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
Hi. I am new to commenting. I left some notes on this topic in the reply box under your sleepless discussion. Did I do that wrong? Can you find it?
a long time ago, my son kept waking us up for the first three years of his life, and as soon as he could walk, he would find his way into our bed. We were so exhausted, we could hardly stand ourselves. We tried all of the suggestions from all of the wise people around us, to no avail. We put him to bed, we ignored him when he was awake at the wrong hours. When he started coming to us, we would consistently pick him up and blearily stagger to his room to put him back to bed, etc., etc. I’m sure you get the picture! Finally in desperation I said to my husband, “he either doesn’t like sleeping alone or he likes our bed!” So we had a bed made like ours and by the time he was four we had remembered what it was like to sleep through the night! You have to find what his problem is, then solve it! Good luck!
no judging here, just commiseration! I think my youngest was close to 4 years old by the time we were able to have him consistently sleep in his own bed during the night. It’s funny how your notion of a “full night” sleep changes when you’ve got a kiddo like this. I’d never in my life considered 4-6 hours of sleep a “full night”… hah. But when he hit the 4+ hours mark I could have wept for joy, except I was so sleep-exhausted at that point it didn’t really sink in until later. Hang in there, it gets better, just do whatever seems to be working for you.
ugh. we’re back to teaching the 11 year old body scan and special place meditation techniques, ’cause we’ve never been able to teacher her to sleep. She’s supposed to go to camp next month and she’s worried she won’t sleep the whole time. That’s a bit of exaggeration, but it sucks to be 11 and awake someplace not home when everyone else is asleep at 2am.
She still doesn’t sleep in her own bed all night. She goes to sleep there, then moves to the living room couch at 1am or so. Melatonin was great for a while, but it is creepy to take your sleeping pill every night before going to bed. Also, it doesn’t help keep one asleep, it just helps with the falling asleep part.
I’d forgotten about magnesium. I’ll try that this fall when school starts.
I hope you’re more successful than we’ve been!
Boy do I hear you. I have a 26 month old. As I type, papa is giving her a bath. Bedtime is anywhere from 9-12 and beyond. I’m lucky if she sleeps past 8. And that’s only if she went to bed late. Naps? *snort* not in this house. I’m also 29 weeks pregnant with my third child. I pray she is a better sleeper than my second. When people tell me their kids sleep 12-14 hours a day I want to cry.
Why is it that the bad sleepers are also the dangerous climb out of their cribers!!!Hmm, I’m into something!
Momma Fed says
It is a shame that kids don’t come with user manuals, but i agree with everyone who is telling you to try, try and try again…something will eventually stick…my kids are now 24 and 25 and the first years were so much fun(she say’s sarcastically), the 25 year old was the kid who fell asleep breast or bottle(insert gasp) feeding and then sleep for 10 minutes and wake up refreshed and ready to go…the second baby…bless his little heart…would sleep for hours out of every day and sometimes i had to hold a mirror over his mouth to make sure he was still breathing(the whole sids scare).
But, we survived and you will too, you seem to have a fabulous sense of humor and that helps more than any other thing…that and a rather large cup of coffee too.
I have to tell you that i laughed till i cried reading your post because I really don’t think that life has changed all the much, despite the dearth of information coming at us at mach one speed, and so i will repeat that, you will survive and even better, you will have done an awesome job raising your children…keep up the good work.
You should buy a Growclock….my two years old really loves it and understands that he has to stay in bed until the screen turns to the sun…wonderful! The trick is to set it to his actual wake up Time and then increase it gradually…positive reinforcement at its best…changed my nights!!!
“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.”
Oh man, Mama, you spoke right to my heart. Thanks so much for sharing!!
Phil Goddard UK says
I came across your site by accident and have read this article with much interest. Insomnia runs in our family and has always been a standard joke. It only seems to affect the men in my Father’s side of the family.
My Sister, after eleven years of sleepless nights with her youngest son (the eldest has insomnia which only manifested itself while at secondary school and college, same as his Uncle – that’s me) managed to get a Consultant Doctor to evaluate him.
They asked several basic questions and diagnosed him as being Melatonin sensitive. His body does not release the hormone when it’s presented with a darkened bedroom so his body doesn’t “prepare” him for sleep.
For years I have used sound to “prepare” myself for sleep and while not full proof it works more consistently than pills or relaxation techniques. I have taken to using a Melatonin pill when I suffer several nights where 4 hours sleep is my limit. My current sound method which allows me 6 hours sleep most nights involves tiny headphones and a media player under my pillow playing either restful music or (of all things) audio plays. This seems to work.
I loved the idea of totally involving your Son in the choosing process and the building of the bed. It’s almost ritualistic and makes him own the space in a way that seems to help.
You might try music or an audio book played at the same volume and at the same point at which your Son goes to his bed. I really do believe that this type of ritualism of the process helps those of us that have problems.
I am very lucky – my Parents found that sound helped me and managed the process without resorting to Doctors or drugs. Melatonin is natural and I use if sparingly.
I hope you find a pattern that works and thanks for such an interesting article and comments – it really is amazing how informative, supportive and helpful you all are.
Your story is very familiar. I don’t often talk about the sleep issues we’ve had – not with family or friends or the pediatrician, frankly they were all rude, judgemental and unsympathetic. I felt like a failure and a terrible parent. I wanted to burn all the sleep method books and I read them all. My son slept in 40 minute increments around the clock as a baby and toddler. We tried schedules, cranial sacral work, chiropractic, melatonin, MDs and NDs, nutritional changes…everything. I became a wreck and still don’t feel fully recovered. After a disasterous attempt at “crying it out” (that I still don’t forgive myself for) we started co-sleeping, he was almost 2 years at the time. He still co-sleeps (at 7 yrs old) and will wake up once or twice every night, looking for a warm body. He sleeps better now, but I don’t. I really appreciate your post, I didn’t know there were other parents like us out there!! I feel your pain and sleeplessness and frustration. Thank you for sharing your story. *hug*
LOL! I feel your pain (or at least use to). My now 7-year-old was the lightest sleeper in the world and I don’t think he actualy slept through the night until he was about 5. I remember waking up at night wanting to beat my husband with a baseball bat when he would rustle the sheets of our bed “too loud” or, heaven forbid, cough! I knew that within 30 seconds I’d hear the pitter patter of those little feet coming from the other room. He still occasionally wakes up what I consider a little too early — you know, half an hour before you were planning on getting up, but for the most part sleeps now from 8:30pm to 7am. And he is also now in that stage (my older boy had it at this age too) where he has a bad dream 2-3 nights a week. But generally now, after 20 min or so in my bed, or if I’m feeling particularly chirpy at 4am, 20 min of me snuggling him back in his bed, he is usually back down for the rest of the “night”.
Hang in there. It does get better!
I had the same problems with my oldest son. He will be 14 on Friday and he still has difficulty with sleep but he has long since abandoned my bed. He was extremely active in constant motion as a young child and the only way to get him to sleep was to physically hold him still for about 10 minutes and sing to him. I too got him a big boy bed that he could get into and out of, in large part out of self defense so he wouldn’t hurt himself crawling out his crib, which he hated. You do what works for your children and your situation. My oldest has turned out to need a great deal of extra help in many different areas of his life and we do what we have to do for our children and our families and ourselves. Just so you know, despite all of the work we’ve had to do he is turning out to be one of my favorite people even if he is a little eccentric. I don’t expect that to be a problem for you.
Good luck and keep trying new things.
So many parents out there doing their thing. Sleep is taboo talk for us too. 10 years ago, I may have had my last night of sleep. My four children wake at regular intervals, including the soon to be three year old. I read the books too, listened to advice, tried lavender and early bedtimes. We saw sleep specialist and doctors and even saw someone for cranial therapy. Crying it out was not the way for us. As we move along sluggishly I can only hope that I can repay my sleepless nights with a few early morning sunrises to reluctant teenagers. ahh…redemption.
What a supportive community you have here! I wish I had this type of support when my daughter was young. As far as I knew, NO ONES child kept them sleep deprived the way mine did. Anyone I talked to about it either told me to let my daughter cry it out or spank her, as if that were really a solution. We tried to let her cry, and hours later, night after night, confronted by the hopelessness of the situation, an older child that also needed to sleep, and our neighbors, we just simply… could … not… do… it. We had no idea there was any help out there. I think I remember talking to her pediatrician about it once, and he suggested the cry method. (shaking my head)
Your description of a crying child that was not, in any way shape or form, about to stop screaming until the next day is so spot on. My husband and I were at each others sleep-deprived throats. One day, when my daughter was about a year old, my mom came over, took a good look at my tired, weary face and told me that sometimes parents just need to give in.
My daughter slept with me until she was 8 years old, and then she slept in her own room for about a year. Divorce circumstances and the necessity of renting a smaller home put us back together in the same room and bed until she was a teen. But, there is hope. She is now a healthy, contributing member of society, with a compassionate heart and keen mind, and I am very very proud of her.