a break from minding him and to get *anything* done. Now that I know he will take a nap around 8:30 and 12:30 (and 4:00, if I’m lucky…which I’m often not) and go to sleep for the night at 7:00, I feel much less like I’m scrounging for time throughout the day to attend to chores, spend time with Science Guy, or do my own thing for five minutes. And this means I can more easily devote my full attention to Fire Monkey when we nurse and play during the day. (Side note: I did go through some not-insignificant separation anxiety when we first started the early bedtime.)

This is also the first time since Fire Monkey was born that Science Guy and I have had reliable time to spend together without the baby. That it’s at the end of the day means I’m usually pretty tired by then, but it’s been nice to sit together on the couch and watch Avatar: The Last Airbender and play Keep Talking and No One Explodes. (Okay, yes, and go see Rogue One on opening night.) During the course of sleep learning, Science Guy also claimed the title of Baby Whisperer since he is better able to calm Fire Monkey down in his crib than I am, likely because I always wear milk perfume and because the wily little scamp knows that I am much more likely to cave in to his crying and pick him up. It’s really nice to do the bedtime routine as a family instead of just me desperately trying to nurse the baby to sleep so we can finally go to bed.

The most important thing I learned from this is just that babies, and parents, can learn new tricks. Sleep is so critical for babies and parents alike, and giving Fire Monkey and ourselves the gift of rest is one of the best things we could have done. The process wasn’t easy and no day is perfect, but it was worth it.

(There may or may not eventually be another installment of this series called The Baby Awakens…)

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