Sunday, September 6, 2009

The solution to losing the sleep battle

Louis outside Monmouth Coffee

When did it become lose-lose to have a kid? I refer to the options, as presented to me at 1am last night, for getting Louis to sleep properly. My choice: the pain of 15 months and counting of less than five hours of broken sleep a night, or the pain of listening to a hysterical Louis if we instead opt to leave him to figure out sleeping by himself. And, heaven knows, I seem to have spent enough time trying to help him.

Too much time, apparently, according to a new study I wrote about in the paper today, which blames anxious mums for having offspring who refuse to sleep. There's no point trying not to worry, either, because by the time you've had the baby, you've already done the damage: it links expectant mums' beliefs about sleep with the reality of life with their newborn. Marvelous. Thanks for that.

Some months back I blogged that I was searching for a Third Way, a compromise between leaving Louis to cry himself to sleep and being there for him every time he woke. Well, we called off that search pronto after a hideous week of trying to persuade Louis to spend all night in his cot and are firmly back to square one. Which is frankly, pretty tiring.

What I want to know is, how did it all go so wrong? Contrary to the Israeli study, I was adamant before Louis was born that I could get him to sleep well. I started a bedtime routine for him pronto and spent countless hours coaxing him to sleep by himself in his Moses basket. All was going so well, at three months he was sleeping though. Too well, as it turned out. I blame the jetlag when we moved to DC, but that's probably a lame excuse.

The truth is, I haven't a clue what I did wrong. But more worryingly, I haven't a clue how to put it right. And I'm tired. So tired. My one saving grace is that I've discovered the ultimate caffeine antidote to a(nother) bad night. It's called a Flat White, and it's an Aussie invention. I even managed to get a story into the paper about it. (My job's pretty good really: I get paid to write about things I'm interested in!) All I can say is, try it. And if it's not on the menu, ask anyway because if your barista knows his stuff, he'll whip one up. And, boy, will it wake you up! Louis, you're forgiven. For one more night, at least.


Iota said...

Try "The No Cry Sleep Solution" by Elizabeth Pantley. I think it is very much along the 'third way' lines you describe. It really helped with my 3rd child (you'd have thought I'd have worked it out by then by myself, but no). It's a gentle approach, but she's full of good ideas as to how to get results. She works on the assumption that all children are different, so you sometimes have to try various ideas till you hit on the right one for your child.

Good luck. Don't despair. It comes right in the end, it really does. Meanwhile, just go to bed really early yourself. It's the only way (apart from the Flat White thing you suggest - any relation to the Aussie Great White?).

Liz (LivingwithKids) said...

I really feel for you, because we went through exactly the same thing with our son, right up until he was 14 months and we could no longer speak to each other we were so tired. What worked for us - and I know it's not for everyone - was sleep training, where you leave them to cry for five minutes without checking, then 10, then 15 and so on (you check that they're dry etc first so you know there's no actual reason for the crying). You have to close your ears, warn the neighbours etc that you'll be doing it but after just three nights our little boy was sleeping through like - well, like a baby. Of course as soon as he was out of his cot we had the problem of him getting up and saying 'can I sleep in your bed'... but that's a different story!

Coding Mamma (Tasha) said...

Sorry, just remembered you asked about this in a comment on my blog a little while back and I forgot to answer (pregnancy brain).

I certainly don't have an answer. But what worked for us was Chris taking over. At first, he got Rosemary used to going to sleep without me - they sat on our bed and watched films (ET, Monsters Inc, Dumbo), Chris gradually reducing the sound down until she fell asleep. Then they changed to TV show DVDs - gradually bringing the overall time down. Then they started watching one episode and then going through to her room for stories. Eventually, they progressed to just stories in her room and cut the TV out (phew!), but he was still in the room with her. Then, gradually he would sit further away from her, until he was outside the room. Eventually, there came a point when he would give her a kiss, tuck her in and say goodnight, then shut the door and she would go to sleep.

Only when they'd established a proper routine, did I do any 'shifts'. She still has some issues (especially if it's me putting her to bed, to be honest), but generally speaking, she's pretty good.

I don't think it was until she was maybe 18 months that we tried this, though perhaps it was around 16 months. I know that there were at least 6 months of my still breastfeeding her to sleep for her afternoon nap, before she gave up the nap and breastfeeding at the same time.

For me, it was wonderfully freeing. For a start, she hadn't ever gone to bed until around 9 or 10pm, so I suddenly got my evenings back (Chris lost a good chunk of his for a while, but he was happy to do that after I'd been doing it for so long). I took up ironing (and enjoyed it) and watched lots of DVDs while doing the ironing (hadn't yet discovered the joys of blogging, otherwise I'm sure that would have filled those evenings).

I have got so used to having evenings, that I'm not sure how I'm going to deal with the new baby. Half of me thinks we'll make sure she's trained in falling to sleep herself from a young age and half of me is back to my feelings with Rosemary (Leave her to cry? Good God, no!). Many people have pointed out, though, that all babies are different, so we may as well wait and see what this one's like before making too many plans.

Anyway, I wish you luck with it all and hope you get your freedom soon. I imagine it will seem more worth it than if you'd found a solution right at the start, because it will just be so much more of a release.

becks said...


I'm Rebecca and I'm currently completing my masters in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield.

For my final dissertation, I am creating a parenting magazine for mothers with daughters aged 2 to 10.

I came across your blog and was wondering if you would be willing to help me by sharing with me a funny/embarrassing/touching moment you had with your daughter(s) in just 50-100words.

It will only be used for academic purposes and not for publication.

I can be reached at

I look forward to your reply.

Many thanks,

dulwichmum said...

You poor love. It seems to go on forever and then suddenly, one day, it stops.

Sleep is the most marvellous thing and I hope you get some, soon. Until then, have you ever considered the joys of occasional Medised?

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

I have one who sleeps like a dream. Did exactly the same for the second one, he is now 2 1/2 years and still won't sleep through.

Just goes to prove Iota's point, they are all different. And people who think that they have done all the right things which is why their babies sleep through (that was me before the arrival of No. 2) don't know that they are, in fact, bloody lucky!

Babies who brunch said...

Thanks v much for all those tips. Unfortunately I'm hopeless at following any of the truly sensible advice, like go to bed early. It just doesn't happen for me! Can't do the crying thing either... And I do own NCSS. A friend v kindly posted me her copy after reading my previous sleep moan/post. But I was scared off even that by the experience of my dear DC friend.... What I really love, though, are stories such as Brit in Bosnia's: the ones that say they did everything the same, yet number 2 just refused to sleep. Helps me blame myself a bit less!!

Josie @Sleep is for the Weak said...

You poor love, you have my complete empathy on this one. In fact, I could have written this post.

We're in exactly the same position as you and I spend countless hours wondering where I went wrong. But I have to keep telling myself that it's biological. I have friend's babies that from day one slept in a way that Kai NEVER has. From the moment he was born he was a fidgety, restless sleeper; waking frequently and needing immense help and patience to fall back to sleep.

I had no expectations as a new parent. I did everything I thought was right. We did bed time routines, numerous sleep training 'tips' that the books all swore would work (but never cry-it-out I'm afraid, always gone against all of my instincts) and tried to encourage Kai to settle himself but it just didn't work. He just wasn't ready.

I've had to console myself with that in the long nights. You can take a horse to water but you can't make him sleep in it (or something like that anyway).

Did I spoil him with early cuddles and unrestricted breastfeeding and comfort? Maybe. Would I change those precious early experiences for more sleep?

No. I wouldn't.

Sorry I have no words of advice to offer. We are struggling as much as you are and have no answers ourselves. We are making progress with Kai, it's just very slow and a bit three steps forward two steps back as it were. And I'm having to throw the books out the window and work on instinct alone.

But you have an understanding ear here if you ever need to chat to someone that understands or to swap tips

And sleep WILL come. Just not soon enough I imagine xx

nixdminx said...

I had this problem and hated all the printed solutions I found but found that the less fuss at night the better, so chuck out the rituals and find your own way. I mean if you do bath & story time etc for hours on end and don't get a chance to eat, you're hungry tired and stressed which is going to be a difficult experience for you and a child needing comfort. After a very long time with very little sleep, I looked into lots of the sleep methods and then found my own. When my daughter was 18 months I read bedtime stories to her then edged my chair a foot further from the bed every day after story time and after a week she slept almost as soon as she went into the bed. It was miraculous and a hodge podge of all the manuals I'd read, but I knew that no 'commercial formula' would work 100%. Good luck ;-))

Anonymous said...

Great isn't it how any anxiety during pregnancy makes for an axious child - makes all the mother-guilt just float away...good news is your childs counsellor will still be blaming you for it when she is 9 and won't sleep because she is afraid of spiders, the dark, her bedroom and throwing up - still all because I have an anxiety disorder and had symptoms while being pregnant with her. Sigh. Wish I had known about this third way - might have saved a lot of heartache and headaches...

Clerk said...

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