Sunday, April 25, 2010

Five Nights of Hell: A debriefing and retitling

It's been a little while since I updated about our sleep "training" or "learning" or whatever you want to call it. We all survived, with a few bruises. But I feel it's important to rename this experience to better reflect the reality of the situation. It was more like One Night of Hell, One Night of Uncertainty, a Few Nights of Vast Improvement and Pride in our Boy, a Bit of Regression, then Unpredictable Sleep Behaviour From Now On.

Many of the books and theorists on sleep training promise (literally) better sleep or even sleeping through the night after just a few nights. They focus on the initial transition from being rocked, nursed, or otherwise parented to sleep and sort of lead you to believe that if you can get through those first nights that you'll never have a problem getting your baby to bed again. The book I used as a guide (The Sleep Easy Solution) was forthcoming about some of the obstacles that might crop up: teething, illness, travel, a developmental milestone, mum going back to work. It recommends not starting sleep learning if any of these things are happening. It tries to reassure that if these roadblocks do occur that there might be some backward movement but that it shouldn't be like starting from scratch.

Well tonight is night 15 of our transition. After the initial five nights (which I have already blogged about) we had a few really great nights of no crying at all at bedtime - the most satisfying being one where I heard Sam yawn and drift off as I was leaving the room. But we've also had at least 2 more nights of complaining for almost as long as the first night's marathon.

There are legitimate reasons for this: Sam has cut two teeth since we started; had a stomach bug earlier this week; and now he has a cold. I'm not cruel. On the toothy nights we gave him acetaminophen well before bedtime to ensure that he would be comfortable (and for the record, both of those nights he went down beautifully - maybe Tylenol could be onto something!). When he had the stomach bug, which I have also previously blogged about, he got to spend a whole day cuddling with me and was so tired that night that he went down easy, but the next night when he was feeling better he was like: what the hell happened to all the cuddling?!? Last night because of his cold and coughing I also gave him lots of cuddles at bedtime and he fell asleep with me before I had a chance to put him down, so tonight I'm getting that rebound question again: Dude, wtf?

So there are two of the things on the list that are guaranteed to interfere with sleep progress. Next? Well we are all headed to Calgary this weekend (presuming that Sam's cold is all cleared up - because there can't be a worse torture for all involved than a baby with stuffed sinuses and a potential ear infection on an airplane). So there's travel - check! And I am heading back to work in about a week and a half. Check! Maybe he'll decide to start crawling in the next few days.

My return to work was one of the reasons we finally decided to move forward with sleep training. I will be working night shifts and Sam needs to know how to cope without me here to nurse him at bedtime and all through the night.

Overall, and considering all the other crap he's been going through, I think Sam has done incredibly well and we are very very proud of him. Nevertheless, the nights when he cries, these little recessions in the road to solid independent sleep, have been difficult for him. And me. He wonders why we are inconsistent in our responses to what he perceives as his needs. While I struggle with a balance between comforting my sick baby and undoing all the hard work he has put in so far. Knowing what is the "right" thing to do is baffling. At least I know now that he can go to sleep on his own, so when he complains about it I can reassure myself that he is upset not because I am denying him something that he needs but because I am denying him what he would prefer. It's a hard lesson, but I hope he is learning resilience while also knowing that when he really needs me (sick, uncomfortable) I am there.

Am I glad we did it? I never thought I could, and I used to secretly wonder how on earth any mother could. But, yes. It was tough but it was the right thing for our family, and that's the key. My advice to any parent considering sleep training is to weigh the pros and cons carefully, make a plan for how you will cope with the crying during the process (because once you've committed, it's important to stick with it and be consistent), and use the advice of others and books as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules.


Here is another example of my superior mothering skills. Remember I said Sam has a cold? Well instead of running for a tissue I ran for the camera.


  1. The snot bubble ... priceless. And I would have run for the camera too.

  2. Now there's one for a future slide show.
    In fact, the snot bubble was the first indication of Noah's current cold.