My son is almost three years old. A week ago he slept for 4.75 hours straight, from 8 pm until nearly 1 am. That was the lifetime record for maximum time slept in his own bed.
He does not nap. He’s never napped in any consistent way. I was estimating with my husband a few days ago that he’s probably taken 40 one-hour-plus long naps in his post-infancy life.
Some of you know what it is like to have a “hard sleeper.” You are maybe remembering your own years without REM sleep. Your own bleary-eyed dependance on coffee. Maybe you are in this stage of perpetually interrupted sleep too, because you have a normal infant, or a pre-schooler you’re still “working with” on sleep stuff.
Some of you are maybe thinking your particular magic program would have solved everything if my husband and I had just known about it and been good enough parents to institute it faithfully. You people should probably keep quiet while those of us in the former category quietly weep, because your well meant sleep advice sounds exactly like this:
Don’t let your baby sleep too long, except when they’ve been napping too much, then you should wake them. Never wake a sleeping baby. Any baby problem can be solved by putting them to bed earlier, even if they are waking up too early. If your baby wakes up too early, put them to bed later or cut out a nap. Don’t let them nap after 5 pm. Sleep begets sleep, so try to get your child to sleep as much as possible. Put the baby to bed awake but drowsy. Don’t wake the baby if it fell asleep while nursing.
The only thing more trying than having a baby with terrible sleep issues is having a big kid with terrible sleep issues. Everyone can sympathize with a new mom and dad whose infant is keeping them up. When your nearly three-year-old has never slept through the night, you’re a leper parent. Other parents feel kinda bad for you, but mostly they just don’t want to catch whatever horrible thing it is you have.
Also, toddlers are able to escape. Really, what is a six month old subjected to Cry It Out gonna do? They are gonna cry, right? That’s what makes the technique so painful for parents whose kids never settle. There is a point where you just can’t listen to your beloved child go through that anymore no matter what some fucking book promises. We made it nearly two hours one night. It sucked and didn’t change a goddamned thing. We have another child in the house – a school age daughter who needs her sleep too – and there comes a point when enough is enough. Did we give in? It was more dramatic than that: we failed. Or perhaps the techniques failed. Who knows.
The point at which we had to transition our monkey-boy son out of his crib was the day we were attempting a variation of Cry It Out and he responded with Climb It Out. He grasped the top rail of the crib, jumped up and down hard enough to shake the house for awhile and eventually pole-vaulted himself right out of his crib. We heard the dull thud of a 20 month old landing flat on his back on the carpet, then brief silence and a change in pitch to the crying that had both my husband and I out of bed (where we’d been cowering against the crying from the next room) and sprinting to our son’s room to check on him.
Oliver was fine. I’m not sure we were. From that night on we put him to bed on his crib mattress placed directly on the floor. (As every college kid knows, you can’t fall off the floor.) Our son took this new arrangement as free license to come and go. After all, the only thing keeping him in his crib were the jail bars and now those were gone.
Eventually, with consistent, diligent effort, including many nights where his challenging ran longer than our patience, we got him used to falling asleep in his own, bar-free bed in his own room. At around midnight, usually right around the time I was getting ready to put my book down and fall asleep myself, I would hear a creaky door open and little padding footfalls down the hall as he made his way, quite self possessed, to our room and crawled up into bed with me.
The remainder of the night – however long that lasted, would involve Oliver aggressively sleep-punching and sleep-kicking me and Homebrew Husband. I had dreams of not being able to breathe and woke to Oliver doing “the human scarf” across my neck. Once he wasn’t next to me in the bed when I woke up and I thought, briefly, that he hadn’t come in during the night. Oh no. He had sandwormed his way to the foot of the bed and was curled up at the base of the bed, under the blanket. This, in case it’s not apparent, is not an American Pediatric Association approved way of sleeping. Dangerous and scary.
And so it went for a year or so, until last week. I had – and let’s be frank here – given up. Like a pregnant woman ten days overdue starts to believe that she will never actually deliver her child and the whole thing is a cruel hoax, I had begun to believe my son would never actually sleep through the night.
I was coping as best I could. I mean, I had started to make compromises, sure. Nearly three years of chronic sleep deprivation will do that to you. All the first-child pride in such important brag-worthy bullshittery as limited screen time, for example, had gone out the window. If he would sit still for 30 or 45 minutes in front of a flickering screen so I could rest or do laundry or write, that was a solid win in my book. I was just hanging on, and sometimes not particularly well. I suspect Oliver would say the same, if he could think it through like that.
Then, last week. Maybe it was an inflection point? We were returning from a stay in Bend, Oregon, where I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding (sorry for the dearth of posts, by the way, I’ve been gone.) On the way back through Portland, Homebrew Husband and I spontaneously decided to stop in at IKEA to check out the “Big Boy Bed” offerings.
We found a fantastic white metal twin trundle bed – simple and on-sale (not to mention tax free because we were in Oregon) and we snapped it up, along with a new mattress. We let Oliver pick out his own bedding. We basically threw money at the hope – the whisper of the possibility – that we might improve our current sleep situation.
Did it work? Well, the day after we returned from our vacation I had given up on the idea of additional sleep by 4:30 am, and snuck out of bed, leaving my husband and son behind. After stumbling around the pre-dawn garden for a bit with a giant mug of coffee I started assembling the new bed. An hour later, my son was wide awake and alongside me, helping me with the Allen wrench and the funny screws.
Oliver has taken to his Big Boy Bed. His favorite part is the pull-out trundle bed we fitted with a hand-me-down twin mattress and let him jump on during the day. My high-energy son is very, very good at jumping as you might imagine.
We took advantage of the change to re-attempt various positive sleep behavior techniques: bed time routine sticker chart, longer wind-down time, earlier bed time, etc. etc. It seems to be working. In the past week we’ve watched his time in his own bed increase night by night. It’s slow-going, not some miracle, and in the morning he’s still in my bed, but it’s definitely improving night over night.
So, cross your fingers for us all. Our family could all really use some more and better sleep on a consistent basis. Hopefully the Big Boy Bed really is our ticket.
If you are a parent, what did you do to help your young children sleep?1