I have personally had one of each – one child who was a trouble sleeper from the beginning, and one child who was a dream sleeper from the beginning – not to mention my clinical experience. But I really didn’t expect my perfect sleeper to deteriorate so quickly from traveling and disrupting her routine for a mere 4 days (and counting).
We arrived in Orlando, FL well past bedtime after a day of traveling, the baby had 1 skipped nap, had 1 very short cat nap, and a very late bedtime. Research (and my clinical and personal experience) shows that overtired children make for wake ups at night. Generally I can deal with that by the next night, but we started out all in one little hotel room. [As an aside, we were assured there were balconies, so our plan was to sit out on the balcony until my husband and I were ready for bed. My new question will be how deep are the balconies? They were maximum 1.5 feet deep, so I don’t even understand the point in them, except so the hotel can claim they have balconies. Needless to say, my husband and I spent a few disappointed hours “hanging out” in the bathroom.] So in an effort to save my 3 year old from being woken up by the 8 month old, I responded to every little cry the baby had by picking her up and shushing her, and even nursing a few extra times than I normally would have. Needless to say she was not quite herself the next morning having her sleep so disrupted. Given the late bedtime, they both – wait for it – woke up AN HOUR EARLIER THAN USUAL. A lot of parents (clients and friends) tell me that they try to keep their children up later in the hopes they won’t get up so early – it doesn’t usually work and I’m afraid this will have the opposite result. The evidence has shown that once the child is overtired, they will usually not only wake up earlier, but likely begin to wake up throughout the night.
My response to this is usually to put them to bed an hour earlier. One or two nights of that, and ridigly ensuring naps, usually takes care of the fallout – this is a clinical recommendation from the research and works every time. However, did I mention we’re in Orlando? We did Disney’s Magic Kingdom the next day, the baby had one really good nap but skipped the next ones, and although we had intended to be back in time to put them to bed early, it ended up being late. We did arrange to be moved to a suite while we were gone. We thought we would put the kids to bed in the bedroom, and then transfer them out into the living room area when we were ready for bed. Anyway, when we got back from Disney none of our luggage was there. Once we finally got it and got the kids bathed and ready for bed it was once again, quite late. We didn’t want to disturb the kids, so we thought we’d try it another night and keep them in there with us. Did you guess what happened? Well my 3 year old must have the sleep fairy on his side, because he was always the trouble sleeper, and he is doing not bad. Don’t get me wrong – he’s sleeping through the night – but he’s waking up an hour earlier than usual, and you can TELL in his behaviour (see one of my earlier posts on ADHD mis diagnosis). My 8 month old, good little sleeper, woke up so many times I didn’t count and couldn’t remember. I think I maybe slept 45 minutes consecutively, and then they were up again an hour earlier than usual.
All of this really shouldn’t be a shock to me, I know the research, I’ve written a book (coming in September), I counsel parents in talks and clinically, yet I still made the same rookie mistakes. Last night when my husband and I went to bed, we moved the baby into the living room area, so my husband, myself, the 3 year old, and of course the baby too, could get a better night’s sleep. I still went into the room more than I would have if we were at home to comfort and check on her, but there was a definite improvement over the previous nights. Tonight I will have to resist even more. It’s hard. My little girl is so very perfect, and so infrequently cries that it’s really hard to just let her cry. But let me paint you a picture – for those of you who think it’s horrible to let a baby cry and not provide comfort. My perfect little girl is normally so happy and smiley that people continuously come up to us to interact with her. She is just a joy to be around. The past few days, since I have begun to comfort her at night, her sleep has gotten more and more fragmented and interrupted, naps are ridiculously difficult for her, she is barely smiling, looks a bit like a zombie, cuddling into me at the pool earlier today like she wanted to sleep right in the water, eyes completely red rimmed, miserable and crying off and on throughout the day. This is the complete crumbling of a wonderful baby within only a few short days. It made me think about how many parents in the interest of attachment and being afraid to let their children cry, ended up causing their children more harm than good? I don’t like to hear my baby cry, but I have argued before and I argue now – it is MY need to comfort her that is affected the most rather than her need to be comforted. Her need is sleep, and she is so tired she cries. She doesn’t know any better, but I do, and I know – because I believe in the evidence and I thankfully also have the clinical experience – that it’s a small price to sacrifice on my end for the short run of hearing her cry, when in the long run she will be a well rested and happy baby that no longer really cries at night.