Sunday, January 31, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance to Control

In a recent post at Privilege of Parenting, Bruce offered some advice to a reader concerned about the sleep issues of her six-year-old son.  In his response, he shared the advice of two of my personal parenting heroines, Jennifer Waldburger and Jill Spivack, the dynamic duo behind Sleepy Planet and the authors of the Motherese household's childhood sleep bible, The Sleepeasy Solution.

To me, nothing defines your parenting style quite so precisely as your approach to your baby's sleep. There are many different camps - from the Attachment Parenting school, which advocates co-sleeping; to the Ferber folks, who suggest letting your baby "cry it out" in order to encourage independent sleeping; and everything in between.

As you may have gleaned, I am a control freak. I am a rule follower. Give me a plan and I will execute it. A desire for order informs my approach to mothering and my life in general. And, for me, one of the biggest challenges of parenthood is the lack of predictability. The lack of control. So, when Big Boy was an infant, I read everything I could get my hands on to try to figure out what sleep method would fit in best with my desire to regain some control over our lives. I knew I needed a system, step-by-step guidance, clear directions, a plan.

The Sleepeasy Solution was what I chose and it worked like, well, a dream for Big Boy. And it is a plan. The authors provide a blueprint for getting your child to fall and stay asleep, even suggesting sleep schedules for each age range from infancy through five years. This book and its recipes for step-by-step sleep were music to my controlling ears.

Fast forward 20 months to September of last year.

At that point, we were about a week into sleep training with Tiny Baby and I was once again worshiping the goddesses behind the Sleepeasy Solution. Tiny Baby went into our training already a pretty good sleeper, but quickly became a nighttime sleeping champion.  Within a few days of starting the Sleepeasy method, he went from needing to be rocked or nursed to sleep to falling asleep on his own, in his crib, with hardly a fuss, and within a few minutes of being put down. (Do I sound like a testimonial yet?)

Naps, meanwhile, remained a work in progress - just as the Sleepeasy ladies cautioned would likely be the case. Tiny Baby fell asleep for naps quite easily, but he often woke up after only 30 or 40 minutes and wasn't always able to fall back to sleep. And it was pretty clear that a nap that short wasn't really long enough for him anymore. And the book said it wasn't. And that he needed time to work on it. Time that didn't involve rocking, or bouncing, or being rescued by Mommy.

All of that brings us to one revelatory Friday afternoon.

It had not been a great day. The morning went well enough. Tiny Baby had fallen back to sleep after babbling to himself in his crib for a few minutes. Big Boy seemed in a pleasant enough mood. But then we went to playgroup, where Big Boy proceeded to have a meltdown. A real meltdown with crying and foot stomping. The kind of meltdown that screenwriters might conjure if penning a script called "Stereotypical Toddler Behavior." Then after lunch I got some worrisome news from a friend. And Tiny Baby took another bad nap.

But then. After my efforts to soothe him before his next nap failed, I put Tiny Baby on his stomach for some tummy time. Now Tiny Baby, like his brother before him, was not a fan of tummy time. But that day he became calm, entranced by a stuffed lamb that I had put in his field of vision. I rubbed his back. He closed his eyes. He fell asleep. Right there on his mat. On his tummy!

Breaking all of the rules of the Sleepeasy Solution (not to mention those of the Back to Sleep campaign).

Reminding me that sometimes he knows what he needs better than I do.

And that I can't control everything - least of all where and when a baby chooses to shut his eyes.

Are you a good sleeper?  Are your kids?


  1. For sure, the hardest part about parenting for me is the loss of control. Absolutely. I also agree that one arena where this has played out is sleep. I am unfortunately a die-hard cry it out advocate, and both of my children sleep really well. Perhaps my passion for sleep comes from my own difficulties with it - I am not and have never been a good sleeper. I have terrible insomnia and complain far more than I ought about being tired. And somehow feeling like my children sleep gives me some modicum of control, some hope that maybe I will someday get enough rest.
    Doesn't make much sense, I know.
    And Whit slept his entire infancy on his stomach. I know. Terrible. But he just liked it that way.

  2. I think one of the true keys to good sleeping habits for babies is to "allow" them to learn to soothe themselves back to sleep. Once attained, pure bliss for everyone!

  3. kristen, as always, i enjoyed this. lovie is a stickler on schedules. we got the triplets sleeping through the night relatively quickly, and then started focusing on regimented naps. not only did she fluctuate between various schools of thought served up by various experts in their various books, but she also between various combinations of room sharing. a, b, and c in the same room. a, b, and c in separate rooms. a and b in one room with c in another. c and a in one room with b in another, etc... by the time it was all said and done, Lovie had been involved with more sleeping arrangements than heidi fleiss.

    the good news is that because of all that, we are enjoying the benefits of a schedule. the bad news is that lately it's become harder to get them down for the night (especially A). accordingly, we know that soon we'll be scratching our heads again trying to figure out which expert's plan to employ as we try to regain control of the situation.

    there's that word. control. you're not alone. we seek it, too. loved the way you reminded me at the end that sometimes, we're not the ones that are supposed to have it. i'll be showing lovie this.

  4. Ah, sleep. I'm obsessed with it. The quality of my sleep often dictates the mood of my day. Just 3 nights ago Baby J started sleeping through until 5am and it's first time in almost 9 months that I have slept for more than 5 consecutive hours. Heavenly. I feel like we're on a roll now and I'm finally coming out of the fog.

  5. Ah sleep, the curse of motherhood. There is so much out there on this subject and I'm a firm believer that we all need to use a system/approach that works best for our individual families. I also know that many abhor the word "system" when it comes to sleep, but it is a system. Just like everything from birth, sleep is a skill they have to learn and one that is critical for their long term health. I've tried lots of different things and have along the way stumbled into combinations of approaches that have worked. The stumbling was mostly the result of a realization that what worked with one baby didn't necessarily work with the other, or at least not perfectly. One thing I am proud to say is that both my boys were always good about putting themselves to sleep (after lots of bedtime hugs and cuddles of course). From the beginning I made it a habit to put them to bed awake. It has paid off in big dividends. However I will say that neither of my boys "slept through the night" for months and months. We had pockets of horror when, for weeks they would wake every couple of hours. It's an ongoing challenge. I haven't heard of the book you mention so I'll be curious to check it out. Baby is only 11 months so I don't pretend to believe that our sleep troubles are behind us!

  6. Miss D. was a horrible sleeper AND napper, until she hit age 3.

    Miss M. was a wonderful sleeper and napper, until she hit age 4. And now she's The Night Wanderer and it's making me nuts!

    I slept fine until I had kids. Since I've had the girls I wake up at the LEAST little noise. Hyper-alert. Argh!

  7. Oldest child--great nighttime sleeper. Not such a good napper. Younger brother? Better napper but not as good at night, although he's much, much better. He just wakes up earlier than anybody else. I think everyone is different.

    I'd love to sleep through the night again, but like many, the mommy radar keeps me partly awake all night.

  8. I was such a good sleeper as an infant that my parents used to poke me to make sure I was still breathing. As a child, I went to bed when I was tired without being told. I still require more than the average hours of sleep.

    When my children were born I didn't even realize there was such a thing as a "sleeping plan." I just let them do what seemed natural and they both turned out to be very good sleepers. Both were sleeping 8 hours a night by 5 weeks of age and I was still breastfeeding. I do think the key was and still is establishing a routine.

  9. When my boys were babies, I had three and a half years without one or the other waking during the night. One napped a little. The other, not at all. Ever.

    But then, they are the sons of the poster child for sleep deprivation. Quite possibly a genetic component in there. . .

  10. My closest friend had to let both of her kids sleep on their tummies (from infancy!) b/c it was THE ONLY WAY they'd sleep for more than like an hour. She prayed a lot. It worked out fine. What can you do??? As for me...I'm a BIG sleeper. It is what I probably miss most about being a non-parent: the ability to sleep whenever and til whenever on weekends, especially. We did the cry-it-out method (our own version) with both boys. It worked out well, but I did not enjoy it!

  11. I've been plagued with insomnia since my twenties and have to take an "itty bitty something" to help each night. Otherwise I'll sit up all night thinking, even if there's nothing to think about. I'll find something to agonize over. Meanwhile, my husband falls asleep on the count of five, a deep, seemingly eventless sleep. Amazing.

  12. I didn't do any sleep training with Hannah and she has always been and still is a terrible sleeper. She sleeps through the night but gets up crazy early (6 usually) and doesn't know that her body is tired and should go back to sleep. And she's exhausted from the early wakeups... She's five and STILL requires a nap!
    I swore when Luke was born I'd do things differently. And I did. I followed Dr. Weisbluth's method, Healthy Happy Baby and I owe him my life. Luke is an amazing sleeper both for naps and night. He goes to bed at 6:30 and wakes at 8... can't complain! The only bad part is that he's so well trained to sleep in his crib that he's a terrible traveler. Won't sleep in the car and has a very hard time in hotels. Oh well, I'll take it!
    I miss my sleep. Desperately. If I could just sleep until 8 every day... I'd be set.

  13. One of the lessons I've learned with having a lot of kids is that there is rarely one method that works for anything. My favorite quote (because it is completely true) is from John Wilmont: "Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children; now I have six children and no theories." And that is my thought on sleep methods, too.

  14. It's amazing that the kids know what they need :)
    We have horrible sleepers. Awful. Paige slept her longest just two nights ago when she slept from 11-5:30. (She went to bed at 7:30, but wakes up often needing a pat on the bum or whatever to go back to sleep... the last time was at 11...) She's almost a year and a half. It's insane. Fynn was the same way. We tried everything with both of them. CIO worked for about a week with Paige, which was more than with Fynn. It didn't work for them, or for us.
    Apparently I was the same way as a child. I remember taking hours to fall asleep at night. So part of me thinks it's genetic. But who knows.
    We'd still do everything the same were we to do it again. We did what we were "supposed" to do to try for good sleeping patterns. Some kids just do not sleep well...

  15. I'm obsessed with this issue because I have a 2 1/2 month old and I think she's manipulating us. She went longer at 5 weeks than she's going now, but now she's in her crib (in a carseat, no less) and going to bed at six. I'm hoping things will work out, but it takes a strategy. I have used Weissbluth's book as a bible (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child), and he's right about most things, but she's still so young that I can't tell if she's hungry or not. My son would go long periods and then start waking earlier; I knew that he could go "said" hours, so I let him cry when he woke earlier. But she's only going four at a time. My husband and I split the feedings of twice a night, but we're ready for some more steady sleep, definitely. Every parent has to do what she is comfortable with, but I can't imagine never letting my kids cry a little as infants. They'd never sleep! (I also think my son started sleeping better once he could roll over onto his belly. Hey, despite the pediatrician's rules, for a long time they recommended sleeping on tummies. It all depends on the current trend.)

  16. Ah, ye olde sleep issue. It consumes you with the first child and kind of amazes you with the second. (After that pretty much everything in life is a blur, so whatev...) Our boys sleep fabulously. And yes, we sleep-trained. I do believe that kids need to LEARN sleep behaviors. To recognize their own tiredness. To find a way to feel most comfortable. And we are the ones who need to help them with all that. But it's not easy--no matter what. No matter what book you are reading or video you are watching (and yes, our first lesson with baby #1 came by way of a video with the very best sleep advice I have ever heard). It's not simple, it's not relaxing, and you have to figure out what works in your own home. Yeah, yeah. Everyone tells you this. "Figure out what works for you." Sometimes you just don't know what works--obviously--but only know that the present scenario ISN'T working.

    Funny, I was just on the phone with a friend tonite who had her first baby girl four weeks ago. Something I told her--which I have said to many new moms over the years--is that the very first thing that I really learned and stuck with and STILL ABIDE BY as a parent is have to adapt, you have to change your ways, if something isn't working you have to find something else. But I don't mean you go from phase to phase to phase just putting up with stuff. You have an end goal in mind and you have to find whatever it is that will work to get you to that goal. The goal stays the same, the tactics shift over time.

    My goal was sleep. Mine and theirs. And it's worked out beautifully. But my babies slept on their tummies and in black-dark rooms that would make a new mom quiver (what if he can't see anything when he wakes up? won't he be scared?). I lived by routine, routine, routine for the first year of their lives--bath, books, milk, bed...yaddy ya.

    Hmm. Sleep. I thought I'd leave a little one liner here...but SLEEP is the topic that stands the test of time with all parents--no matter the age and no matter the kids' ages. We all need sleep. We all need more sleep. Sigh.

  17. Kristen, thank you for this! Not just for the - as always - great writing and impeccable word choice, but because I simply needed a recommendation on a sleep plan! Lil Mil has finally become a real baby, one that is a monster between the hours of 2 am and 5 am. So I've just ordered the Sleepeasy Solution and am ready to execute (I too, love a good plan. Oh, wait, I don't have to tell you that. Embrace the Detour pretty much screams that) :) Here's to hoping that Sleepeasy works for my little peanut... I'll keep you posted!

  18. I love your conclusion here.
    My boy decided he preferred his tummy after a couple of months. And I felt torn and sheepish for breaking the rules. But ultimately I shrugged and delighted in his naps, which had not been regular.
    We do so much reading, so much careful preparation and decision-making, that control and routine become standard. But it can be a relief sometimes to shrug them off and see what happens.


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