I have a baby so I get asked a lot: "Is he good?"
"Well…he generally uses his super powers for good, not evil, unless you count that nappy he did last nigh—"
"No, I mean, is he a good sleeper?"
Ah. That old chestnut. The main benchmark against which all babies are measured.
"Nope, terrible. I’m part Walking Dead and part coffee machine right now. My daughter was the same and I’ve slept more in her nursing chair than I have my own bed in the past two years. Do any of them sleep through?"
Cue story of how theirs slept through from two hours old, 10 hours straight. Just to make me feel extra specially good.
The thing is, it’s not through want of trying. I’ve tried every sleep method known to mom, some okay and some which I've found downright stupid. But I've still tried.
My particular favorite was the one where you move the chair further away until you’re outside the room. Tried that when she was a toddler. Ever tried moving a nursing chair? Yeah, not easy. Woke her right up trying to get the bloody thing through her door. Got stuck half way and we had to try and pry it out. By which time my daughter was stood up in her cot watching us.
"Wot you doin’ mommy?"
"Nothing, sweetheart!" I hissed through gritted teeth trying to shove said chair out of the doorframe with my foot whilst my husband pulled and used PG-13 swear words.
"Go back to sleep, little one."
"I’m not tired, mommy."
Chair wrestle continues. Child now hung over edge of cot watching excitedly. Clapping for good measure.
"Where are you taking my chair, mommy?"
Partly true, was wedged good and proper.
"Now go back to sleep."
Chair-freeing exercise continues. Actually wondering if to remove door frame now.
“Mommy, can I have cake?”
*Now bouncing up and down on bed*
“I LOVE CAKE MOMMY!”
It was around 2 a.m.
The next day my friend pointed out that we should’ve tried it with a normal chair as opposed to the nursing chair. I felt the hysterical laughter she accompanied this with was unnecessary and her then asking if I took footstool as well. Course not. That would’ve been stupid.
So, that evening I dutifully robbed a dining table chair and set up camp. Easing away from her cot every few minutes whilst muttering under my breath, mantra-style, "Do. Not. Make. Eye. Contact" and freezing each time she moved, I felt like I was in a precarious game of statues.
I thought I was home free until I stubbed my toe on the now damaged door frame and, for good measure, dropped the chair on the same toe. Once my eyes had stopped watering and my husband had assured me I still had a toe, I looked round to see if there was any chance she was asleep.
"Wot you doin’ mommy?"
So yeah, I’ve given them all a go. When it comes to sleepless nights I’ve not only got the t-shirt, I’ve got the whole darn outfit. It’s called 'pajamas' and it’s my main attire these days.
The thing is when it comes to the sleep habits of children I feel it’s important for people to do what suits them and their family. Parenting is the hardest job in the world and the last thing we need is to cast judgement of each other because of choices we make, particularly the sleep deprived ones at 3 a.m.
I know from being with my mommy friends that sleep, or lack thereof, can really divide opinion and yet ultimately we are all in this crazy parenting boat together, out at sea, in the middle of a storm, with sharks circling us, no paddle and the Kraken below us. What works for one family, may or may not work for another. The ones I haven’t tried though have been due to my laziness. Apparently my dad used to take me for walks at 3 a.m. or drive in the car to get me to sleep. Screw that.
I’ve also read every article I can find online and the overriding thing I do know is there will come a day when I can sell my shares in Touché Eclat and Tassimo and snooze blissfully uninterrupted. However, until that day comes I’m okay with how we do things safe in the knowledge that it’s quite normal for infants to frequently wake.
But, but, but, wait, there is an actual bonafide reason why children appear to hate sleeping.
Brace yourself. Here comes the science.
The fact is most babies don’t sleep through the night, and further to that, none of us do. This is all due to a little phenomenon called 'sleep cycles.' A sleep cycle is where we go from light sleep to deep sleep in rotation throughout the night. Heard of R.E.M. Sleep? No, not the ‘Everybody Hurts’ one (although that would be an accurate description for sleepless nights) the other one; that’s the dream bit. It’s estimated that at full term a baby has 50 percent of their sleep cycle in R.E.M and dreams also mean nightmares and nightmares mean more chance of waking.
The fundamental difference between adults and babies is that as adults we’ve learnt how to progress from one sleep cycle to the next without fully waking, and separate reality from dreams, most babies however, haven’t and will wake. In addition babies have over double the amount of sleep cycles we do as adults. If you want to know exactly how much sleep on average parents lose in the first year, internet moms have gone one step further with this article and actually worked it out! Bet that made you feel better knowing that.
The end result of all this is frequent wakes. Yipee.
The bottom line is, whilst some parents drop lucky and get a great sleeper, for most sleep takes time and you’ll just have to wait and take revenge when they’re teenagers. Wake them at 3 a.m. to tell them you’ve lost your sock and you think there are monsters under your bed. Cry for no reason and empty the entire contents of your bed on the floor and then cry about that as if you’ve no idea how it got there. Then do that every night for two years.
But for now at least remember that sleep will happen, eventually. There will come a day when all your efforts have been worth it and you no longer have to sneak out like a ninja each time your child eventually falls asleep.
In fact, just three days ago, I was getting my two year and seven month-old daughter ready for bed when she said:
"You can go downstairs now mommy, I’m a big girl and can go to sleep on my own."
Thinking I was being lulled into a false sense of security by a child that’s been attached to me like a barnacle since the day she was born, I clarified this decision.
"You want me to put you to bed and go downstairs?
So I gave her a kiss, tucked her into bed, left the room and stood outside listening, ear smooshed up to the door. I heard her sing the Hokey Cokey, talk to her teddies a bit about putting their left leg in and then it went quiet. I gently (and possibly foolishly) opened the door to see her snuggled up in bed surrounded by her teddies snoring peacefully. And I realized with a pang to my heart, a sting to my eyes and a lump in my throat, that despite moaning to every one that came near me about her sleep habits, I actually missed our sleepy cuddles. She was gaining independence and needed me less.
And it hurt. Gosh, it hurt bad.
It took everything in my power that night to close that door and not run into the room, climb into her cot and snuggle up next to her whilst sobbing "please don’t grow up" into the back of her head.
But for now I’m back to eating neat coffee granules, putting the kettle in the fridge and being confused about what day of the week it is as my baby son is exactly the same as my daughter. In fact, I’d hazard to say he’s worse, and seems totally opposed to the concept of sleep. But I just keep focusing on when it gets easier and try and enjoy the late night, warm cuddles we share. I never want to say to anyone ‘cherish every moment’ because quite frankly, it’s bull. There are some moments you definitely don’t want to cherish, and everyone has their own threshold, but what I will say is hang in there. Your day will come when you’re listening to the Hokey Cokey outside your child’s room. But in the meantime and for now, I’ll leave you with one important word: coffee. Lots and lots of coffee
This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission. You can read the original here, complete with emojis.
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