But this post is not about worms or fishing. It is about another breed of nightcrawler: my firstborn son.
Dio is a nightcrawler. Shortly after he mastered the art of crawling, his sleep went from poor to terrible. Every time he stirs, every time he wakes, no matter the hour, all he wants to do is crawl. He crawls. Crawling wakes him up more, and he cries. He crawls until he hits a barrier, then he pulls himself up to standing and cries. Or he sits up and cries. Nightcrawling wakes him up, and he becomes more and more agitated as he's simultaneously trying to crawl and needing to sleep. But when we lay him back down, he screams even more. He fights us and tries to turn over and start crawling again. Coupled with bouts of frequent waking, Dio's night crawling has turned nights into an absolute misery for Eric and me. Dio used to be able to settle himself down at night, provided he wasn't too hungry (not every single time, but fairly often). Not any more. In his half-awake state, he cannot figure out how to get back down, turn onto his back, and go back to sleep.
Of the three places he sleeps, our bed is now the worst. He will no longer settle down when we bring him into bed with us. In his crib next to our bed, he pulls himself up to standing over and over, destroying any chance of sleep. He does the best on a twin mattress on the floor in Zari's room. He can't pull himself up anywhere, since there's just walls and bed and floor. So he crawls and sits up, usually staying on the bed, but sometimes rolling off the bed (it's not a big drop, and I put pillows next to the bed to soften the landing). Last week Eric found him in the middle of the room, half awake, crying.
*****I am not a crier. I didn't cry when I got married. I didn't even cry when my children were born. But last night, I cried. I cried from exhaustion so profound it seemed like my bones were made of lead. I cried because I have never before experienced such intense and relentless sleep deprivation. I'll take a newborn's sleeping patterns any day. I cried because nothing I do seems to help Dio sleep. Co-sleeping is over; all Dio wants to do when he's in our bed is stand up against our headboard and jump, even if it's 3 am. I cried because when we cuddle him back to sleep (read: gently pin him down so he can't start crawling, until he relaxes his body enough to fall asleep), he fights and screams. I cried because if things do not improve soon, I will probably make him cry-it-out. I cried because I know that will be awful for me, but I don't know if there's any other way to deal with the night crawling and night waking. I cried because I love this little boy so much that I almost can't breathe. As I lay in bed with him at 4 am last night, feeling the terrible weight of fatigue, desperate for sleep, he started clapping his hands. Over and over, just so happy to have mastered this new skill. How can I feel such extremes of emotion, such joy coupled with such awful torment?
*****Now for some novel-esque details on Dio's sleep habits. I desperately need for something to change. But I have little hope for actually finding a solution. I've read many different sleep books, each one claiming to have the solution to your baby's sleep problems, each one giving different advice. How can a book purport to solve MY child's specific problems? MY baby will not necessarily respond predictably to the elaborate routines and practices touted to teach children healthy sleeping habits.
First, here is Dio's typical night schedule:
- 6:30 or 7 pm: go to bed
- He might wake several times between 7 and 11 pm. Other nights he might sleep straight through. Recently, we've had to go in and settle him down when he wakes--because of the crawling issues.
- 11 pm: wakes up, one of us settles him down (no nursing)
- Midnight: wakes up and nurses
- 3 am: wakes up, one of us settles him down (no nursing). Sometimes he sleeps soundly until 5 am, but other times (increasingly so, it seems) he wakes up repeatedly until 5 am, or at times will not go back to sleep at all
- 5 am: wakes up and nurses
- 7 am: wakes up for the morning
The 3 am-5 am stretch is killing me. I usually go to bed around 10:30 or 11 pm, but with his waking right around then, it can sometimes be much later when I actually fall asleep. Quite often it's not until after his midnight nursing that I can finally go to sleep. Then just 3 hours later I'm up again. Eric often gets up at this time, but even when I can stay under the covers, I am awake for the whole thing. Then just 2 hours later (if we're lucky and he actually sleeps from 3-5 am), I'm up again to nurse him, and 2 hours after that he's awake for the morning. It's been particularly hard now that he's staying in his own room all night. I can no longer just roll over and comfort him. I have to get out of bed, walk to his room, get him back to sleep--all the while freezing cold, since we keep our house at 62 F at night and there's a fan blowing for white noise. And if he wakes up 5 minutes, or 15 minutes, or 1 hour later, I have to repeat the whole process. Thing is, he does sleep better in his room than in ours at this point, so it needs to stay that way.
Dio's night wakings, especially the 11 am and 3 am ones, are definitely habitual, not from hunger or being cold or whatever. He doesn't need to nurse (and actually, when I've tried nursing him at 3 am on particularly restless nights, it doesn't seem to help much to settle him down).
Bundling/swaddling have been very helpful for helping Dio settle down and for keeping him asleep longer, in part because they kept him from rolling over and hence from crawling. But he is so strong now that he can easily work his way out. And summer is coming. Once it gets hot, bundling will be out of the question.
Some good things relating to Dio and sleep:
1) He almost always falls asleep on his own, rather than nursing to sleep. This is true for both naptime and bedtime. Now, sometimes he's so wiped out at bedtime that he will fall asleep nursing, but it's more a chance thing. Zari, on the other hand, had to nurse to sleep every.single.time. until she was 20+ months old. This means that Eric can settle Dio down at night. I still am awake for it, but it is nice to be able to stay under the warm covers and let someone else do the nighttime parenting. But this also means that Eric, for the first time, is experiencing sleep deprivation. With Zari, I did all of the nighttime tasks--nursing every 2-3 hours until she was 18-19 months old, calming, diapering, pottying, bundling, etc. And Zari was never that restless or fussy, so he slept mostly undisturbed. Well, until Zari got so wiggly at night that he'd get kicked in the head, at which point she spent more time in the crib next to our bed.
2) Naps are pretty good. I just switched him from 2 naps to 1, and he's adjusted just fine. He now takes a 2-3 hour long nap in the early afternoon. We went through a spell where he was only napping for 30-45 minutes at a time, but that is over, thankfully.
Here are some of my goals for Dio's sleep habits:
- Cut out his habitual 11 pm and 3 am wakings--which would mean sleep stretches of 5 hours, 5 hours, and then 2 hours (or maybe 4/5/3 hours, etc...).
- I'm not trying to night-wean him, so I am fine getting up once or twice to nurse him. Once would be lovely, but I'm trying to be realistic here!
- Help him learn how to settle himself down, including how to get back down from crawling, sitting, or standing positions and lie down again. He can do this when he's awake, but in his half-sleep he just can't figure it out
- Keep him from pulling himself up and standing at night if possible, since it really agitates him and makes him wake up a lot more.
- Find something other than bundling, since that will not work with summer coming
- Help him sleep deeply in between wakings, so he's not up every 20-30 minutes, or every hour (all things that happen quite often around here)
I was talking with several women friends--all mothers of several children, all people whose input I respect--after a particularly terrible night. Two of them did a crying-it-out technique when their babies reached a certain age. It took about a week from start to finish, and their babies then slept all the way through the night, very soundly. They said it was really, really hard for them to listen to. But they knew that it would be over soon. (They both suggested having him checked for an ear infection, which I haven't done yet. He doesn't seem to be teething, either.) On the other hand, the third person I talked to had a very different experience: she tried CIO, and her daughter would cry so hard she would pass out. They'd find her lying prone in bed, her face purple.
How can I teach Dio--just 11 months old, too young to understand language--to sleep? Is there another way besides simply letting him cry until he collapses from sheer exhaustion? I cannot function with what we have now. Seriously. I feel this horrible, pressing weight on me from the lack of sleep and associated stress. I start to feel panicky and desperate at night, knowing what's coming. I feel foggy and dizzy during the day. Something needs to change. But how?