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White Knuckle Parenting: Sleeping Like a Baby

All parents know that "sleeping like a baby" means that you are grumpy and tired, and that you sleep in 90-minute chunks of time. It's too bad sleep issues don't disappear when cribs do.

If you've ever had a conversation with a new mom, chances are probably about a hundred percent that you talked about how the baby is sleeping and how tired the new mom is. This is because newborns are jerks and can't sleep through the night and new moms are exhausted and just want to take a nap.

Next time you start talking about sleep to a new mom, stop yourself, ask if you can take her baby, and tell her to go take a nap instead of telling you how much she wants to go take a nap. Wake her up as soon as the baby gets annoying. (That's the great thing about not having a newborn.)

The thing is that once babies leave newborn stage, moms don't stop talking about sleep. My kids are 7, 9, and 11 and I still think about their sleep skills all the time. Yes, skills. I have sleep skills. My kids merely possess the ability to pass out once a day.

My kids go to bed at 8:30 p.m. That is, I put them to bed at 8:30. The oldest gets to read until 9, and the other two are supposed to go to sleep right away. Considering the younger two share a room and one insists on having a light on all night and the other prefers deep darkness, they have to fight each other for a while before they can actually sleep. 

We give our middle son melatonin to help him sleep, which helps. He is usually the first of my kids to pass out, making him our late-night favorite. The youngest, however, is wont to suddenly show up in the living room at 11 p.m.—and if not then, he still likes to climb in our bed at an ungodly early morning hour.

No wonder that kid is so cranky and whiny all the time. He must be exhausted.

Still, any sleep issues we have now are nothing compared to early childhood. Sam, my oldest, started sleeping mostly through the night early on, but I was still exhausted. However, it got to the point that I wouldn't even speak at meetings of my new moms' club, because some of those poor women were so on edge about not sleeping at all and it is kind of a chump move to mention that your four-month-old slept for eight hours when someone else can barely stand up because they are so tired.

Also, it is common knowledge that if you tell anyone that your baby is sleeping, he will immediately start waking up every hour on the hour. Somehow they know.

The time that was hard for us was mornings when Sam was about a year old. He started waking up incredibly early, which to me is anytime between 4 and 7 a.m. Sam preferred the early side of that range. The problem with a 1-year-old is that you can't let them run around unsupervised either.

My husband used to get up early and take care of Sam in the morning, although he would occasionally fall asleep on the couch with Sam playing on the floor next to him. That lackadaisical practice ended abruptly when he woke up one morning to his toddler poking at him with a steak knife.

Now that they are older—and less interested in knives—we can let books or Nintendo supervise them if they wake up too early. I'm still waiting for the days when they start sleeping until noon. When does that happen?

Unfortunately, the problem with those "sleep 'til noon" days is that I fear they will coincide with "stay up 'til all hours" nights. I'm hoping that by the time that rolls around, my kids will be surly enough to just want to hang out in their rooms instead of interrupting my very important evening internet surfing.

I know some of your kids don't sleep well because of medical or developmental issues or because they are newborns (and, as we've already discussed, newborns are jerks), and I am so sorry. If you have one of these children and I ever come over to your house and ask you how you've been sleeping, you have my full permission to silently hand me your child and walk to your bedroom and close the door.

Because here's the thing: While sometimes it seems that babies and children can get by on little to no sleep, moms can fall asleep at pretty much any time of the day or night.

Sweet dreams.

Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.

Catherine Newnham October 17, 2012 at 07:52 AM
Yes, I can confirm that the stage of staying in bed 'til noon arrives at around 15/16 yrs, at least it did in our house. And it does indeed coincide with the going to bed at all hours stage. Last night, at around 1.25am, I was the recipient of a detailed and animated teen monologue about the online computer game Dragon Age Origins. All I remember is hearing my own voice interjecting pleas to be allowed to go to bed.
Jean Winegardner October 17, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Oh, Catherine, that sounds...less than awesome. I see my future in you.
Heather Macintosh October 18, 2012 at 03:16 PM
Jean, this is funny stuff and I'm flashing back to my kids' early years (although I can hardly remember anything due to the braincel die-off that went along with it). I wanted to mention a related issue - something you moms of young kids have to look forward to - and that's sleep deprivation during the high school years. What? Yes. Your high school student, whose sleep needs will have shifted during puberty to a much later hour due to melatonin release around 10:30-11 pm (it's not just the books/texting/whatever that's keeping them from going to sleep), will be forced to wake at 5:30 a.m. to catch a bus to school some time around 6:30 a.m. and begin classes somewhere in the 7:00 hour. One parent compared this schedule and its disastrous effects on teen mood, alertness, health and well-being to the ridiculous idea of holding a toddler play-group at 6 p.m. without a nap. A group of parents in Maryland banded together about a year ago and began a grass-roots advocacy effort called Start School Later to ask school districts to consider a healthier schedule more in sync with adolescent and teenage sleep needs. You can connect with us at www.startschoollater.net to learn more. Some of us have been working for this change for over a decade. If you join us now, we might succeed in time for your kids!
Gayle Day October 23, 2012 at 06:46 PM
When she was a little over three years old, my daughter spent a 4-month-long period gripped by night terrors. Every single evening at 10 minutes before midnight (you could set a watch by it) she would sit bolt upright in her bed and scream. These were unearthly, terrified screams, and she was inconsolable. She seemed to have no idea that we were even there--cuddling, soothing, desperate to calm and reassure and failing, miserably. After about an hour or so, the screaming would finally subside and she would collapse, waking in the morning with no memory of what happened. I've endured the desperate, sleep-deprived haze of newborn parenting--twice. And if you're struggling with childhood sleep issues, I'll be happy to come over and babysit so you can catch a quick nap. But if you tell me you have a child suffering from night terrors, I will give you tickets for a weeklong stay in Aruba and babysit your child for free. There is no sensation worse than holding your anguished, terrified child in your arms and being completely unable to help her--except having to relive it night after night.
Jean Winegardner October 25, 2012 at 03:06 AM
Oh, Gayle, that sounds horrible. Not being able to comfort your child sounds so, so traumatic. Your poor girl. And poor you.

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