Monday, August 29, 2011

How I gave up the common notion of sleep schedules

The Beast and I are still so stunned when Squeak falls asleep not nursing, and especially when he then stays asleep not touching someone that we still often document it in photos.  Here, he is three weeks old, and just fell asleep in my arms and then stayed asleep when I put him down.  I called him a mythical baby.

First off, if you want a completely different take on healthy sleep, start with this article.

I am a schedule-oriented person.  I like to have a plan.  I like the semblance of control offered by a schedule that everyone is following.

When I was pregnant with Bean, I remembered my own sleep as a child.  And I thought "I am going to mother this baby to sleep.  I will mother it onto a schedule!"

See, I never got enough sleep as a kid.  I had so much trouble relaxing and going to sleep.  I was a real night owl!  I learned to read pretty early, and Mom would set me up reading a book in bed, telling me to turn off the light at some set time.  I would read with a flashlight under the covers past that time, and at some point in the night she'd check on me and take the book off my sleeping face.

I remember being so tired in the mornings that I was too nauseous to eat breakfast.  I remember the light burning my eyes as my mother tried to wake me up.  My eyelids were so heavy; I couldn't will them open.  My mother would dress me for school in that mostly-asleep state!

It was worse in middle school.  I was sleeping for a few hours a night during the week, and then sleeping the entire day on weekends.  As in waking up at 5PM!

In later high school I stopped sleeping late because I had no time to sleep.  Period.  I was exhausted all the time and wanted to get more sleep, but I was going to school six days a week and had some very long days rehearsing and practicing flute stuff, plus homework.

My sophomore year of college I finally started sleeping a regular schedule to see if it would help migraines.  (It did.)  And I thought to myself, "why have I never done this before?!?"

So of course my baby was going to be on a schedule.  Of course I was going to do my child the favor of teaching good sleep habits early on!

And then I met Bean and he taught me many many lessons.

I have a child who simultaneously needs and craves routine and bucks it.  He will ask me to list off what we're doing all day ("we're going home to have lunch and then what?  And after that?  And then?") - and he will remember it and hold me to it (if I forget some little thing, he will remind me - especially if it was his special request, of course).  But he also changes his mind constantly, tries to reason with me to change the order of things, etc.  Just when I think we are settling into a rhythm...it changes!

And he has always been that way.  When he was a baby, I tracked his sleep.  I watched for a pattern to emerge (it never did).  I tried to get myself on a rigid routine, hoping his rhythm would begin to fall in line with mine (it never did, and I started hallucinating from the exhaustion).  I read books to him about going to sleep and sleeping all night.  I talked incessantly about sleeping when it's dark and nursing when it's light.  We tried to night wean him with what seemed like a pretty gentle plan, and The Beast looked like he'd been mauled by a bear as a result (that was the first time I had seen Bean so angry.  He clawed at The Beast's neck and screamed until we thought he might throw up.)

Bean nearly nightweaned on his own at 19 months, and then was clearly ready for some gentle nudges to completely nightwean (except when he got teeth and then got sick) when I got pregnant with Squeak when he was 21 months old. 

He does things in his own time, and the harder we push him to stop or to start the more thorough the lack of enjoyment in the house will become.

And, thus, sleep schedules and routines around here are shape shifters!  In the realm of sleep, when we find a routine that works - that is a minimal struggle and gets every member of the household adequate sleep - we go with it.  At times, this has meant I sleep during the day on weekends - with ear plugs and a noise machine!  Right now I go to sleep pretty early with Squeak, The Beast is up pretty late with Bean, and we have to be very conscientious about having time for each other.  But it'll pass.  It will change again soon enough and we'll have some other aspect of family life that feels out of balance.  It's always something!

Also, I think I have read (or skimmed) nearly every parenting-in-regards-to-sleep book in existence.  I hardly remember any of them, though, because I was so sleep-deprived.  This is probably my favorite reading on the topic.  That article definitely helped me look at sleep completely differently and stop obsessing over the (supposed) norms.

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