Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sleep Habits of a toddler

*Note* - This is one of my most popular posts to date.  I consistently get a good number of folks who find my blog daily in searching for hope for their sleepless toddlers.  Please take heart - it will get better.  Make sure to check out my update on this post here.

We love our son. Don't get me wrong. He is a wonderful child who is exciting and joyful and sweet all in one. And he is advanced in so many ways (for example, he went poo-poo on the potty on Sunday and can easily say things like "i love you", and can count to seven). But, for those of you who look at our son and think "wow, what a kid", please take a minute and consider his sleeping habits.

Our son has never been a good sleeper. Its part of his personality to be totally engaged in the world and connected to others that the idea of turning off to sleep, particularly in his own bed, is a bit challenging. On his first birthday he was still waking up 4-5 times a night. It wasn't until he was 14 months old that he was consistently sleeping through the night, and, by consistently I mean once or twice a week and the rest of the week waking up 2 or less times a night. :)

We've accepted this. It has been a long, very challenging road to get to this point, particularly for a narcoleptic married to a shift-worker. But, it is what it is and we're grateful for the experience.

The last few nights have been very tough. Little man doesn't want to go to sleep and so he'll stay awake being held forever, trying as hard as he can to not go to sleep. Its as if he knows that when he goes to sleep he will have to be put down and he doesn't want mommy to go away so he fights it. And, he's a very strong willed little guy. Putting him down to sleep leads to exasperated pleas of "no mommy" followed by hours (yes, hours) of crying and more "no mommy"'s. No matter what we've tried it isn't working. He had been waking up at 3:30 on the dot for the last week and a half or so, until two nights ago when he woke up at 12:45 (an hour after I went to bed, mind you), and wouldn't go back to sleep until after daddy came home and took him downstairs. I think it was about 5am when he finally went to sleep. DUring those hours we tried nursing in bed, cuddling, crying it out, music, night light, no night light, laying in mommy's bed, walking around, and I'm sure a few other things. He was terrified to go into his room. By the time daddy got home Logan was jumping on mommy like a cowboy on a horse, while she tried to get some sleep. Obviously that wasn't succesful.

So, in wondering what might be causing this temporary regression ( a girl can hope!) I did some googling and came across a sleep habits article on, and found it to be hilarious.

(Thanks in advance for your suggestions, and we are willing to listen and try, but unless you've got the secret from mars or something we've probably already tried it a hundred times already...sleeping just isn't our sons thing)

"Make sure your child is able to fall asleep on his own.Don't forget how important it is for your toddler to fall asleep by himself every night. He shouldn't depend on rocking, nursing, or being sung to to fall asleep. If he does, he'll never learn to settle himself back down when he wakes up at night. That situation is less than ideal for you, too — if he does wake up, he'll probably cry for you."

Now, I understand the point of this section of the article, and the sentiment is fine. But the practicality is pretty nil when you are working with a toddler who doesn't want to sleep or won't for whatever reason. Lets take it line by line

"Make sure your child is able to fall asleep on his own"- I'd settle for "make sure your child is able to fall asleep". This obviously comes from someone who either doesn't have anything to do besides raise their kid OR who doesn't have a son like mine. He can't fall asleep with someone, let alone without someone.

"Don't forget how important it is for your toddler to fall asleep by himself every night. "- Alright, no problem. I won't forget. but why again? Because if he doesn't fall asleep by himself he won't sleep at night? Or, he won't sleep without me at night? Newsflash...he isn't sleeping WITH me at this point, so how is making himself fall asleep without me any different? And, lets say he could fall asleep but had to have me to help. What's so important about that? For his sake? He will be a healthier toddler if he can go to sleep on his own? He will be a happier toddler if he can go to sleep on his own? Or, is it just that it is easier on the parents if he goes to sleep on his own? Thats the only TRUE benefit I can see of having a toddler be able to sleep on his own.

"He shouldn't depend on rocking, nursing, or being sung to to fall asleep." Why not? Because then he won't be able to fall asleep ON HIS OWN? Gotcha. Rocking, nursing, and being sung to all require someone else present, or at least an acceptable machine that mimicks humans, like a radio. What is so bad about that? Especially since we are talking about a toddler? And, lets say we weren't. In the grand scheme of things is requiring music to fall asleep such a bad thing? Lets ask the millions of people who listen to the radio before falling asleep (By one study, up to 60% of adolescents use music to help them fall asleep future research opportunity #1). Anyway, unless its a convenience factor for the parents (or logistical issue, as for parents with more than one kid), is it REALLY harming him to do any of those things? I can tell you one thing, up to this point, with out rocking or especially nursing, I wouldn't have been able to get NEAR as much sleep as I have been able to get.

This one is my favorite.

"If he does, he'll never learn to settle himself back down when he wakes up at night." AHHH!!! NEVER??? Really??? For the next 800 years (I don't want to put a limit on my own sons life...hehe) my son will never learn to settle himself back down? He will ALWAYS need me or someone else to help put himself to sleep. Future research opportunity #2: How many adults in this world NEED someone to put him/her to sleep? My guess is virtually none. Whenever I face a difficult situation with my son my hope is always: in 18 years this will be better...for 18 years he won't be nursing 18 years he won't cry if I'm not holding him...based on a reasonable assumption that when he's an adult he won't need me to do something. I don't know exactly where that line is going to be (weaning, for example), but I definitely know that when he's 18 he won't be doing it so there is relief in sight, at least 17 years from now! I guess I was wrong in assuming that about his sleeping habits, because clearly this article tells me that my son will NEVER learn to settle himself back down at night.... (all you long-term mothers out there...let me know if your child was one of these people who NEVER learned to settle himself back down). (disclaimer: I don't mean to make fun of anyone who suffers from a sleep disorder or other condition that prevents the ability to fall asleep easy...I'm simply making a point that just because my son doesn't sleep well on his own now doesn't mean that he will NEVER sleep well on his own in the future...I too have a sleep disorder and it is no fun. I also haven't researched this to see if it is an actual problem...I'm just going off the educated guess that because no one I know, lest those who have a sleep disorder, has difficulty going to sleep on their own because they didn't learn when they were a toddler).

And finally-"That situation is less than ideal for you, too — if he does wake up, he'll probably cry for you". No kidding. And trust me, I don't want my son crying for me all the time. But is it really the end of the world? I don't like being woken up in the middle of the night but isn't that part of being a mom? And for those of you who think I must not know what its like...remember, I can count on my hands the times since my son was born that I've slept more than 6 hours and haven't been woken up by him crying out for me. It is difficult. It is extremely tiring, and I acknowledge all rights for a parent to insist on crying it out and determining whether that is the best thing for them and their child.

I just thought this little paragraph written by a site designed to give parents advice is clearly not acknowledging that the range of "normal" in babies and toddlers is at all normal and there is not one solution for even the majority of babies. And, most importantly, that we are talking about TODDLERS here, and to assume that their behaviors now will never change is funny...imagine..."if you don't make your child use the toilet now they never will"...or "if you don't make your child stop drinking from a bottle now they never will"...or "if you don't make your child take a bath every night now they never will". Come on people...they are toddlers. Enforce discipline as you must but remember that this is the time that they are learning how to grow up and become adults, not being adults now.

I could go on forever but I'm going to stop :)

And, by the way, I'm thinking our little no-sleeper is just hitting the 18-month sleep disruption phase a little early. He hits everything a little early...except sleeping through the night :)

Either that, or its the ear infection he has. Or the four eye teeth that are coming in. Or the wind that was howling a couple nights ago making odd sounds in his room...or...whatever. He'll be ok in time. He will be sleeping through the night in his own bed in time. Even if its when he's 18 That I am sure of.

Either that, or I'll be able to be dillusional when he's in college up all night crying for his mommy because I'll be at home, in my bed...asleep, thinking that he's sleeping through the night JUST fine. :P


Leslie said...

Ha! So funny! We're really struggling with sleep right now too. It's really no fun, but I think your humor helped me to put it into perspective a little bit. :)

FunkyMonkeyJunk said...

LOL! Marie, I love your sense of humor. I'm sorry the little man isn't sleeping through the night. Neither does mine very often. I just try to enjoy those middle of the night cuddles and feedings, knowing that someday they'll probably go away. At which point, I know I'll miss them.

Raina said...

You're funny!

I, too, would roll my eyes at the articles suggesting that you should never comfort your infant to sleep, and that assumed every infant was the same. (I say infant because I haven't read anything on toddler sleep.) For us, even with consistent (and difficult) crying it out, our kiddos still never regularly slept through the night until I weaned them at age 1. I'm not totally sure if that is what worked, or if it was just the right time for them, but the point is, none of the strategies worked all that well for us either. I feel for you, though. I can't imagine getting that little sleep for such a long time. I'll say a prayer for you. I bet that suggestion isn't in the books!

The Kings said...

You are so funny and so right. I read a very similar article like that and I wanted to call the author and tell her to cone over and try all her "suggestions" on Dylan then see what she had to say.

Auntie K said...

Sorry Marie but you know my opinions. If you want to be wise, hang around with the wise. If you want to be wealthy hang around with the wealthy. Or as I tell the boys, "if you want to be a Ninja Warrior watch the Ninja Warriors". If you want your son to sleep hang around with others whose kids sleep. Based on these comments I would guess you don't think it applies in this situation. Love you anyway though. Bring Logan anytime if you want some rest. He has yet to give me any problems.

mommyrage said...

Only a mother knows what it is to hold a baby at night when you are tired and sleepy and just want to lie down!

I've had those moments and I know how you feel! Nothing works, none of the stuff you read on the internet comes to your rescue, when a baby does not want to be put down, there's damn all you can do!

cheezewhizandmustard said...

I came across this because my son is 20 months and in the middle of his sleep regression. And by the way, I totally could have written this article and replaced your son with my son. Sleeping through the night is entirely optional for him, and he enforces this tyranny on his parents, unfortunately.

stephanie said...

I'm not alone! My son is 16 MO now and I would describe his sleep life, or should I say sleep avoidance talents, sound just like Logan's. Not to mention several of the preceding comments. Sleep is still going to be rough tonight, but somehow knowing that all of you will also be up all night is oddly comforting.

Anonymous said...

I totally know where you're coming from. My child barely slept as a baby, hated the capsule, bouncinette, carseat and buggy so those options were out. I ended up wearing/carrying her most of the time and had to walk or dance for hours to induce what little sleep she'd have. There was no pattern or routine no matter how much I tried so going anywhere was out of the question and I was too exhausted to be bothered anyway. I was told by one child health 'professional' "NEVER nurse your child if she wakes in the night. If you give her something she considers pleasureable when she wakes or cries, it will encourage her to make a habit of waking for it." Hmmm. REALLY? I have nursed my nearly 18 mth old through colic and reflux, restless nights, colds, teething, fever etc and I am ever thankful for the blessing of being able to comfort her in this way. I would literally have gone insane from the torture of sleep deprivation if I hadn't been able to nurse her to sleep and, in turn, get some sleep myself. You do what you have to to survive. There is so much pressure to make children conform to adult sleep patterns as soon as possible or you're somehow a failure as a parent. I just think they will come to it in their own time given the opportunity and nurturing to do so, like all other developmental milestones. There is so much going on for little ones during the first few years that it's no wonder their sleep can be all over the place. I do not regret being there for my child and she trusts that I can be relied on for comfort, love and attention when she asks for it. She will be independent soon enough and I'm sure I will miss it when I'm no longer 'needed'!

Learning to Parent said...

Thank you so much for this. There is so much pressure to put them down "drowsy but awake and let them comfort themselves the rest of the way to sleep. " Ha ha ha ha ha ha! I'm hoping my son will sleep a little better than yours did as a toddler...but we shall see! For right now though this helps me feel a little bit more normal.