Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The problem of sleep

I used to have a son who had no problem falling asleep by himself, woke only a couple of times a night, and went straight back to sleep after being fed. We were happy and oh-so-proud. Then something happened (that infamous something, if only I knew what it was...) and now at the age of six months we are working really hard to help him enjoy going to sleep, falling asleep and staying asleep. Some nights we work very hard.

Someone once told me that new parents complain about one of the two things when it comes to their babies: eating (or not) or sleeping (or not). Sleeping is our battleground. Our son is an active, happy little boy, who has incredible difficulty winding down, and even more difficulty falling back to sleep when we're not there. A while ago he started waking up in the middle of the night, not hungry, not wet, just needing company. We went, sat by his bed, he went back to sleep. We got up from the chair, he woke up and cried. When that 7 o'clock alarm rang, we were spent. 

I looked for answers, as all parents do, and realised there are as many answers as there are people providing them. There seems to be no pattern, no one cause, and no one solution. As those difficult evenings and nights continued, we were ready to try just about anything. I don't think there is a website out there I have not tried to look through. Finally, we realised the only way to deal with it was take it easy, know that 'this too shall pass' and have a plan. Knowing what the plan was, and reminding each other of it turned out to be very important, because you really tend to forget about everything when it's (again) three in the morning. 

The 'loud nights' were hardest. There are fewer of them right now, but sometimes they still happen. We didn't rock him to sleep, but we didn't leave him lying in the dark and crying all alone. I would not leave my husband alone in a room if he needed my help, and I do not leave my son. But I would not carry him around the room for hours on end either. Just because I will not continue doing this forever, and if I don't want to keep doing this, why even start?

We fought against putting our little one to bed later - a lot of people advised we should try, but we believe babies should go to bed early. We slowed down, thought about it, and followed the simplest of Magda Gerber's advice: 'To have a respectful approach to your child's sleep is to help her learn good sleeping habits.' We set a routine, told our son about it, and have been following it with him. We tell him what will happen. We try and make the house as peaceful as possible for his sleep time. But we also don't want him to fall asleep with our hand on his cheek, because we learnt that when he wakes up in the middle of the night he is looking for that hand. And if it's not there that's just not fair. So right now we are doing as little as neccessary reassuring him that he can do it, and that we are there in case he needed us. But we try not to put him to sleep. Some evenings are harder than others, but we are trying, and we know that eventually he will learn. And just knowing this has made all the difference.

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