Sleep Math

We've all done this. As we contemplate starting a family, we consider how long the early stage of round-the-clock feedings will last, how many months we think we can hack it sleeping two hours at a time until we start to crumble and the hairline crack in our sanity turns into a deep gash. These are calculations worth giving attention to, in addition to the more obvious math associated with "Can we even afford to diaper this baby while paying our mortgage?!"

As one of the women in the world who needs 8.5 hours of sleep to feel good, at least 7 to be a kind person and at least 6 to function cognitively at all, I was thrilled with the gift of a first baby who seemed to have the same high sleep needs I did. Between 8 and 9 weeks old, like magic, our little one started sleeping through the night. I couldn't believe my good fortune! A small part of me wanted to take some credit for this wonderful gift. Only a teeny piece of me continued to hold my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Somewhere, in the mystical spreadsheet of baby/parent sleep accounting, I was racking up far too many hours in the positive column, with nary a nighttime deficit to balance it.

For a long time, that other shoe stayed suspended. Eli's first year came and went, and with the exception of the usual disruptions of daylight savings time, a few sniffly colds, and diapers wet through to the sheets, he required very little middle-of-the-night intervention. He could be counted upon to sleep 12 hours, and I could count on getting my coveted 8. We could even put him to bed in one place, stay late to spend time with friends or family, then wake him to drive home and put him peacefully back to sleep - "transferring," we called this, and it almost always succeeded without incident. Sure, he might wake here and there for a brief chat or fuss over the monitor, but he'd quickly remember to suck his thumb and he'd be off to sleep again. We didn't have to choose a sleep training method at night - Eli had trained himself. What luck that the universe had handed us this mostly easy year of regular sleeping!

Ah, how naive we were.  Sleep that wonderful could not be destined to last.

Fast forward to present day, with our walking, talking, social 14-month-old. For at least two months now, our son has been waking up at night a few times a week, sometimes multiple times in one night, and sometimes for two hours at a time! It always starts off the week he gets a cold, and while we are tired, we are sympathetic and, as sensitive parents do, we do quick soothing when warranted and head back to bed. But a week later, when it seems the cold symptoms are abating, the waking continues, and my sympathy about the sniffles hardens to bitterness! Sometimes it's the excessive peeing (we try nighttime diapers, double diapering...), sometimes it's probably a dream that wakes him - but that fabulous skill of quiet self-soothing, which had always worked so well for Eli, seems to have temporarily left us all. All those things we did early on to establish healthy sleep habits - putting him to sleep drowsy but awake, the bedtime routine, fostering a love of downtime in his crib - no longer seem to have any effect. I'm reading everything, and I know that nighttime waking at this age is common. Eli is definitely going through one of those developmental spurts where physical feats and language absorption are taking off, and that's been known to disrupt sleep. It could be teething. But I am losing my patience. I am mad.

Some mornings I start my work day at 4am simply because I've already been lying awake for an hour, and falling back to sleep is clearly impossible. What can be done? Guilty confession - sometimes, when there is nothing discernibly wrong (he is not sick, sheet is dry, hands and feet not stuck in the crib slats), we turn off the monitor and turn on a fan to drown him out!

(Picture if you will, in slow motion, the other shoe dropping.)

Imagine the mysterious sleep spreadsheet, the negative column, where row after row is slowly filling with the number of hours we are not sleeping.  By the time Eli turns two next fall, we will likely have negated all that wonderful, glorious sleep we took for granted in the first year. Advantage gone. We are now just like all the other sleep-deprived young parents we pitied. We are you, a year later.

As I sit here writing, I can feel my sanity splintering. The sleep math hasn't worked out in our favor. But, truth be told, if life was all about the calculations working out neatly, we'd never be ready to take the plunge and bring these little bundles into the world.  We'd be afraid to fall in love. We'd be too scared to go after that job, risk that capital for a new idea, go for broke and be a full-time grad student. The math doesn't always work out, but living and parenting is art, after all - not science.  When I feel my hot Italian blood boiling in the wee hours of the morning, and I imagine Eli and I in an epic battle of wills over these nighttime shenanigans, I will remember what all my dearest mom friends always say, which I know to be true... "It's a stage. It's always a stage, and it will pass."

Even though I know the math is neither neat nor balanced, I am still holding out hope that maybe next year will be the one where we catch up on all this sleep we're losing!


Sabrina said...

Oh Anna! Boo to this new stage...I hope it passes quickly! I am definitely counting the days and hours until Ollie sleeps all night. I am holding hope with you. Hang in!

mena said...

It's too bad we couldn't get some notice that a new stage is coming our seems like we just find ourselves right in the middle of it and it can be so jolting! I hope that this is a short stage and that Eli decides he wants to just sleep all night again:)

Grandma Simons said...

Oh, dear! Being short on sleep is simply horrible. As far as the "white noise" and excessive peeing, have you considered putting a radio in his room set to nothing but static white noise between stations and running it all night (starting when you put him down to sleep)? Also, have you been able to associate any particular food with the excessive peeing? Our grandson pees like the DICKENS if he's had ANYTHING with wheat.

Lynnette said...

Anna, have you tried the next size up with diapers? When my son starts to pee out of his diaper at night (also a 12 hr + sleeper), I have to buy the next size up and that seems to work. I also use a fan all night on the other side of the room pointing away from him, I think he's just comforted by it. And last, is he teething? Try baby orajel or whatever you use to soothe him for teething. Perry is teething right now, and for a couple days while the tooth is breaking through, I put orajel on his gums before his bottle and give him tylenol before bed, just for a couple days. Seems to work for us. My kids are such good sleepers that when they wake up, I am miserable too, so I feel for you. Wait for baby #2 to come along.... :) :)


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