Category Archives: Sleep

Q&A: 18-month sleep regression redux

I got a question from Kelli a few weeks ago, and then an almost identical question from Kyo a couple of days ago, about the 18-month sleep regression.

If you all recall (and those of you with kids over the age of 18 months probably do), there's a big developmental spurt that happens right in the 18-21-month corridor, so many kids who've been fine sleepers suddenly stop sleeping (either at nighttime or for naps or both) around 18 months and it lasts for anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

It completely and utterly bites, and parents can feel blindsided and insulted and very very angry about it.

So, what Kelli and Kyo were asking was what they should do about it. Their kids were waking up in the middle of the night either once or a bunch of times, and they were having varying degrees of success with getting them back to sleep using various methods. The big concern seemed to be whether they were setting themselves up for later problems if they did things like nurse the kids back to sleep or bring them into their beds or use other sleep crutches that they'd mostly gotten away from before the sleep regression happened*.

I think that, as usual, it depends on your kid. By the time your child is 18 months old, you've been through a few sleep regressions already. So think back to what happened when your child came out of the 4 month regression and 9-month regression: Did your child go back to sleeping the way s/he'd been sleeping before? (Some kids just go right back as if the regression had never happened.) Or did you need to ease your kid back into sleeping and wean off processes of getting to sleep that you'd used to hold down the fort during the regression? (Bitey Biterson, for sure.)

Whatever happened with those other regressions is probably going to happen with this one. If you've been reading me for any length of time, you know that I figure that people just sleep the way they sleep, and there's not much parents can do to change that. So the sooner you can figure out how your kid sleeps, the sooner you can figure out both what's realistic for you and how you should approach sleep issues.

The other thing to think about, though, is "Do you care?" I know that, for me, it didn't matter if I knew I'd have to spend a few weeks breaking a habit again as long as I could get some !@#$% sleep in the meantime. If that's the way you are, then who cares, and do whatever it takes to get you all the max amount of sleep at any given night.

But if it will kill you to have to undo something, and you're not so fried at this moment that you just need to sleep By Any Means Necessary, then take a little time to think about how you could replicate conditions that will help facilitate sleep without actually going back into the processes or crutches you don't want to use. Either that or schedule a solo vacation at a spa for a week and let someone else deal with it. (If only. Can you imagine?)

Anyone want to share any fond memories of the 18-month sleep regression?  I would, except I seem to have blocked out a whole lot of it. I can, however, remember standing over my older son's crib wondering how I'd morphed from awesome to completely incompetent in a matter of weeks. Parenting is hard.

* In general, I think sleep crutches of all sorts, from pacifiers to rocking to loveys, get a super-bad rap. No one has to bring their mom along to college to nurse them to sleep. And so what if you have to sleep with a white noise machine? If it bugs you when you're 30 you can break the habit your own self, and leave your poor parents out of it. So I'm only talking about breaking habits because some parents really want to get away from sleep crutches because they're adding more stress to their lives. If sleep crutches are working for you as a family, then party on with them for as long as they work, and then figure out the next thing.

Q&A: His own bed!

John writes:

"Okay – nothing new or original, but it's driving us crazy:

We can't get our 4-year old to sleep all night in his own bed. We've
been working on this for more than two years now. We've finally got him
to the point where he will go to sleep in his own bed (eventually), but
by midnight or so, he's back in bed with us.

He's got a rigid bedtime routine – dinner, toilet, bath, feed the fish,
3 books, hugs and kisses, go to sleep with audiobooks on the iPod (on
speaker – no headphones). We've used bribes with mixed success and if I
have to, I lie down with him in his bed until he falls asleep
sometimes, but both of those seem like iffy ideas at best.

We try to take him back as soon as he gets into bed with us, but we are
both so exhausted at the end of the day that a lot of the time, we
don't realize that he's in our bed until a couple of hours later, when
our backs give out from clinging to the edge of the bed. He's the
Stubbornest Boy in the Universe (potty training has been a little slice
of Heaven) and if he wakes up enough on the trip back to his bed, he
gets so into the power struggle that he wakes himself up completely and
then the fun REALLY starts.

We're both big.

The Boy is big.

The bed is not.

One of us is going to fall asleep at the wheel and drive into a cement
truck one day on our way to or from work.  (Which may be part of his
plan, because then he'd inherit half of our bed.)

Yours in total, mind-numbing exhaustion,

John"

Think about what a successful life your son is going to have with his refusal to back down. He is going to have the drive to succeed, and the will to keep going in the face of adversity. His stubbornness will serve him well in The Game of Life.

Your sleep situation right now, however, sucks.

It sounds like you've tried a whole lot of things, from bribes to lying down with him. And the problem isn't getting him to sleep in his bed initially, but getting him to stay in his bed.

It seems to me like you have three options. One is to keep going the way you are, but it sounds like you really don't want to do that, so let's not even talk about it. The second option would be to use brute force to keep him in his bed. The third option would be to try to get him involved in the plan.

The brute force option would be to barricade him in his room somehow. I think it's a bad idea for a lot of reasons, but I also know people who've felt like it was the only thing they could do. When you're that sleep-deprived for that long, you try whatever you can think of. The real kicker here, though, is that I think some kids wouldn't really mind being shut into their rooms, but the ones who are coming into your bed every night are the exact kids who would hate it. And then you're setting up a power struggle and control-based situation that's just going to end up making everyone feel horrible and eroding trust between the two of you.

Since these spirited kids need help managing their emotions and impulses, setting up an oppositional situation is just going to backfire by making things worse. Instead, you might want to see if option three works, by enlisting his help in the project of keeping him in his own bed.

It seems like there are a couple of dimensions here. The first is that you want to talk to him and make sure he understand that he needs to stay in his own bed, and why it's very important for the whole family that he does. But the other, key part to this is to get him to tell you why he doesn't stay in his own bed but instead comes into yours. Once you know that, you can try to replicate the conditions he's going for without having him come in with you. Is he cold? Maybe more blankets or a space heater are the answer. Is he scared of being alone, or just wants to be with other people? Maybe you could put a small mattress for him in your room that he could come sleep in in the middle of the night.

There could be any number of conditions that are making him wake up in the middle of the night. (Some kids at this age sleep all the way through, while others seem to wake up, so I don't think it's abnormal for him to wake up, but there also could be some specific reason he's waking up.) Until you figure that out, you really don't know what to do to make it easier for him to sleep through.

Has anyone else been through this? What did you do to help your child finally sleep through in his or her own bed?

Q&A: TIme change and its evil spawn

So now that those of us in North America and Europe are done with this fall time change, it's all starting to hit the fan. Some of the problems are kid-related: kids waking up too early, going to sleep too late, or just being all screwed up.

The solutions to those problems are, as with all things parenting, a choose-your-own-adventure. Some people just go cold turkey to the new ("new"?) time. So if your child has been going to bed at 8 pm (or 6:30 pm if you live in Seattle), even though 8 is 9 to the kid, keep them up until 8. After a week or so they'll adjust. Others bump the kid up to the new bedtime 10 minutes a night. So you'd start with 7:10 tonight, then 7:20 tomorrow night, etc. until the kid is going to bed at 8 by the weekend. Others will seize the opportunity and start putting the child to bed at 7.

If it's the morning that's particularly screwed up, you could try blackout shades, or "blackout shades": cardboard and/or aluminum foil over the windows.

The older I get, and the older my kids get, the more I find that the time change messes with me more than it does them. And it's not the time part, but the light part. For some reason, it doesn't much bother me how light or not it is when I wake up in the morning. But it makes me truly and seriously sad when it's so dark so early at night.

I've been trying to figure out how to deal with this, as it's an actual problem. And what I'm coming up with is trying to work things so that I can just coast through the hours that feel too dark to me (for me, now that daylight savings time is over, here at the eastern end of the time zone in NYC, that's about 5:30-7:30 pm). I'm going to do as much dinner prep ahead of time as possible, and make sure I have things all set up for the kids to go to bed, so I'm not doing any scrambling when it's time to get them down for the night.

Does anyone else have this issue? It almost feels like SAD (which I sometimes get a touch of, and which my aunt has seriously and has described to me). If so, how do you manage it? Does anyone else have the opposite problem, of being depressed by getting up in the dark? How do you cope?

Sleepless/Seattle

We had a great meetup here in Seattle last night. There were around 15 women who came, with or without kids, to have dinner at the Seredipity Cafe. (Which was excellent, we thought. Mmmm, mac and cheese with truffle oil…)

We talked about a bunch of things, ranging from food allergies to couples' therapy to baby signing to food and politics. But one thing we talked a lot about was sleep.

I've been saying for years that I think sleep is our generation's thing. Our big problem, and the thing that seems to hurt us most and make us feel most inadequate. Past generations had different things–my grandmother was upset that my dad wasn't potty-trained by the time he was a year old, for example. But sleep is ours.

I think there are several reasons for that. Probably the single biggest one is that we don't put our kids to sleep on their stomachs. Our parents put us down on a full belly and we'd fall and stay asleep easily. Since we know we can't do that because of the SIDS risk, we lack the one surefire trick past generations used to use. (I also think this is why we don't get much sympathy from older generations about the sleep thing, because they just didn't experience the same number of problems we did.)

Another factor is that past generations were more likely to have an adult at home during the day, which meant there wasn't that same crazy pressure to get everything Perfect before maternity leave ended. Past generations were also more likely to live closer to home, and have family support. Lots of us now don't have any kind of safety net, and are doing it all alone or close to alone. That makes the sleep thing more high-stakes.

And yet another factor is that we have so many more "experts" now. In the past, there was basically Dr. Spock and maybe one or two others. So if what he wrote didn't work for your kid, you just confronted the Dark Night of the Soul of being a parenting failure, made peace with it, and moved on.

Now, if you absolutely can't conform to what an expert says, you feel like a failure, but you move on to another expert, and the cycle begins afresh. How many times have you heard "Weissbluth made me feel like a failure and Pantley was totally useless but the Sleep Lady Shuffle saved me!" or "Dr. Sears can suck it but Ferber changed my life!"? So much drama, trying to follow someone else's Method. If you'd just been allowed to trust yourself, and given a list of possible things to try, you'd have gotten there in the same amount of time, but feeling empowered by your ability to figure your own kid out. (this is also why there's such passion about CIO vs. not–if everyone just was allowed to figure it out for their own kid without feeling like it indicated anything about them or the kid, it wouldn't be such a huge symbol of everything that we all had to get defensive about.)

Any thoughts? Lamentations? Words of hope for those in the trenches? Other hypotheses?

Q&A: baby not eating during the day

Fran writes:

"This is kind of an odd question, but is it possible for a six-month-oldbaby to refuse food even if she's hungry? Lately I've been having a
horrible time with my daughter Lulu. She refuses a bottle constantly,
or else eats just a couple of ounces (she's bottlefed) and rejects the
rest in favor of playtime on the floor. That would all be fine with me,
she's in the 100th percentile for height and weight, so no health
worries, and I don't want to force her to eat, even if that were
possible. What drives me nuts is that 1) she's grumpy a lot of the time
because she's hungry and won't eat (and yes, she's definitely hungry,
because if I can somehow get her to eat, she cheers up immediately),
and 2) she's started waking up at 2 and 5 am demanding food again, I
think because she's not eating enough during the day. This is maddening
because she was one of those kids who slept through the night early on,
and we're having a hard time adjusting. I've tried giving her solids, tried watering down her formula for those middle of the
night feedings, tried giving her just a pacifier or water, but nothing
seems to work. She's just on the cusp of crawling, but I'm not sure
that's the reason for her not eating; she seems bored by the bottle,
and will only take it if I put her in weird places, like her
exersaucer, or lying flat on her back in the middle of the living room.
I'd like to think this is just a phase, but if it is, it's a very, very
long one.

The pediatrician recommended not giving her a bottle when she cries in
the middle of the night, lest she get used to it, but what can I do?
The girl's obviously hungry. At the same time I definitely don't want
her to get the idea that this is going to be a regular feature of
nighttime. We are so tired that I'm not even sure what I'm asking
here–but if you and the Moxites have any suggestions for any of this,
we would be so, so grateful!"

And here I thought this was a problem that mostly affects breastfed babies. It just goes to show that one of my primary theories may be correct: Everyone's got the same problems, they just manifest themselves differently depending on your circumstances.

At any rate, this does seem to be a problem of this age and stage of development of babies. They get to this age and are just so excited by everything that's happening during the day that they don't want to stop and take the time to eat. It mean, who wants to waste time on milk when you could be looking at cool stuff? Or trying to crawl or scoot or roll? Only suckers waste time eating.

I also think that sometimes at this age babies are teething (either pre-teething or active teething) and that make them not feel like eating. So combine those two factors, and the kids may not eat much at all during the day.

Of course then they need the calories, so they eat at night while nothing exciting's happening, and while they're relaxed enough that the teething might not hurt so much.

So I would NOT try to cut out food at night, since I think the mechanism works the other way around, and that won't entice them to eat more during the day but will make both of you miserable without fixing the problem. Instead, I'd try to help them want to eat more during the day. The classic trick that most breastfeeding moms have tried (notice how I word that–it may or may not work) is to go into a dark, quiet, super-boring room when it's time to eat. Minimize distractions as much as possible, and hope that that lets the baby focus on eating.

You can also try to feed the baby right as soon as she's coming out of a nap, since kids seem to be more likely to eat while drowsy, before they remember that there's all that exciting stuff going on. As many calories as you can sneak in during the day will help with nighttime.

You can also try to alleviate some of the teething symptoms by giving the homeopathic teething tablets (either Hyland's Teething Tablet–they contain lactose–or Humphrey's #3 formula–they contain sugar but not lactose). The pills  are small and will dissolve easily in a baby's mouth and have such teeny tiny concentrations of active ingredient that there's debate over whether they can do anything at all. I've been happy enough with them (even if it is a placebo affect) to use them for both my kids and give a bottle as a shower gift to my friends. A pill a few times a day should take the edge off just enough to help a teething baby more likely to eat.

The good news is that this is a time-specific problem. At a certain point the baby will become more interested in food again and less agog about the environment, and the days and nights will flip back in your favor.

Anyone remember this phase?

18 months

I've had a request for a commiseration post for parents of 18-month-olds.

The suddenly not sleeping! The willfulness! The earnest and desperate desire to talk but the inability to say the words they want to! The slapping themselves! The battles over food! The way you've been feeling good about your skills as a parent and suddenly you feel both incompetent and angry all the time!

Yeah, I feel really bad for you guys.

So, if you're in the middle of it, complain here. And if you just came out of it, give them hope. And if you're long out of it, see if you can come up with any good stories to make us all feel better.

Also, does anyone know exactly what skills they develop during the developmental spurt that causes them to stop sleeping for those 4-8 weeks? I think it's definitely about communication and organization, but don't know if there's been anything written specifically about that spurt.

Q&A: One-year-old not sleeping

Once again, when it rains it pours. A grand cascade of 5 emails, and one real-life friend, in the past week asking what the heck is going on with birthday babies. Let me write you a composite sketch of the emails:

“OMG Help! We made it through that !@#$% 9-month sleep regression, and my baby was only waking up once per night (which, believe me, was a miracle) by 11 months. But my baby just had a birthday and is now waking up 4 times a night again. Help me! What am I doing wrong? Why does my baby hate me? Is this ever going to end?”

In the order in which the questions were asked:

You’re not doing anything wrong. Your baby doesn’t hate you. Yes, it will end.

Your baby is ramping up for the 55-week developmental spurt. I forget what happens at this spurt, and my Wonder Weeks is packed in a box while I paint my living room, so I can’t look it up. But there’s a great summary here.

It’s going to be over in a couple of weeks, and then your baby will go back to sleeping at least as well as before, but maybe even better.

Sympathy, commiseration, anecdotes (either of your kids or of things you did because this regression threw you for such a loop), or any other musings welcome.

Here’s my musing: I thought it was so bizarre to get to one year, and then feel like my child was in such flux. It made 365 days seem completely arbitrary. You think, when your baby’s an infant, that a year actually means something. To me it just seems like a big period of flux in all sorts of areas.

Q&A: The one where I feel like a shitty parent

Alisha (who clearly needs her own podcast, just for her email subject alone) writes:

Is there some fussy-farting-limits-testing-booshity thing that happensaround the 7 month mark? Because the boy and I have been going ten
rounds lately and he’s kicking my parental ass.
I don’t know if it’s the teething (it looks like his bottom eye teeth
are coming in. I thought the top ones came before the sides?) or some
sort of developmental thing (he’s 32 weeks but he was 2 weeks late so
developmentally that’s 34 weeks? He’s starting to sit unassisted for a
few
seconds and crawling is imminent, although I’ve been saying that for
weeks) or if I’m just being punished for being smug, but my son is back
to non-sleeping. It started a few days ago – a little extra rocking
here, another round of Lullabye there. Small stuff that was easy to
dismiss. Clearly a month of cushy snoozing (five minutes of rocking and
he was out until 5 am; easy breezy naps) made us soft. Now he’s taking
forever to settle and once he is asleep it doesn’t last. The minute his
head hits the mattress he flips onto his back, grabs his blankie, and
shoots us a self-satisfied grin.

FOOLS!!!

That’s
what the grin says, I swear it. You can practically count the
exclamation points in his eyes. Lather, rinse, repeat (two to four more
times) and you’ve got yourself one pissed off mama.

It’s
the joy – the exalation! – that makes me so crazy. It feels like a
giant F- you to my parenting skills. We did CIO at 4.5 months and after
16 miserable, worthless days ended up with a baby who was terrified to
go to sleep. Then we instigated a rock/jiggle/hum routine that worked
wonders – until now. I’ve tried leaving
him to cry again which sends him to Shitsville in a large, wailing
basket.
I’ve said fuck it and gotten him up which leads to a grouchy, bleary
eyed babe and a difficult day. According to the books (here
we go…) he’ll nap better if he sleeps longer at night so I should
ignore him until 6 am. (Actually they say he should be sleeping until 6 am which makes me want to punch them in the nose.) There’s no way: his diaper is practically deteriorating by 4:30 (the outside actually squishes, it’s so full) and I defy anyone to get a baby back to sleep after an early morning wipe down.

I’m
trying to convince myself that this is just a phase (maybe he’s transitioning from 3 naps to 2?) but there’s an
awful lot of You’re Not The Boss Of Me happening lately, which is great
developmentally but panty-twisting, mommy-wise. (We’ve introduced solids and he’s starting to
refuse the bottle. Sure, the nipple is good for chewin’ and have you
ever just opened your mouth and let the liquid spill out all over
yourself?
Apparently it’s awesome. Awesome enough to do over and over and over and over.)

Excuse me while I take a moment.

Is this crap normal?

Oh, this sucks. I’m so sorry, although your email was super-funny and I thank you for that.

It sounds like a whole bunch of developmental, movement, and teething stuff all combined into a big ball of suck, plus the 37-week wonder week. Also, it sounds like your son may be really smart, and that’s leading him to testing his independence a little bit earlier than usual. (Just like in that movie with L.L. Cool J in which they’re training the sharks and then the sharks get smarter than the human are and attack.) It’s tough with the smart kids, because lots of times they don’t sleep as much or as well as the norm, and they get frustrated when they’re aware of things but can’t make their needs or will known.

At this age, he’s probably too young even for sign language (you could start with the signs and he might understand at this point but probably doesn’t have the physical skills to make them himself yet). And sign language likely won’t help with the sleep. But talking him through every single thing that’s going on all day might. Verbalizing feelings for him, like saying “You’re angry!” when he’s clearly mad, and stuff like that. I know people think a 7-month-old is too young to communicate, but their receptive language kids in so early, and you might as well err on the side of attributing more maturity to your kid than less.

But back to the main point, which is that the books are full of crap. OK, not necessarily pure crap, but the stuff in those books works for a certain subset of kids. And it’s not working for your son, so for your purposes, the books are crap.

If it makes you feel any better, I got 6 emails since Wednesday about naps, so there’s something going around. And there isn’t anything in your email that’s jumping out at me as obvious that you could fix. If you’ve checked the usual things (propping the head of the crib, cutting out solid for a few hours before bed in case it’s indigestion, temperature check noises check, etc.), then it’s just time to open it up to sympathy. You’re doing a great job.

Readers, it’s Friday. And yet none of us will have a weekend because our kids will be up at the same freaking time as usual on Saturday morning. Sympathy for Alisha, primal scream for yourself, or pie recipes all appreciated in the comments.

We need data points on nursing to sleep

I’ve gotten some emails recently from moms who have been nursing their babies to sleep, but are getting lots of pushback from other people about how they need to stop or their kids will “never learn to fall asleep on their own.” I know we all know this is ridiculous, since no one goes off to college with their mom along. But I thought it would be helpful if we had some data points about what would actually happen if you just went with it.

My oldest needed to nurse to sleep, and abruptly stopped at around 11 months. He still wanted to nurse at bedtime, but couldn’t fall asleep that way anymore. Instead, he wanted his dad to rock him. (That lasted for a few months, then we went into a few months of someone lying down next to his crib, then that was over, and he started going to bed on his own, which shocked and delighted me at the time. You know how with that first kid it all seems so endless?)

My second kid never could nurse down to sleep, so he’s no use as a data point for this question.

I’ve heard of several other kids who stopped nursing down of their own accord somewhere in the 10-12-month neighborhood, but I’m wondering if this is common.

So, if you nursed to sleep at bedtime until your child gave it up on his or her own, how old was your kid?

If you pushed the weaning for that feed yourself, I’m glad you did what worked for you, but your results aren’t useful for the data we’re trying to get on this post today.

Also, you can give info about naps if you want, but I don’t think naps and nighttime sleep always have much in common timewise.

Q&A: early rising again and again and again and again

Remember back when waking up was like this every morning? (work safe, but put on your headphones)

Yeah, that was before you had kids. Five (5!) emails in the past two weeks from people whose kids are waking up between 4:30 (shoot me now) and 5:30 every day. I know this is not a new problem, and we've tossed at around a bunch of times in the past, but it does seem to me that it goes in cycles. Three of the five emails I got were from parents of 7-month-olds. And we're having wacky weather all across North America at least (torrential rains, snow in June, or blazing heat waves, depending on where you are on the continent).

I'm going to hypothesize that it's the combo of age (and where your kid is at in the timeline of developmental spurts, growth spurts, physical milestones, and teething), personality, and the change of seasons/weather.

I think there are all sorts of things you can try to stop the early waking. One of them might work*. Or none of them will work.

I think, like anything else having to do with sleep, that one of two things is true:

a) It's a phase, and like all other annoying phases, it'll pass. So you need to figure out how to deal with it until it passes.

b) Your kid is hard-wired to wake up early. In that case, you need tofigure out some way to work around that until your kid is old enough
that they can wake up early and amuse him/herself and it won't be
dangerous.

I think a) is far more likely, although I know some adults who can't seem to sleep past 5:30 no matter what, so it's probably just a personality thing for a certain segment of the population. In any case, it's time-delineated in that you won't have to deal with it forever.

Take some deep breaths, talk to your partner about working out some sort of schedule so neither of you takes the hit all the time (and both of you never take the early-rising hit together), assess exactly how much your kid needs from you in the morning (if your kid wakes up but it just happy playing alone in the crib or bed you don't actually need to be awake for that), and know that the day will come when you'll have to pry your child out of bed in the morning with a crowbar. I hear.

Oh, and just so you know I'm feeling it, too, I was wakened at 5:35 and then 5:50 this week by my younger one. After the second time, I told my older son that they weren't allowed to come out of their room until 7 am except to go to the bathroom. It worked once. I'll keep you posted about any future success.

* The top-rated things readers recommend: black-out shades (that you buy or make from black-out fabric you can buy at fabric stores, or cardboard over the windows at night), changing the temperature of the room, checking to see if there's some sort of noise that happens at that time of day (neighbor starting a car to go to work, loud dog, etc.) that's causing the waking, and bumping bedtime earlier by 30-60 minutes (yes, it's counterintuitive).