Well, I planned on writing this entry earlier but due to POOR LIFE PLANNING, my priorities shifted and here I am. Sorry about that.
As I wrote in my previous entry, most of the suggestions like “go to bed a little earlier!” are repetitive and not useful for those of us with chronic insomnia. Instead, I found inspiration in the myriad of books written about sleep training the least self-aware, most obstinate, un-enlightened, and difficult of human beings: toddlers and pre-schoolers. In fact, the more literature we read in preparation for the baby, the more we realize that sleep is a learned habit. Falling asleep at a certain time and staying asleep is not at all a “natural” development. Rather, once babies reach a certain age, you are encouraged to begin structuring bedtime routines, adjust feeding schedules, make a plan to deal with nighttime fussiness (so they can learn to self-sooth), and train little kids to STAY in bed until a certain hour.
These are the general tips pediatricians suggest and how I incorporated them into my own, screwed up adult sleep patterns.
1. Children need Routine:
Newborns have no concept of night or day, having just come from the eternal darkness of the womb and waking every few hours to eat and poop. They do sleep about 18 hours a day…just in tiny, painful fragments. When the baby is a little older, parents are encouraged to teach their babies what day and night are by differentiating their activities and establishing night time routines. Morning time usually involves natural light and physical activities. Bedtime usually involves staggered feedings, a warm bath and change of clothes, reading from a book, lowering the lights, and lots of soothing voices. On the flip side, bad habits established early on can be very hard to break when the child is older. Tons of parents online have warned about things like nursing a baby to sleep or always sleeping together because their pre-school children have become dependent on those old routines.
For myself: I thought about this and realized that I was pretty half assed about my bedtime routine. I have a general rule about shutting off the computer by 1am and being in bed by 2am…and here I am, typing this blog entry at 2:30 am. Since lack of sleep has become a huge detriment to my productivity and general health (and mood), I need to shut down the whiny toddler inside me and parent myself. YOUNG LADY, GO TO BED!
2. Children cannot sleep if they are TOO tired:
This was a surprising and annoying tidbit. Often times a very exhausted child is so over stimulated and cranky, they cannot fall asleep at all. Instead, they work themselves into an even MORE exhausted frenzy and end up cry-screaming all night. When parents write in looking for advice on their fussy child, often times the suggestion is to put the child down for a longer nap or be put to bed much much earlier!
For myself: This is something I’ve been vaguely aware of for some time but, really, playing Plants and Zombies on my iPhone in bed is reaaallly probably not going to help me fall asleep. Neither is working until bedtime and trying to sleep with all the anxieties still swirling around in my brain. The bedtime routine I’ve been half-assing is supposed to give me an entire HOUR to decompress, look at cat pictures on Reddit, and meditate.
3. At a certain point of development, let the kid Cry It Out.
(I’m side stepping the controversy over this method when misapplied to too young children). The basic idea is that children need to learn to self-sooth and put themselves back to sleep. When a toddler cries for no other reason than fussiness (ie. not hungry, wet, or in pain etc), the parents can come and pat the his/her back or try to sooth them with their voices. They are not supposed to pick the kid up and play with them. Some other techniques involve waiting a certain amount of time before even going back into the nursery (5 minutes, 10 minutes, etc).
For myself: UGGH CAN’T SLEEP. TIME TO GET UP AND EAT SOME HAM. Nope, that isn’t a good strategy at all. I do not know how to self-sooth and I’m 32. I get fussy and anxious when tossing and turning. My brain kicks in and I start to think about too many things, too many mistakes, too many worries. In the last week, I’ve been trying something new…it is a little cheesy and embarrassing to write about but I do little affirmations in my head. “Why yes, I’m still awake but that is okay. I will fall asleep soon because I feel sleepy. This bed is warm and soft! I like being in bed!” and I quietly repeat these thoughts in my head, almost like a mantra, to drown out the other noise. So far it seems pretty helful.
4. Babies and small children take a long time to learn how to sleep.
In fact, sleep training for babies is incredibly controversial because many people do not think babies are developmentally capable of self-soothing at a young age. Babies sleep schedules are incredibly varied and every family’s strategy is different.
For myself: Be kind. These “become a morning person in 7 days!” projects are not for me. Looking at my friends with kids, I suspect that good sleeping routines take about 4 years to develop and even then with lots of glitches along the way. And just as the parenting guidebooks say, be patient and observant. Adjust when necessary but have faith that gently re-structuring and consistency will produce a healthier sleep cycle for everyone. Parenting yourself means being strict and disciplined…but it also means loving yourself unconditionally and hoping for the best.
And now, YOUNG LADY, GO TO BED.