It was Shakespeare who said, “to sleep, perchance to dream”, but funnily enough all I’ve been dreaming about recently is sleep!
For ten whole months now, my baby has ensured that I’ve had the kind of sleep that even my former party girl self (see this post for more on that) would be impressed with. Awake until 3am singing, rocking and cajoling; rudely awoken every thirty minutes or so throughout the night; forced to start my day several hours before the sun has risen… you name it, I’ve seen it all. The only thing that’s kept me sane is the knowledge that I’m not the only parent going through this torture at night. That actually it’s incredibly common and that babies, for their abundance of qualities often just do this. It’s normal.
It’s not surprising that Googling ‘baby sleep’ throws up a cool 173 million results. Parents like Mr Sunshine and me across the globe are busy pulling their hair out, frantically asking the internet for help and hoping that someone has the magic solution that will finally make little Henry go the F to sleep.
Now I hate to break it to you, but unless you’re willing to set out a hardcore sleep training programme and stick to it (hats off to those of you that are, but I’m not), if you have a child like mine then nothing is going to change any time soon.
OK, the baby books are all right when they say that a solid bed time routine is an absolute MUST in order to help your child to wind down and switch off at night. They are not however correct when they list the number of hours your child should be sleeping over a 24 hour period, and the exact nap schedule they should be in according to their age. I once read that at four months old, my baby should be sleeping for an unbroken stretch of 8 hours during the night, along with three day time naps of at least an hour each and I almost went into meltdown. The problem is that these ‘authors’ seem to have forgotten a key piece of information: EVERY BABY (JUST LIKE EVERY HUMAN) IS DIFFERENT!
So for those of you, like us, who are the proud parents of a little sleep thief, and you’re losing the will to live, here are my top three survival techniques to help to get you through those long and torturous nights:
1. The bed time routine. This is worthy of the two mentions it’s received in this post, because it is just about the only technique (and trust me when I say I’ve tried it all) that has worked for us thus far. And when I say worked, I mean it’s helped us to get her into a sufficient state of drowsiness to allow her to fall asleep in the first place (it unfortunately doesn’t seem to have a lot of bearing on what comes next!). A warm bath, a story, a feed, a gentle song, keeping things dark and quiet and a long cuddle are all a part of our routine and these days Sophia is out cold within half an hour. To me, this is an absolute result.
2. Co-sleeping. Yes, that much talked about, ever-so controversial topic. We know the dangers, we’ve read the research, and actually it’s pretty much the only thing that’s allowed any of us (Baby Sunshine included) to get the requisite amount of sleep to survive. For her first two months she refused to sleep anywhere other than on me at night. For her next five, she refused to sleep anywhere other than in reaching distance (thank goodness for the Chicco Next2Me). Even now, aged ten months and in her own room, when she wakes in the night for a feed she often refuses to go back into her cot and will only settle when she’s tucked up between us in our bed (usually with a hand on my face and a foot in Mr Sunshine’s ribs). Co-sleeping is one of those parenting decisions that I won’t apologise for. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I love the snuggles that come with it!
3. Acceptance. This final tip has taken us a little longer to master. It took a particularly formidable bout of colic for us to finally give up on trying to force sleep upon our wakeful child, and instead accept that it’s just a phase, that it will pass and that this won’t last forever. Repeating these phrases to yourself whenever you’re having a particularly difficult night works like a charm (no parent has a fifteen year old who’s keeping them up all night remember!!) and adopting a laissez-faire attitude also helps you to relax enough to transmit your oh-so casual demeanor onto your child. Remember, the more wound up you are about them not sleeping, the less likely they are to sleep!
The other night, we experienced a miracle. She’d just finished cutting a tooth, had gotten over a cold and come out the other end of a particularly difficult developmental leap (basically, all of our stars had aligned) and she did something she never did and slept for at least three hours without waking. Ironically, instead of using this chance to catch up on some much-needed sleep ourselves, we stayed awake talking about her, watching videos of her and wishing that she was awake. That is the craziness of parenthood in a nutshell!
I’d love your advice! What tips do you have for encouraging your baby to sleep?
PS. My baby woke three times in the making of this blog post.