Saturday, January 29, 2011

Sleepless in Swansea

So back when I updated after my post-Summer absence, I mentioned that we were having sleep issues. The last time I posted was December 16th, which was around the time when our sleep problems went from bad to worse. J-cub started getting up for the day at around 3am. Often after having had a period of wakiness from midnight to 1am. We don't generally go to bed before midnight, which meant that one, if not both of us, were having around 2 hours sleep a night.

When J-cub woke on these occasions, he was either screaming or wide-awake, bouncing and asking to go downstairs. If he was screaming, picking him up and rocking him would lead to him falling asleep on our shoulders, and waking again the second he was lowered into the cot. Or we would sit on the tiny stool beside his cot, and every time he drifted off, we'd creep out, only to have him start screaming again the second we'd made our way out of the room. He won't sleep in our bed, it's like a giant trampoline to him and nothing we've tried has persuaded him that it's a nice place to sleep. So our only option was to bring him down and let him wear himself out again. Sometimes he fell asleep on Dorothy (his rocking dinosaur), but would start screaming again if we carried him upstairs. Sometimes we rocked him for hours on our shoulders, resulting in burning pains across our backs for several days afterwards.

Something had to give, and the comments of "Well of course you must parent however you want, but you're going to have to leave him to cry himself to sleep at some point" from my dad and other well-meaning (well, maybe not) advisers. Instead, I did what I always do and turned to the Internet for advice. I'd seen talk of the No-Cry Sleep Solution on the various parenting forums which I frequent, but had dismissed it along with most other parenting manuals as being a gimmick and unlikely to work. In desperation though, I ordered the toddler version along with a batch of Christmas presents from Amazon, and devoured it in a couple of days. We started to implement the changes pretty much straight away, and Oh My God what a difference it made. We learnt that J-cub was having, on average, 7 too few hours of sleep a night. Seven. Over the following days, we made the following changes, which I'm going to list here in the hope it might help some other desperate parents, but I do strongly recommend you buy the book. It's very well-written, doesn't prompt you to make any changes which you don't want to make (but which peer-pressure might be fooling you into thinking you should make), and most importantly, doesn't even contemplate the thought of leaving your child to cry. Our changes then, were as follows:

Nightlight. J-cub had a nightlight, as he does not like it when it's completely dark, but the nightlight was green. The book explains that lights in the yellow spectrum emulate daylight, and can trigger the body to think it's time to wake up. Lights in the blue spectrum emulate night, and accordingly the body thinks it's time to sleep. We changed this the first night, and we had a couple more hours sleep during the night.

Bedtime routine. We had a bedtime routine of sorts, comprising dinner, play, milk, teeth-brushing, bed. The book made us keep a log of these times, looking at activity level (we should be aiming for calm), and light level (should be dim). We had been keeping the lights on full, and the activity level often involved lots of running around and giggling, in an attempt to 'wear him out'. We started dimming the lounge lights, making a snuggly nest of blankets and cushions on the floor, and having quiet stories. Instead of then having a battle to get him up the stairs, he started to go quite willingly, having had the opportunity to wind down first.

Calm bedroom. His bedroom is pretty calm already, but it was also very messy. I cleared it out, tidied it up, and removed from sight some of the things which made him shriek with joy when he saw them. We instigated a rule of no-lights on during the night (i.e. to tend to him, check his nappy etc). We also took a pile of books upstairs, books which we've held onto from our childhoods, and which are more appropriate for older children, but which are long and lulling and can be read to him, rather than with him. We started reading him to sleep, rather than rocking him to sleep. The first night we did this, he fell asleep in around 20 minutes. And did not wake when I got up and walked out. Result! This also dramatically affected his daytime naps...

Daytime nap. We had always gone along with the 'he'll sleep when he's ready' attitude to daytime sleep. But this often meant that we got so caught up in the fun of daily play, that he didn't nap at all. As a result, he was overtired at bedtime, and completely unable to fall asleep. We stopped letting him decide when it was naptime, and started putting him down straight after lunch. Having the lure of stories upstairs was enough of a motivator to get him upstairs without a fight, and we let him choose a book from his bookcase to read with us, followed by a longer book to read to him when he lay down. Again, this worked immediately and he went back to having a good 2 hour nap every day (the relief of this was incredible, I was so not ready for him to drop his nap).

Wake-up times. This was the very hardest thing to get working. The book explains why having a regular wake-up time in the morning is as important as a regular bed-time (again, I'm going to suggest you read it, it makes so much sense). At J-cub's age, he should be sleeping roughly 12 hours a night, which would mean a 7am wakeup after a 7pm bedtime. After implementing all the above changes, we were getting a regular bedtime most nights, and he was finally sleeping through, but he was still waking around 4.30-5.30am, wide awake and ready to start the day. We had no idea how to instigate a regular wakeup time, when he point blank refused to go back to sleep at that hour. In the end, it was the knock-on effect of all the other changes that got him to that point - he just suddenly started sleeping later in the morning.

It only took a couple of weeks in the end, and it's still not perfect now, but we're not looking for perfect, just for something that works for all of us and makes him happier during the day. He had 13 out of the 14 signs of sleep-deprivation listed in the book, including regular tantrums and a general demeanour of grumpiness all day every day. A month on and he is so so happy, and content, and we're not tearing our hair out and questioning why we'd had a child in the first place.

It can still take upwards of an hour to read him to sleep, especially when he's teethy or poorly (he's stuffed up with cold at the moment and it's taken an hour so far tonight...), but at least we're sitting down and reading lovely stories rather than breaking our backs rocking a massively-heavy toddler in our arms.

All the sleep-deprivation meant that I momentarily forgot I had a blog (again) but here I am again, and maybe one day I'll get back to keeping things up to date.

It's my turn to go back upstairs now and take over reading duties. Night night x

ETA: Further update here.