Kieran has never been a good sleeper. Overnight he’s been OK, dependable for the most part with regular wakings that have gotten increasingly longer apart as he’s gotten older. He has been an increasingly early riser though, much to Paul’s annoyance. (I catch Kieran’s overnight wake-ups so Paul can sleep through the night and be able to get up with Kieran in the morning and be with him all day while I’m at work.)
Kieran has always been a crappy napper though. And since I’ve gone back to work, it’s only gotten worse. Most days, he naps once, if at all – or does a couple of 20 minute naps throughout the day which don’t seem to leave him feeling rested. What this leaves us with is a VERY tired baby who is on a downward slide from about 2:30pm on. We were initially aiming for a 7:00pm bedtime, but recently he’s been going to bed earlier and earlier (like 5:30pm) because we can’t keep him up any longer and frankly, wouldn’t want to.
Enter Sleep Training. We’ve just gone along with whatever works up until now because all the books say that before 3-4 months, babies don’t have the physiological maturity to be on a schedule – if they sleep “through the night” before 3 months, it’s the luck of the draw and you have an especially easy baby. (Mind you, “through the night” just means a 5-6 hour stretch before 6 months – which isn’t particularly helpful when that 6 hours starts at 5:30pm.) We’re also fighting against the fact that even though you’d never know it now, Kieran *was* 3 weeks early – and that makes a difference in his growth and maturity for milestone things like this. But Kieran is 3.5 months old now and his lack of naps is really making life difficult – so we’re diving in.
We’ve settled on the methods prescribed by Dr. Marc Weissbluth, author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. His technique is usually referred to as “Cry It Out” although he’s the first to say that different babies will respond differently to this. He actually espouses three levels of ‘extinction’: Let Cry, Maybe Cry and No Cry. He recommends ‘Let Cry’ if Mama and Daddy can handle it, as it works the fastest. (Dr. Ferber’s method – commonly referred to as “Ferberizing” – most resembles Dr. Weissbltuh’s ‘Maybe Cry’ option.) Dr. Weissbluth emphasizes that helping our baby to sleep is just like taking care of any of his other needs: we feed him when he’s hungry, change him when he’s dirty, play with him when he’s awake, and help him sleep when he’s tired. That rings true with us.
According to Dr. Weissbluth, at this age, Kieran can’t really handle more than 2 hours or so of wakefulness before he needs to sleep again, preferably for 1-2 hours at a shot. Starting now, and over the next 1-2 months, Kieran will naturally start to develop a mid-morning and afternoon nap: both of which we can and should encourage on Kieran’s personal schedule. The morning nap will develop first, followed by the afternoon one.
Problem is, Kieran doesn’t want to nap. He’d greatly prefer to stay up and play with Daddy. (or look at his toys or listen to us talk… or do anything but sleep.) This has lead to a chronically overtired baby. This starts (and perpetuates) a vicious cycle which has (we believe) caused Kieran’s night-time sleeping to deteriorate. Dr. Weissbluth explains it best: “…When [baby] becomes overtired – from nap deprivation or any other reason – [his] body produces stimulating hormones to fight the fatigue. This chemical stimulation interferes with sleeping well. This is why sleeping well during the day will improve night sleeping and why, conversely, nap deprivation causes night waking.” Kieran has recently been waking up after only 2.5 hours at night after his first big sleep, as opposed to the 4 hours we had a month ago – and his 5:00am wake-up has been pushing closer and closer to 4:30am.
So: this weekend we committed to sleep training – working to put ourselves and Kieran on a schedule for naps and nighttime sleeping as Kieran’s natural nap proclivities emerge. The hardest part of this is putting Kieran down for naps. Regardless of how tired he may be, he doesn’t wanna nap and he protests. Volubly. We are prepared for this though, and will steel ourselves to not go in and get our crying baby for at least 20 minutes, and up to an hour. The hope is that he will cry himself out and actually sleep – well before that hour mark. (Or to put it in a nicer fashion: he’ll learn to self-soothe and put himself to sleep on his own.) So after making sure he’s full and dry: we walk and rock and sing and soothe until he’s drowsy but awake, place him in the crib and then walk out of the room.
So far today, we’ve been lucky: the protest crying has been limited to 7 minutes, and two 4-minute bouts. But, the naps haven’t been great. 45 minutes for the first one, and 55 minutes for the second. A third nap attempt was thwarted after 20 minutes of solid crying/shrieking. We opted to move the operation over to Grampy’s house where we’re having dinner and try again. I’m typing this now from their living room, listening to the crying from the guest room and watching the clock…. We’re approaching 30 minutes or protesting now. (sigh)
Here’s hoping that enforcing naps during the day will help him sleep better at night, which will, in turn, help him nap better. Helping Kieran learn to put himself to sleep will be one of the best things we can teach him, for life. (OK, I think I’ve drunk a little too much of the Kool-Aid.) Paul has his work cut out for him during the day, watching for Kieran’s sleepy signals – before he gets overtired. I have no illusions of who has the much harder job for the next week or two. Paul wins, hands-down.