Suffering Through Sleepless Nights? You're Not Alone!
I can truly say that the most shocking aspect of being a new mom, for me, was when I realized what it was going to mean for my sleeping patterns. I still have the journals in which I recorded the feeding times of my newborn twins, and the nighttime notations look quite horrifying in retrospect: 9:20 PM, 10:30 PM, 12:15 AM, 2:05 AM, 3:30 AM, 5:45 AM, 6:00 AM...
One morning at around 5:30 AM, my husband (who had been trying to catch a few winks on the couch in order to function properly at work) came in to see how I was doing. I was a mess. I had barely slept the entire night. It seemed that almost every minute had been spent rocking, soothing or feeding one twin while the other one slept, and then as soon as one finally settled, the other one would wake up for some attention. I was in an absolute state, I felt shell-shocked, and it really did seem like a nightmare from which I'd never wake up.
Quite obviously, I wasn't the only one faced with this problem. A study recently printed in the the Canwest newspapers revealed that most Canadian famillies with children six to 24 months of age aren't sleeping through the night. Seventy-three percent of the parents surveyed said their child wakes one or more nights a week. Of all the issues parents of young children have to be concerned with, lack of sleep is often the most troublesome...
And it's no wonder we're so concerned about it. I feel like there are new articles all the time about how not getting enough sleep adversely affects our health, our mental health, our weight. And on top of that, when our kids aren't sleeping well, we feel guilty, like we've somehow failed. I've heard many of my friends beat themselves up about it, wondering whether they had somehow created their children's sleep issues.
In my first year of motherhood, I spent countless hours researching sleep techniques, reading books and looking for advice online. I often found the answers as frustrating as the questions. There is so much information out there, it can be confusing and disheartening to wade through all the advice, only to have your fledgling efforts fail as your child wakes once again.
So, culled from my experiences, here are three things you probably don't want to hear about getting your kids to sleep, but I certainly found to be true (and I'm no sleep expert, so you can feel free to take it all with a grain of salt):
1. You can't believe everything you read.
Being a problem-solver by nature, I turned to the experts to solve my family's sleep problems. And not knowing which approach was best, I choose to read them all.
The four books I purchased were On Becoming Babywise: Giving Your Baby The Gift Of Nighttime Sleep by Gary Ezzo, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways To Help Your Baby Sleep Through The Night by Elizabeth Pantley, The Happiest Baby On The Block by Harvey Karp and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth. Plus I already had The Baby Book by William Sears in my arsenal. (Just a little light reading, huh?)
The biggest problem when it comes to sleep books is that they all totally contradict each other. For example, on the one end is Baby-Wise, a hardcore sleep training manual that preaches crying-it-out and refutes "child-centered" approaches, warning that if your baby isn't sleeping well, he could possibly be at risk for ADHD. On the opposite end of the spectrum is The No-Cry Sleep Solution, which recommends sleep logs, lovey dolls and claims that crying-it-out is cruel and terrifying for the child. And then somewhere in the middle is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. It's the one I found the most ridiculous, frankly: overly-complicated, confusing and way too dense to be of use to a desperate sleep-deprived mother. Not to mention the title, which sets mothers up to feel even more guilt about our oft-waking kids ("Oh no! If my child doesn't have healthy sleep habits, does that mean he won't be happy?"). No thanks, Weissbluth.
The other problem is that all the sleep books I read claim that their methods would work if only moms and dads keep at it. They all include parent testimonials praising each particular method. But the fact that they all tout different philosophies (and refute each other's) just shows that NONE of these methods are going to work for everyone.
I'm not saying don't read the books, they've obviously worked for millions of people. But what I am saying is if you're trying one method and it's just not working for you, or your child, don't sweat it. It's not that you're doing it wrong or you've screwed it up somehow. Despite the dire warnings in the pages of your sleep book of choice, you haven't ruined your baby's sleep for life. It's just not the right choice for your family.
2. Some kids just sleep better than others.
There. I said it. And all the devotees of the Ferber method or co-sleeping or what have you can beg to differ, but sorry, I truly think that sometimes, good sleepers are just born. And on the flip side of that, poor sleepers cannot be forced to sleep nine or 10 hours a night, whatever the technique. And I have proof!
My daughter Sadie sleeps like a log. She has ever since she was about three months old. At that point, my husband plopped her into her crib in her room around midnight, and she slept about six hours straight, on her own. Meanwhile, her twin sister, Bridget, is a restless sleeper. Always has been, still is, probably always will be. She slept poorly until about 14 months or so. (And incidentally, she began sleeping better around the time she stopped breastfeeding. No coincidence, that.) So quit beating yourselves up, moms! Some of these things are just not in your control.
3. Sometimes, it just takes time.
This is probably the worst thing to hear when you're an overtired parent. It feels much better to hear that your baby's sleeping problems can be cured overnight by some magic technique, probably the reason why so many sleep books get sold. But the fact is, your child will sleep better... eventually. That's no consolation when you're suffering, but I'm sure most parents would agree that it's basically impossible to "control" a baby or a toddler in other ways (eg. tantrums, what they will and won't eat, keeping their socks on after they've taken them off three times). So why should sleep be any different? No need to feel guilty. It's not your fault. Or theirs, for that matter.
So what's a sleep-deprived parent to do? If you suspect there could be a physical reason your child isn't sleeping (like reflux or allergies), you should see your family physician ASAP. Or if things are really rough and waiting it out just isn't going to cut it, there is help available. You can hire a sleep doula to provide some hands-on assistance, you can hire a night nanny to allow you some much-needed sleep, or you can talk to your physician about going to a sleep clinic.
And for what it's worth, here's what worked for my girls (eventually): In the early months, Sadie and Bridget really dug the Five S's from the Karp book (shushing, swaddling, swinging, sucking, and side positioning). Swaddling them up like little burritos and swinging them in my arms really helped in the early months, and they still fall asleep to the soft "shhhh" of an air purifier. Also, our bedtime routine is very consistent, with PJs, teeth brushing, stories and songs happening the same way pretty much every night. Lastly, I adopted the "lovey" idea in the Pantley book. I gave my girls lovey bunnies (which are soft, thin pieces of cloth with a bunny head attached) when they were about 9 months old, dutifully sleeping with them under my pajama top to give them my scent. These days, they are Sadie and Bridget's favourite things in the world. Did it help them sleep? I don't know, but they certainly won't sleep without them now.
Good luck, and I wish you all sweet dreams!
What are your no-fail sleep secrets? Feel free to share in the comments below!