Warning: Do Not Drive or Operate Heavy MachineryJan 15th, 2011 | By admin | Category: Features, Healthy Kids
Under the Influence of Sleep Deprivation
by Julianne Hale
Mommy wars are waged over it, one side decked out in baby slings, gathered around a bonfire composed entirely of copies of Baby Wise; the other side burning rocking chairs and chanting “Cry it out! Cry it out!” Spouses fight over how to handle it. Children use it as a tool in their unending power struggle and parents trade horror stories over it while huddled around a table, looking frazzled and sipping double espresso.
Of all of the issues facing parents of young children, this is the one with the most immediate and sweeping side effects. One night of little to no sleep is manageable, two nights makes for exhausted parents and cranky children and three or more consecutive sleepless nights and you might as well declare your home a disaster area and move into a FEMA trailer.
Known in some Mommy circles as a “Sleep Nazi,” my experiences with sleep deprivation at the hands of my children has been minimal. Sure, there were a few weeks shortly after each of their births when driving and operating heavy machinery were out of the question but, other than those short periods, any sleepless nights I’ve had have been the result of the fact that I was born without an “off” switch for my brain.
I’ve heard the horror stories, though. Three kids, two adults, a dog and a cat in the bed every night with no one getting fitful sleep, for example, or Mom and Dad sleeping with two different kids in two different rooms. How these parents ever have more than one child baffles me. These are the stories that molded me into the sleep Nazi that I am. I heard them and vowed never to let my family get to that point. Some of my fellow parents have not been so lucky.
Meg Veal, mother of Rilla (4), has had her share of sleep struggles. She explains, “Rilla sleeps with us. We’ve tried to get her in her own bed and don’t know if it is because her room is on the other side of the house but we’ve bribed, we’ve coerced, we’ve begged and she’s still in the middle of our king-sized.” Like many parents, Meg still clings to the closeness that sleeping with her daughter brings. She says, “I was a single mom before Jim swooped in at 8 months so there is definitely a part of me that doesn’t want to relinquish the baby-like closeness.”
Loren Jenkins, mother of Grant (8) and Turner (6), shares a different kind of sleep struggle. She says, “Both my boys have major sleep issues and have since birth. Grant would go to sleep OK but was up several times a night. Turner just never slept. As a baby, Turner would only sleep in a moving swing or on the breast. As he grew he would only sleep a few hours at a time and never all night. By the time Turner was three, we were having to lie in bed with him for two-plus hours every night to get him to sleep and that would only last for a couple of hours before he was up again.”
While sometimes our gut reaction to stories like this is to pass judgment and blame the parents, this is not a good idea. Speaking from personal experience with a third child who defied all of my “expert” parenting tactics, karma is not kind to judgmental parents. What we can do, as parents is toss the judgment out the window, cancel the book burnings, hose off the rocking chair and listen to new parents and those struggling with sleep. What can these parents do to get out of their sleep-deprived haze and back to the life of driving and operating heavy machinery that they miss so desperately?
Loren found a simple solution. She explains, “Melatonin (*) has made all of the difference for us. We give it to the boys about 30 minutes to an hour before we want them to go to sleep and they usually sleep through the night. They fall asleep with little struggle and things are much better. Thank God for melatonin.” Parents with children who, like Loren’s boys, are simply not inclined to fitful sleep may be able to find similar solace by asking their pediatrician about Melatonin.
Shawna Dudgeon’s six and three-year-old sleep in their own rooms through the night and have since she brought them home from the hospital. She shares the secret of her success, “Both of my children sleep in their own beds and go to bed without a fuss. As soon as they came home from the hospital they slept in their own rooms. We did not rock them to sleep or do any other ritual. It took about a week but after that they would lay down without a fuss. Now the only time they get out of bed is if they need to go to the bathroom. I truly believe in children getting a good quality sleep on their own. I figure there is plenty of time to cuddle during the day and early evening and we all feel good if we get a good night’s rest.”
The method that worked for my family was no method at all. It was trial and error. My first child was in the bed with us. While I know this works for many families, three weeks of co-sleeping left me exhausted, desperate and crying as I fed him his first bottle of liquid poison (formula—I was a little brainwashed at that point) in order to get him to sleep. After moving him to his crib and giving him formula every night before bed, things improved. My second child spent her first night at home in her crib and I gave myself permission to feed her formula when needed. Things went great. My third child was a breeze. I was confident in my “system” and while she did not sleep through the night until she was 15 months old, she went right back to sleep after eating and we all got the rest we needed in our own beds. What worked for my family won’t work for everyone. Finding the right fit for each family is critical and it takes time.
Co-Sleeping, Ferberize, Dr. Sears, Baby Wise—these are sleep method buzz words that we’ve all heard. Many parents adhere strictly to one of these methods and have a house full of good sleepers. Some follow their instincts with great success and some find themselves stuck in a sleep situation that taxes the marriage and exhausts the family. Wherever you are on this spectrum, grab a double espresso and pull up a chair next to some other parents. Heed and give advice with caution and steer clear of the book burners and “Cry it out!” chanters. A little moderation and compassionate conversation can go a long way to getting struggling parents refreshed and back in the driver’s seat.
(* Editor’s note: This article is not intended to offer medical advice. Please always consult your physician/pediatrician before using supplements with children.)