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sleep, interrupted

In one of our wildest fantasies, we are alone in a spacious hotel room. The king-size bed beckons with fluffy pillows and soft, downy, freshly laundered sheets. We peel back the covers, disrobe, embrace, and fall into a deep, dreamless, undisturbed sleep. After nearly four months, with Munchkin almost on the cusp of sleep training, such are the fanciful daydreams of new parents.

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By all accounts, Munchkin is a pretty good sleeper. Our night from hell aside, he has not kept us up with colic, and once he goes down for the night we can usually count on 4-5 hours of sometimes fitful, but usually uninterrupted sleep. Even so, perhaps because she is almost always the one who gets up with the Munch in the middle of the night, S spends an inordinate amount of time reading, thinking, and strategizing about sleep.

While D refuses to read any of the “expert” advice, S has heard too many horror stories and is always trying to anticipate potential pitfalls and tread carefully to avoid ingraining bad habits. Supposedly, during the first three months of life it is impossible to spoil a child. All the experts agree that one should nurse, rock, bounce, and do whatever it takes to soothe a crying newborn.

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The difficult decisions come in the grey zone that we are entering now. Munchkin is approaching the so-called 4-month sleep regression, which is accompanied by a major growth spurt, an increase in mobility, and a growing realization that the world is a big, interesting place. The waking part of this transition is fun: Munchkin started rolling over a bit ahead of schedule, and he is beginning to learn how to sit and stand. Also, his grasping hands have become a lot more purposeful. The nap time flip side is that it is a lot more difficult to get him to close his eyes and nod off because he wants to keep exploring and is no longer content to simply lie snugly swaddled.

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Judging by the torrent of conflicting advice, few things in early parenthood are more controversial than sleep training. Some say that the easiest time to teach babies to fall asleep on their own is between 3 and 6 months, before they start teething and develop separation anxiety. Others argue that the ability to self-soothe consistently may not fully develop until 6 months, so waiting to coach sleeping will bring results faster and cause less frustration.

The challenge of course is that not only are all babies different, but also that they develop and change so rapidly that it is sometimes difficult to keep up with their non-verbal cues. What worked to soothe Munchkin one week frequently would be ineffective the next, leaving us to scramble for new ways to pacify him and get him to sleep. By 3 months, the Munch outgrew most of the sleep aids and techniques we had developed, leaving us with just one method that seemed to work: swaddling him and feeding him a bottle in his rock-n-play. 

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Although this has been the only way we could reliably put him to sleep the last several weeks, the technique is not foolproof and sometimes Munchkin’s eyes pop open as soon as he drains the last drop, leaving us with a baby who is both overtired and overfed. Of late, he has begun giving signs that this method may soon reach the end of its usefulness, prompting S to redouble her research efforts in the hopes of finding the magic solution that will enable us to forego all sleep crutches and help Munchkin to fall asleep on his own. 

Despite scouring the farthest reaches of the internet, S remains perplexed as to how it will ever be possible to put Munchkin down awake but sleepy enough that he will simply doze off on his own or how to get him to connect sleep cycles during nap time. To facilitate the transition from swaddles to crib, S has purchased blackout blinds for the nursery and fired up the sleep sheep sound machine in the hopes of moving Munchkin out of our room. Ultimately, it likely will boil down to whether and when we are willing to let him cry it out.

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In the meantime, we are focusing on establishing a bedtime routine and a loose sleeping schedule, though Munchkin’s naps are still a bit too erratic to set a firm bedtime. This means that although he is still fairly portable, we are quickly becoming a lot more sedentary, happily willing to forego social outings if doing so will help him — and, by extension, us — sleep better.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sarah #

    Just another EFEM creeper here….. my son is now 10 months and I can accutely remember going through this exact scenario. I do not mean to give you unsolicited advice, but merely share our experience with sleep training. I saw in your last post that you have read ‘Healthy Sleep, Happy Child’ which I think is a fabulous resource. I also read every book I could get my hands on about infant sleep and I also really liked “The Sleep Easy Solution” and “The Baby Whisperer Solves All Yours Problems”. I had no idea before reading these books that babies need between 11-12 hours of sleep at night, as well as multiple naps during the day. What has really worked wonders for my son was an earlier bed time. By 3 months J was doing at least seven hours during his first ‘stretch’ before waking up. Admittedly I started using a pacifier to see if he was really hunger and for the most part it worked to get him back to sleep without eating. By four months he stopped eating at night but then the stupid regression hit. We started having to reinsert the pacifier multiple times at night. I hated the pacifier. I am glad I used it to get through that crunch time and it did help us to cut out night time eating. It was also the only thing that could get him over the 45 minute nap transition. We did not implement a ‘cry it out’ (CIO) strategy until five months. We probably would have done it sooner but we were travling a bit during the holidays and I wanted to be able to be consistent. Perhaps it was also easier for us to implement CIO because my son never went to sleep without screaming his head off anyway. From birth we tried rocking, shusing, patting, singing, etc. Nothing worked. I was adament about not nursing him to sleep (several of my friends told me this was a particularly difficult habit to break) but not even that seemed to work. So every night until he was 5 months we held him in his rocking chair in his blacked out room with his white noise on until he stopped crying and fell asleep. Admittedly I was exicited that once CIO was over (it took three nights, each night with less crying than the night before) he went to sleep without screaming and no longer used a pacifier. Whatever you decide I wish you the best of luck so that everyone can get a good night’s rest.

    -A fellow parent in the sleep trenches

    June 16, 2014
    • Thank you for you awesome response. Munchkin kicked the pacifier at three months but you are absolutely spot on about the earlier bedtime. If nothing else it means one less nap cycle. It’s not always possible (yesterday, for example, we were out until 8pm – the horror!) but in general we try to get him down to sleep between 6 and 7pm. We thought it would be a while yet before we were doing CIO, but here we are…Anyway, thanks for your support :)

      June 23, 2014

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