How Our Baby Began Sleeping Through the Night: My Saga of Exhaustion and the Sleep Solution That Rescued Me
From the tender age of two weeks, our daughter Alex demonstrated she could go freakishly long periods of time without sleeping. The first and most astonishing instance was the time she lasted a good 48-hours straight, a highly unpleasant scenario for both baby and parents that involved a case of reflux and lots of crying to go around for the whole family. We got meds for the reflux, but our sleep woes didn't end there.
Other frightful examples include visiting family for the Christmas holiday, where Alex skipped every single nap for four days, and the nights weren't much better. Then there were months five through eight: I really could have used the Go the F**k to Sleep book. She napped only sort of, and was up every night on a near-hourly basis. I knew that she was overtired, but it was a vicious cycle -- the more overtired she became, the less she would sleep.
Alex always fell asleep easily following our bedtime routine. But then she would wake screaming in the dead of night. Before I was even awake, I would leap out of bed at the first sound of distress to comfort her. I would resolve the next night to listen to her cries so I could consciously make decisions about whether to let her settle down on her own or to rock her to sleep, but maternal extinct overrode executive function.
An Overpowering Obsession
The sleep deprivation was getting to me, to put it mildly. I became completely obsessed with Alex's sleep schedule. If I could just tweak it this way or that and get it right, then we would be back on track, I thought. I kept a detailed sleep log in an Excel spreadsheet, and dutifully filled colored boxes to mark the hours she was asleep or awake, her cries in the night, how long we were up, and whether she ate or not.
Each morning, I submitted the previous 24-hour's log to a kind stranger on a message board about helping parents get their babies to sleep. The Good Samaritan explained to me that she was paying it forward after another stranger on the board had similarly helped her with her baby's sleep problems.
She coached me on how long Alex should be awake between naps, how long I should expect her to sleep, and what time I should put her to bed that night. I noticed a definite pattern: poor daytime sleep led to even worse night sleep. I learned that in order to dig us out of this hole of sleep deprivation, I needed to protect her naps at all costs, and get her into bed super early every night.
Then I Became a Recluse
One day, I was supposed to meet girlfriends for lunch, one of whom had traveled over an hour to get to a restaurant near my home. However, Alex had finally fallen asleep for her nap. I agonized over whether I should wake her up so I could get to the restaurant on time. I wound up compromising. I let her sleep for a short time, but then woke her just before I was too late to miss lunch entirely.
I lived to regret waking her for that single, abbreviated lunch. Over the next few days, we spiraled back into worse and worse sleep deprivation from that one interrupted nap. From that point on, I began to regularly decline invitations. Or worse, I would accept the rare invite, but then bail when my fears over disrupted naptime inevitably interfered. Little by little, I became a recluse.
Being a recluse was so much easier than the alternative. There was the time my husband and I took Alex to a child's birthday party at the home of some dear friends. When it was time for Alex to nap, I took her to an upstairs bedroom and tried to put her down in our portable crib. She was frightened at the strange surroundings and became inconsolable when I tried to leave her alone in the room.
I wound up close to tears myself in frustration. My husband, Steve, tried to convince me that one skipped nap was no big whoop. But at that point, to me, every nap was a huge whoop. I seethed about the rough night I would have ahead of me because of Alex's screwed up nap schedule. My rock bottom: trying to avoid a mommy meltdown at another child's first birthday party.
The Importance of Sleep
From where I'm standing, the importance of sticking to an age appropriate sleep schedule can't be exaggerated. From my experience, and the experience of hundreds of women on the sleep message board, inadequate sleep schedules lead to abbreviated naps, interrupted night sleep, and early morning wake-ups, before 6 a.m., especially when the baby has a too-late bedtime.
There are a whole host of problems that arise when a child isn't well-rested. For starters, sleep deprivation in kids leads to stunted cognitive development, learning impairment and behavioral problems. Not getting enough sleep is often a factor in childhood obesity. The latest research shows a link between bad behavior, bullies and sleep issues.
I now feel perfectly comfortable and justified in making the protection of my daughter's sleep schedule a paramount issue in my life. I know this doesn't exactly make me the most popular gal on the block, but I also know that the two-naps-a-day stage we're in right now is only temporary.
Finally, My Prayers Were Answered
Even after I got Alex's sleep schedule straightened out to the point that she wasn't having any night cries, her naps were on track and she was no longer waking early in the morning, she was still waking to eat once at night. We were established on solids, so I couldn't figure out why she was still hungry around the clock.
Then I asked a friend of mine how she got her baby to start sleeping through the night. Her answer was that she had read a book very early on and her baby was sleeping through by the time she was just three or four months old. She didn't think it would work for my then-nine-month-old. I asked her for the name of the book anyway.
The book is called The Baby Sleep Solution: A Proven Program to Teach Your Baby to Sleep Twelve Hours a Night (previously published as Twelve Hours Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old.) The book jacket says it's ideal for babies up to 18 months old.
For us, the book was a miracle. Within a day or two of starting the program, which is based around a four-hour daytime feeding schedule, Alex was sleeping through the night. Finally.
This isn't to say that I think this book would have worked for us in the earlier months, as Alex was small and probably couldn't eat enough in one sitting to sustain her for four hours. The reviews on Amazon confirm that the book isn't a universal solution. But I would certainly try this solution again if I'm ever faced with these kinds of sleeping issues with a second child.
And that's the end of my sleep saga. Hopefully I've already paid my dues, and we don't have to endure those infamous bedtime battles I hear so much about in the older set. Knock on wood.
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