Friday, January 7, 2011

Sleep tips from babies

Lately, Marko has not been what I'd call a good sleeper. All these trips really do mess with his routine, and to make things worse, we had to lower the mattress of his crib (he is pulling to a stand, and I was afraid he'd tip himself out). So even his less-favored sleep spot (second to my arms) isn't quite comfy.

I have no objection to sleeping with him in my arms, if it weren't that once he's asleep, he pushes me away and stretches out in MY sleep spot. So where am I supposed to sleep, huh?

This ended up being our solution:

We have an IKEA bed (the Malm) and an IKEA crib (the Sniglar) which are about the same height, when the crib mattress is set to the lowest level. In this picture we have the crib bumper padding the wooden edge of our bed, but I have since replaced this with a fleece blanket that tucks under both of our mattresses, making a nice soft edge if we have to roll over it.

Now I can simply lie down with Marko in his crib, nurse him to sleep, and when he pushes me away and rolls over, I scoot back into my own bed and get comfortable myself.

So that has helped a lot for nighttime. For naps, we've been more stuck. While I was sick, I slept with him for all naps, but now that I'm better, I simply don't need that much sleep. I ended up checking out Elizabeth Pantley's "No-Cry Nap Solution" from the library and reading it cover-to-cover in one day. That's how desperate I felt with a kid who wouldn't sleep more than 30-40 minutes at a stretch, woke up still tired, but refused to nap again for the rest of the day. Let me tell you, he's been cranky!

We're still working on our solution, but the mere fact that I'm blogging and he's napping shows we're getting somewhere! Here are some things I learned about sleep:

A baby Marko's age needs, on average, 2 naps of about 2 hours each per day. He will get cranky if he's awake for longer than 4 hours or so at a stretch. He needs about 11 hours of sleep per night. (He sleeps less than this at night, but the nap recommendation seems spot-on -- when he gets this amount, he's way happier.)

Tiredness and sleep pressure are different things. Sleep pressure is the urge to sleep. It increases the longer you're awake, but it can be relieved with as little as a 5-minute nap! That's why Marko won't take a second nap after a too-short one, even if he's still tired. Catnaps are poison to good sleep, especially for a baby.

When a baby gets overtired, he's as unlikely to sleep as when he's not tired. I've been figuring that one out lately, as my overtired baby screams and screams but won't settle down. Let me tell you, that's no fun to deal with.

Sleep goes in cycles. First light sleep, then progressively deeper sleep, then shallower sleep, and then a short stage of rapid eye movement before the next cycle begins. The easiest moment to wake up is in REM sleep -- which is when many babies awake and aren't able to resettle, even when they're still tired. An adult's sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes, a baby's about half that. So, when Marko wakes up after 45 minutes, that's not him being done -- that's him waking up accidentally and not knowing how to resettle.

Here are some tips I've gleaned from the book, many of which will be just as helpful for sleepless adults:

1. Routine is key. Our circadian rhythms help us know when to go to sleep. Marko naps very well for his morning nap, which is always at the same time because it's when we get home from school. Afternoon naps have been all over the place -- so it's no wonder we often don't manage to take one at all. The trick to finding the right nap time is to watch the baby as well as the clock. If he's close to maxing out the amount of time he can handle being awake (that is, if his sleep pressure is high), watch for signs of tiredness. These can be rubbing eyes, staring into space, or withdrawing from play. If you miss these, the low point of his rhythms could pass, he gets a second wind, and you're dealing with a hyper, tired kid!

An adult can use this tip by always going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time. Our bodies don't know about weekends -- so is it any wonder you have trouble going to sleep Sunday night and waking up Monday morning? It's like a weekly jet lag.

2. Ritual is key. Since you can't explain to a baby that nap time is about to happen, give clues. When it's time for nap, do exactly the same thing each day. I realized that I usually change Marko's diaper before I put him down for a nap -- no wonder he never went down when I skipped that step! For him, it was a clue that sleep time is coming. Pantley suggests a half hour or so of reduced activity and extra quiet before nap time to let the baby wind down. Unfortunately, I don't know how to make Marko cooperate with "reduced activity," but I have been trying to schedule things like baths in this pre-nap window.

An adult can make a nighttime routine as well. If you're battling insomnia, set up a ritual that you do each night. I have always found I can't sleep if I stay out late and then try to go straight to bed. Instead, I have to sit quietly on the couch reading for a bit, have a little snack, brush my teeth, and go to the bathroom before I really feel sleepy. A cup of herbal tea or a warm bath is a great sleep cue. Light is another -- dim the lights before bedtime.

3. Get plenty of stimulation during awake time. Part of the reason Marko's been napping so badly is because he's bored. If he's been in the house all day, playing with the same toys, he doesn't get as tired as when he's out and about. Also, he's learning to stand lately, and he really wants the practice. If I'm not walking him around a lot, holding his hands, and helping him pull up, I find that when he gets to the pre-nap nurse, he spends the whole time kicking his legs and keeping himself awake. After all, he has no idea you have to hold still to sleep.

Adults need to remember that a little exercise, especially outdoors, works wonders for improving nighttime sleep.

4. Settle back to sleep after waking. This is the really big one for Marko, who wakes up before he's ready. Rather than taking his smiles and energy at face value, I've been doing my best to soothe him back to sleep again. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The less time he's been awake, the better -- which is why I often stay next to him through the first sleep cycle, to soothe him back down at that first wakeup. If he's stirring a little, a few pats on the back often do the trick. But if he's all the way awake and crawling all over the bed, I just have to start over -- back to the rocker for another nurse!

Adults, remember that just because you woke up doesn't mean it's time to get up. If the clock tells you it's not morning yet, don't get up and do stuff just because you feel awake or because you don't want to be tossing and turning. Give sleep a chance -- ten minutes might have you snoozing again. If that doesn't work, then reach for your bedside novel or your iPhone.

5. It helps to put baby to sleep in the same place he's going to take his nap, rather than rocking him to sleep and then laying him down once he's out. Naturally, if he wakes up in his crib when he fell asleep in your arms, he's not going to want to roll over and go back to sleep. This was a really hard one for me, because the whole "put the baby down drowsy, but awake" thing simply does not fly with Marko. He has too much energy, and laying him down awake is like turning the lights on and saying, "Okay, playtime!" The one thing that does work is lying down with him. So instead of rocking him all the way to sleep in the rocking chair, we rock and nurse till his eyes close and then go to the bed and lie down there. He falls asleep there, and I move away once he's sound asleep and settled. (Or, sometimes, I don't -- because he doesn't much like waking to find me gone. We're working on that.)

This isn't really an issue for adults. But imagine if it happened to you, and you'll see how babies might feel. Pantley's example is, "Imagine if you fell asleep in your nice warm bed. You wake a little to adjust your pillow, and find yourself in the middle of the cold kitchen floor! Every time you fall asleep, this happens. You aren't going to want to go back to sleep until you find out what happened -- and even then, you'll keep one eye open to make sure it doesn't happen again." I thought that was pretty clever. It is natural to expect the same conditions you fell asleep in to remain all night long. You can't really blame a baby for not sleeping well if things keep changing on him.

I learned a lot from the book, but I can't recommend it wholeheartedly because it didn't tell me the one thing I really wanted to know -- how do you put a baby down to sleep? Her recommendation is, if you're starting with a newborn, you can try putting them in their crib awake and they will get used to going to sleep there. Otherwise, you're on your own! She basically says, "If you're okay with what you're doing, just stick with it -- whatever gets the child to sleep!" But what if, like me, you always nurse to sleep, but some days the baby doesn't feel like nursing at naptime? No answers from her. She does recommend baby swings, but at nine months, Marko's too big for one. So I'm just hoping I can keep the baby enough into nursing that he'll nurse down for his nap until he figures out another way. Otherwise I'm afraid we'll be doing a lot of driving around the neighborhood at eight p.m.

Whether you're the mother of an insomniac baby or an insomniac yourself, I hope that helps!


L said...

I've heard good things about Good Night Sleep Tight, but not having children I haven't tried it myself

Serene in Singapore said...

One thing that may or may not help - cut out all caffeine from your system.

I am popping over from Kitchen Stewardship's Test Your Grains Challenge :)

Sheila said...

I almost never eat any caffeine, so I'm sure that helps.

Lily, I have not heard of that book, but I should try reading it!

Anonymous said...

Hi! I noticed that you got the same crib from ikea that we bought for our daughter...she is turning the big one very soon and we were looking into buying a little toddler bed for her, but I found out that with the sniglar crib from ikea you are able to convert it into a little toddler day bed and I saw your picture of your sons crib and got thrilled! My question is how did you convert it into a toddler bed? What did you take off? What did you leave on?

-martha m.

Sheila said...

It's really easy. Did you have a big long bar that came with the crib, but doesn't fit on it anywhere? You just take off one long side and replace it with that bar at the bottom. The screws move into the two holes near the bottom. Hope that makes sense ... it was really easy once we started.

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