Me, and babies, and sleep

Apparently I look tired.

I know this because everybody says it to me about every 5 minutes. I mean, I feel tired, but sheesh! I must look like a bag of gravel. It’s starting to give me a complex.

However, I’ve come to realize this is just what you say to new fathers. “You look tired!” It’s the new hello. The female equivalent for new mothers is apparently, “You look good!”

Sara is particularly bemused by everybody telling me how tired I look. “HE looks tired?” she says, bemusedly. “HE looks tired?” It’s true: my nightly contributions are relatively minimal. A couple of diaper changes and that’s it. Of all my many faults as a father, my inability to lactate is chief among them.

Like it or not, it doesn’t change the fact that I am (apparently visibly) tired. I know it’s not fair, but there it is.

Sleep and I have a very complicated relationship. Just after I graduated from high school, I had a sleep study to determine the cause of my constant sleepiness, especially falling asleep in school and falling asleep while driving. They stuck all these electrodes on my head and told me to go asleep so they could monitor me for things like apnea and narcolepsy.

Now, some people might find it  difficult to go asleep in a hospital with a bunch of electrodes glued to their head, but then again that’s kind of why you’re there in the first place: *falling* asleep isn’t really the problem.

After a full 8 hours of sleep they have you try to take a nap every 2 hours the following day. “Don’t worry if you can’t sleep,” they said, “just do your best.” Every time they would come in afterwards I would say, “Sorry, I couldn’t fall asleep this time,” and they would say, “You’ve been sleeping for 30 minutes.” My average time to fall asleep was under a minute.

(Side note, I never thought I would find someone who could fall asleep faster than me, but Sara always has. If she can stay awake for a whole minute after she lays down, I’ll eat my hat.)

So, after the sleep study, the doctor said, “We don’t know what’s wrong with you, but obviously something is, so we want to put you on medicine.” I didn’t like that line of thinking, so I got a second opinion. This time I agreed with him.

“You just need more sleep than the average person: you need 10 hours a night, and you’re getting 8. So you’re shorting yourself 2 hours of sleep every night. Of course you’re tired.”

This was an amazing revelation to me, and after that I have made simple modifications to my life: trying to go to bed earlier, not driving at night, etc. I did finally realize that everything in my life is better when I’m well rested: I have more patience, I’m less grumpy, I feel better physically, I can do more at work, I think I manage my weight better. So it’s definitely worth it to go to bed early (most of the time…). And I think as I’ve gotten older I don’t need *quite* as much sleep as I used to, or else maybe after all this time I’ve just gotten used to always feeling tired. (I also drink a lot more coffee now.)

Anyway, back to babies.

Because of all of this, it’s really just not fair. If Sara has 4 hours of sleep, and I have 6, we’re basically going to be at about the same level, sleeping-wise. However, I can’t fault her, sitting back there at 4 hours of sleep and saying: I would KILL for 6 hours of sleep! Don’t you dare complain! Wouldn’t blame her at all for that. And at the same time…I don’t know. I’m just really tired, I can’t help it!

Now, the good news is that we’ve been married for 11+ years and this is our 3rd child. We’ve kind of figured things out at this point. The water has found its level. I think that she probably did hold stuff like that against me back when Evelyn was born (at least a little bit), but at this point she just says, “Hey, why don’t you get some sleep?”

And of course I take her up on that, because I’m really, really tired. But then I’m also really, really guilty for not being a better partner, and a better father.

Just one more reason raising kids is hard.

What a difference a year makes

See if you can guess which one of these sleep reports from Sara’s fitbit is from last night (WITH a brand new baby), and which one is from one year ago today (WITHOUT a brand new baby):

one year later

Close call, I know. I guess this is the new normal…

The Miracle Cure for getting your kids to sleep

When we last saw our heroes, they had completely given up on getting Oliver to sleep. Boy how two months can change things!

After the last post, it got worse if anything. We had him back in our room, but it was unpleasant for everyone. At night he would be tossing and turning in bed like a maniac, punching me in the face, and just generally keeping us all up all night. It didn’t help that he happened to be getting 3 molars at this time, but I remember there was even one night where he was awake for 4 hours right in the middle of the night. Brutal.

The worst part is, the 6 weeks we spent trying to get him to sleep on his own in the other room seemed to have done some permanent damage. He was very, very suspicious that we were going to leave him, so every little sound would bring him instantly to his feet, screaming. Since we would wake him up whenever we went into the room, Sara and I took to sleeping on couches in the living room every night until he woke up the first time. Putting him to sleep was a challenge as well, since he was suspiciously alert for any kind of attempt to leave the room. So turning the pages of my book would wake him up, to say nothing of actually trying to creep out, open the door, etc. My only recourse was to wait for at least an hour until he was deeply asleep before I could sneak out. This was a very frustrating hour! We got used to walking on eggshells to avoid waking him.

Now, we put him into the crib in his bedroom with Evie and he quietly goes to sleep by himself. A couple of times he’s slept through the entire night.

Believe me, being able to type that sentence is more flabbergasting to me than anyone. So what was the miracle cure? Waiting until the time is right!

It’s very clear to me now that there was nothing we could have done to make him go to sleep easily back then. This time it went so smoothly and easily, that it was clear the time was just right. Why was the time wrong before? Who knows. Maybe he just wasn’t old enough to have the skills to be able to do it. Maybe it was the molars. Maybe he was in too much of a “mommy” phase. Every kid is different, and every kid is in different situations at different times.

The first time we tried to let him “cry it out” for over an hour multiple nights, and it didn’t work. This time it took 20 minutes the first night, and that was it. The first time it went on for 6 weeks. This time it was over in a matter of days.

It still hasn’t been perfect. The first few days he was getting up at 4 a.m. But that is a different problem, and that problem we could work on (we’ve had some success in the past with this issue). He’s still waking up a time or two some nights. But again, this is vastly better than it was. And sometimes now he can even put himself back to sleep! Also, his awakenings are increasingly after 4, so I think that it is all related to him wondering when we are going to come in and get him. Hopefully the “ghost light plan” (a lamp with a book in front of it in this case) will solve this issue.

I have to say, the whole thing makes me feel so much better. You hear these stories about parents who let their children cry it out when they’re 10 months old, and it only takes 5 minutes and then they sleep blissfully through the night. I used to think that these stories weren’t true (lies, all lies I tell you!) because the alternative was that I was somehow a bad parent. Now I think they might be true after all. Your kid is ready when he’s ready. Maybe for some kids, that’s 10 months. For Oliver, it wasn’t.

So, just like all Miracle Cures, it’s not as easy as it sounds. You have to determine when the “right time” is for your child. That part has no easy answers. But the good news is you have permission to stop and wait if it’s not working. I wish we would have done that the first time, instead of trying to force it for 6 weeks.

But when it finally does work, boy is it fantastic! Sara and I feel like we have a new lease on life. The sun is brighter, flowers smell better, food tastes better. We even had two nights in a row where we played board games, since the kids were asleep early at the far end of the house. Board games!

It’s almost like I’m human again.

Admitting Absolute Defeat

Remember that super optimistic post I wrote about Oliver’s sleep schedule only a few months ago? Well, what goes up, must come down.

Boy, where to even start.

It all started when we got back from vacation. He had been sleeping so well before that, so we already had the plan to put him in his own room when we got back. We totally failed to see how vacation had changed everything, and did not adjust our plans accordingly.

As vacation had worn on, he was crying more and more and having more and more trouble going to sleep. So when we got back and I confidently put him in the crib, he just sobbed and sobbed. All of my enthusiasm and back-patting for how easy things were going to be went right out the window. We tried letting him cry, but that got us nowhere. He sobbed and sobbed and never stopped.

Now the plan was to put Evie and Oliver in the same room, but it wouldn’t really be fair to dump this problem off onto her. So Evie started sleeping in our room, and I started sleeping in her bed in Oliver’s room (with earplugs to get through all the nightly crying!) Every night he would just wake up sobbing and sobbing, and just unable to go back to sleep.

After a week or so, I took a breath and said, “Wait a minute, let’s reset.” I thought about where we were before vacation, and how to get back there, or what I did in the first place to get to the point where I could leave and he would just go to sleep. So we started over. Eventually, we got to the point where I stayed in the room, but I just sat on the floor until he went to sleep. He didn’t cry, just went to sleep. So we were at least back to square 1.

So this seemed like progress, until we had a really bad night, where he just wouldn’t stop crying. Eventually, Sara had to come in and sleep with him. This was very discouraging for me. He ended up being sick, so I think maybe he just wasn’t feeling that well that night.

The following night, miracle beyond miracles, he slept through the whole night!

So it seemed like we had finally made a break through. However, I think that was the last time he slept through the night. Every night after that was a little bit worse. And even worse than that, Evie had been sleeping in the bed with Sara for about 2 weeks at point, and she was losing the ability to sleep by herself, always wanting company. So not only were we not solving Oliver’s sleep problems, but now we were creating sleep problems in Evie. I certainly didn’t want to get Oliver sleeping in his bed, only to end up with Evie in ours instead.

I had resorted to sleeping on the floor, since the creakiest bed in the world would wake him up whenever I climbed into bed, or shifted in the night. I was really on pins and needles in there, trying not to wake him up, since it could bring on an hour long sob-fest. The floor seemed like the lesser of two evils.

So finally we decided to put Evie in the bed in there, with me continuing to sleep on the floor. Best case scenario, her presence would help him sleep, worst case, we wouldn’t be any worse off with Oliver, but at least we could try to keep Evie from getting used to sleeping in our bed. Unfortunately, it ended up being the later case.

Furthermore, a new problem started to develop. Having Oliver and I in the room with her was too exciting for Evie. So she started to revert to her customary awake time of 5 a.m., which would of course wake Oliver up. So we eventually fell into a sort of rhythm of the 3 of us sleeping in there, with me on the floor. Oliver would wake up 1 or 2 times a night, and Evie would wake up 1 or 2 times a night, finally culminating in a 5 a.m. wake up. Weeks went by.

Finally it just became obvious that, at almost 6 weeks, things were not going to improve. I started beginning the night in my bed until the first time Oliver woke up, and then sleeping on the floor after that, but even still the whole thing was taking a toll. I was so exhausted from waking up so often and so early, and so sore from sleeping on the floor, that I was really starting to get frustrated.

Even the things that had been working were starting to erode. It was obvious that my presence in the room was keeping him awake, and yet, if I tried to go out, he would get so upset. Some nights I would resolve myself to let him cry until he went to sleep, but after literally more than an hour, I couldn’t take it anymore. At that point, he was usually so exhausted, that all I would have to say was, “Oliver, lay down.” and he would go to sleep. But it was like I had to do that, or else he would never be able to go to sleep by himself, no matter how long it went. He just was not able to calm himself down or go to sleep without at least *something* from me.

The final straw for me was one night when he had been sobbing for going on 45 minutes or so and Evie started sobbing herself saying, “I’m tired but I can’t go to sleep when Oliver is crying!” I felt so bad about that. I had always been very sensitive about not putting any of this on Evie. She mothers him so much as it is, and I felt like it was shifting the burden from the parents, where it belonged, to her shoulders. That didn’t seem right. One night she even tried sleeping on the floor, to comfort him that da da was there. It was sweet, but made me feel bad.

So we’re taking a break. 6 weeks is too long for the house to go without sleep. Oliver and I need a break from each other, so Sara is taking over as Sleepmaster General. Oliver is back in the travel crib in our room. If he howls all night long (and believe me, so far he has…Sara hasn’t had any more success than I did), at least Evie can get some sleep (although she still complains that his crying from the other room keeps her up). There have been some ups and downs (one night I was sleeping until Oliver decided to try and bite a significant chunk out of my back, for no reason… unpleasant way to wake up, let me tell you!), and we’re not exactly sure where to go from here. All we know is that whatever we were doing before wasn’t working.

And to think I was SO SURE it was going to be so easy this time around!

I bet that gets you out of bed in the morning

Have you ever known someone who just can’t get up in the morning? Of course you have, we all have. Maybe you’re one of those people yourself. Well, maybe the proper motivation has yet to be applied. Maybe it’s time to put some money on the line in as visual and immediate of a fashion as possible, with the money shredding alarm clock.

I think it’s pretty self explanatory, but I’ll go ahead and explain it anyway: pre-load it with money the night before (apparently hundreds if you’ve got ‘um), when the alarm goes off, get up and turn it off, or face the consequences.

It’s amusing, but I have to tell you, I don’t think it will work. I’ve seen people ruin their lives by not getting up on time. A couple of bucks here and there isn’t going to change anything. And besides, you’re in no state to make rational decisions at that point. When you wake up really, really early in the morning, if someone told you, “Hey, give me $100 and I’ll let you go back to sleep!”, you’d take it in a heartbeat.