Sleeping

Mothering Without Sleep

Posted on Jul 11, 2013 in Featured, Parenting, Sleeping | 0 comments

Mothering Without Sleep

A while ago, Evolutionary Parenting posed this question on Facebook: “What was the hardest thing to accept about your infant’s sleep?” and for me, it is this: I didn’t know that my sleep would be disrupted for so long. I expected not to get much sleep in the early days with a newborn, and lasting maybe 6 months. I had no idea it would last at least two years with each kid. At this point, my oldest child is 7.5 years old and I don’t really remember what it feels like to get even 4 consecutive hours of sleep. And the second hardest thing? The sleep deprivation seriously affects my ability to be the mother I would like to be for my children. Before I go on, I want to briefly address the obvious response: “Why be a martyr? If your sleep is so disrupted that you can’t be the mother you want to be, why don’t you change the sleep situation at your house? The mother’s needs are valid and important too. You know, If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy?” As I’ve written before, we tried a lot of different things to try to improve our sleep, and none of them were easy, and none of them worked very well until our kids just reached a certain age. We are totally committed to not using CIO to get our kids to sleep (even though yes, we admit to trying it in desperation once or twice, and it didn’t work either). There are a lot of misconceptions in our society about what normal infant and toddler sleep looks like and I’ve learned in the last seven years that our experience is not unusual. The lack of sleep we’ve been living with is absolutely not related to some misguided (though well-meaning) decision to put the baby’s nighttime needs ahead of everyone else’s in the family. Put simply: changing an infant or toddler’s sleep temperament is a lot easier said than done. With that in mind, today I want to describe some of the things that I struggle with as a parent with such chronically fractured sleep. This is not a sob story or appeal for sympathy. This is a realistic look at what many mothers and fathers deal with so that other people out there might realize 1) that they aren’t alone and 2) that some parenting challenges are directly related to lack of sleep. In the book Nurture Shock, there is a fascinating chapter called “The Lost Hour” which looks at the effects of inadequate sleep on children. In it, they cite studies which found that “the loss of 1 hour of sleep is equivalent to the loss of 2 years of cognitive maturation and development.” While Nurture Shock was looking specifically at children, it’s not hard to imagine that adults can be affected in similar (though perhaps not as drastic) ways, despite our different patterns of sleep. The Geneva Convention lists sleep deprivation as a form of torture and we all know it to be important. In fact, Dr. Dan Siegel, psychiatrist, researcher, and one of the founders of the Interpersonal Neurobiology movement, identifies sleep as one of seven fundamentals that are necessary for brain growth. So then, scientifically what does lack of sleep do to us? Nurture Shock explains that Executive Functions like “orchestration of thoughts to fulfill a goal, prediction of outcomes, and perceiving consequences of actions” are impaired by sleep deprivation and that lack of sleep is associated with inability to encode memories properly. And here we aren’t just talking about memories of things you did that day, but of everything you might have learned. “During sleep, the brain shifts what it learned that day to more efficient storage regions of the brain. Each stage of sleep plays its own unique role in capturing memories.” All that cultural stuff about baby brain? Turns out that there absolutely is a reason I can’t remember anything or that I find myself standing in the middle of room, unable to remember what I was doing, or why...

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Six Things I Have Learned About Baby Sleep

Posted on Jan 30, 2013 in Featured, Sleeping | 3 comments

Six Things I Have Learned About Baby Sleep

Eight years ago, I was pregnant with my first child and I knew that I would probably have some sleepless nights in my future. It turns out that I didn’t even know the half of it. No one tells you ahead of time how bad it can be or how to cope, but three kids later, I’ve learned a couple of things: 6. Babies Get Tired Every Two Hours Little babies can only be up for about two hours before they are tired again. Knowing this can make all the difference in how your days unfold. Knowing this can soften sleep struggles. Take note of when they get up and watch them after about two hours. It’s easier to put a sleepy baby to bed than to fight a baby who is either over-tired or not tired at all. 5. Babies Have ~45 Minute Sleep Cycles Thanks to Elizabeth Pantley for teaching me this one. We all sleep in cycles of deep sleep and light sleep, and we all wake up at various times during the night before returning back to sleep. The problems for parents and babies are: Our sleep cycles are different lengths (baby cycles being quite a bit shorter than ours). Babies wake more frequently than we do and often wake when we are in a deeper part of our sleep cycle making it more painful for us to wake up (though breastfeeding and co-sleeping both help to sync mother and baby sleep cycles). Babies don’t always know how to go back to sleep when they wake up during a lighter stage of their sleep cycle. This is why a baby who has a particular sleep association (like say, nursing to sleep as all my children have had) will wake hourly all night long and want to use that same method to go back to sleep. I happen to think that nursing to sleep is normal based on the biological systems that support it. However, it did help to know what was going on when my babies started waking hourly, or why a baby will only take 50 minute naps. 4. Put Down The Sleep Books I’ve said this before, but this one is pretty big for me so I will say it again: the more I read the sleep books, the more likely I was not in a good head space about our sleep situation. I’m not saying that you should never ever pick up a book on baby sleep. Many of them are super helpful. Some of them are not. Also, as I indicated with the two points above, it IS worth knowing a bit about the mechanics and biology of baby sleep and naps. Absolutely. But when you are obsessively reading more than one sleep book at a time, keeping sleep logs, counting wake ups, comparing last week to this week, plotting, strategizing, and reaching for another sleep book, there’s a pretty good chance that you need: support a break to clear your life of commitments to accept that this what is happening for you now, but it won’t last forever I’m glad I read some of the books when I had my first baby. But I’m also glad that I eventually realized that I never needed to read them ever again. (This also goes for googling: how to get my baby to sleep or why is my baby waking up so much). 3. It Sucks When People Tell You That The Baby Years Go Fast, But It’s True You know above where I said that you have to accept that this is what is happening now but it won’t last forever? You might have sworn at me under your breath. I hated, HATED, it when people said variations of “all this will one day be a memory” and I could have punched them in the throat when they even hinted that I would miss it. When I was in the depths of psychotic sleep deprivation, this is about the least helpful thing you could say to me. For someone who is struggling...

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Confessions of a Reformed Co-sleeper

Posted on Jan 27, 2013 in Featured, Sleeping | 3 comments

Confessions of a Reformed Co-sleeper

{When I was pregnant with Silas, I decided that for this baby I would try not co-sleeping. I had co-slept with my older two children and had suffered through 18-24 months of hourly wakings. I knew I had to try something different, just in case it worked. At first, it worked beautifully but eventually, Silas developed the same sleep routine as his older siblings. When Silas was 16 months old, we moved from a 1900 sq. ft. house into our 300 sq. ft. converted school bus. Sleeping arrangements changed drastically. The most practical solution for all of us, considering that Silas was still waking to nurse between four and eight times each night and there was no room for a crib, was for me and Silas to share the queen-size bed, and for Aaron to share the double bed with one of our other children.} Here I am, a co-sleeper, once again, through practical necessity. I confess that I appreciated the time Silas spent sleeping in a crib. I appreciated the early days when he slept multiple consecutive hours and I was able to sleep soundly across the room but still wake when I heard him rustle around in search of me. I can attest that I appreciated the space in my own bed to fall deeply asleep for 45 minutes at a time between his hourly wake ups that went on for a year. I relished being able to get comfortable in any position I wanted without anyone touching me, even as I dreaded the many times I had to get up and down in a night. Those blissful deep sleeps free of a head in my ribcage, an arm across my throat, a foot in the face, or an entire body on my chest made the crib worth it, even when it didn’t do the job I hoped it would. As a reformed co-sleeper, I confess that I am grateful that our living situation re-imposed co-sleeping on me. I admit that I no longer tiptoe into bed for fear that the stirring of the duvet will wake the baby, as I once did in my first incarnation as a co-sleeper. I confess that now when I climb into bed, I wrap my son in my arms and pull his sleeping body up against my own. I confirm that a bury my face in the curve of his neck and inhale the smell of him. I do indeed pass my hands softly over his silky baby hair and rub them over him, feeling the ridge of his spine, the hollow of his back, the fullness of his belly, the way his little foot fits in the palm of my hand like a secret. I acknowledge that I hold on a little tightly, squeezing him into me, absorbing him, for just a fraction of a second as I breathe in his ear, “I love you.” I confess that as he stirs, and becomes aware of my presence in his sleep, I return him gently to his pillow, smoothing his fuzzy blanket over him, and patting him back into his dreams. I confide that I take his hand, heavy and limp with sleep, into my own hand, closing my fingers around his fist, as I settle into my own pillow and close my eyes. I confess that I am ok temporarily not sharing a bed with my husband. I wouldn’t sleep as well if there were another adult body in the bed. Alone in the bed with a toddler, I have the luxury and space to roll away from Silas between nursing sessions and get comfortable, just as I could when Silas was in a crib. I acknowledge that I have been given a gift: the chance to reclaim all that I lost during the year Silas slept in a crib. I even admit that sometimes I love it when he sits up in the night and says, “nurse. mama.” because it means that I have one more chance to memorize the weight and shape of unconditional love, that I...

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