Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Quest for Sleep

I have ventured off into my thoughts on video games and television and haven't shared anything about life with my son lately. One of the biggest adjustments for me was trying to function on a few hours of sleep every night. I have come up with some stages that I went through on my quest for sleep. Not unlike Frodo and Sam's quest to destroy the ring this quest is long and difficult and at times will seem impossible but it can be conquered. Here are the stages I went through.

  1. What do we do?
  2. Calmly trying to sleep
  3. Desperately trying to sleep
  4. Finding a rhythm
  5. Your on your own

What do we do?

This is the stage you are in when you return from the hospital. Your friends have warned you that you won't get any sleep but that is all you know. What will happen? How will we share the responsibility? At our house we started with the boy sleeping in a cradle in our room. I suggest having the baby sleep in your room for some time at first. It is easier since you will be up fifty times a night to feed him. Also the new mom will undoubtedly wake up to check on the baby every time he makes a sound if she sleeps at all. New moms are crazy like that. We pretty much did everything as a team for a couple of weeks. My wife would change his diaper and I would go to the kitchen to make a bottle. This is a good strategy because it gives everyone confidence in handling the baby because there is always support. This is a terrible strategy because neither of you ever get a full nights sleep.

Calmly trying to sleep

After a few weeks of this you will be miserable. Once you have been in a mindless state for a fortnight you are ready to adjust your plan. We started by sharing the nights. One of us would stay up until the boy went to sleep which was usually around 2 o'clock. Then the other teammate would get up at the next feeding time. During all of this the baby is still eating ever 2-3 hours so you get no sleep during your shift. We would alternate shifts every night. When the boy would go to sleep we would ease back into our bedroom and put him in the cradle. This started one of the worst chapters of the entire quest for sleep saga. You would work forever to get him to sleep then as soon as he hit the mattress those big dark eyes would open and stare back at you. I know that your child's beautiful eyes can bring you a smile on the darkest of days. But at 3 am when he suddenly awakens and stares at you as if to say what's up you just want to jump screaming out of the window and run for the hills. During this sleepless chapter of our lives my wife and I continued to try and try every night until he would finally sleep in his cradle. We didn't want him forming bad habits about where he slept so most of our nights read like the back of a shampoo bottle. Rock to sleep, rinse, repeat. We would let him sleep in the swing or bouncy chair during the day but not at night. We were determined.

Desperately trying to sleep

This went on for a while and neither of us was getting any sleep. We finally decided to break up the shift work and just alternate nights. This way we could get a full nights sleep every other night. Still this hurt our family life. Whomever had the night off would go to bed early or fall asleep on the couch. Neither of us was ever in a good mood. You start to wonder if you will even survive this sleepless hell. One particularly difficult night I woke up to my boy screaming. I found my wife completely exhausted and frustrated. She was at her wits end. I took over the shift so she could go to bed. I stayed in the living room with the boy the rest of the night. I moved the pack and play into the living room and put him in. Then a miracle occurred. He slept. So for the next few nights we put the pack and play in the bedroom with us. Life was wonderful. The boy slept and we stayed in the bed together. Of course we got up a couple of times a night to feed him but that was OK. He was no longer waking up every time we laid him down. This only lasted a few days. All of a sudden he hated the pack and play so the quest for sleep shifted gears. My wife tried using the crib in his room. Apparently he liked this now. We put an air up mattress on the floor in his room and one of us slept there every night. This lasted about a week. Then he quit sleeping in his crib. At this point we had been through the cradle, the pack and play, and the crib. We were running out of places for the boy to sleep outside of a few cardboard boxes I had in the attic. We were desperate. This is where all the good intentions of following advice you read or you get from health care professionals goes out the window. We no longer gave a crap about forming bad habits or anything else. If we couldn't find a way to get some sleep there was going to be a homicide at our address. We gave in and started letting him sleep in the swing.

Finding a rhythm

We are currently finding a rhythm that has restored order and peace to our home. The boy is sleeping in his swing every night. We are not even trying anything else. We will worry about that later. I haven't mentioned but through this ordeal he has started eating more and less often. Now the boy goes 4 hours between meals during the day and 5 or 6 hours at night. We take turns sleeping on the couch beside his swing. This has been going on for about 2-3 weeks. Lately the boy has been asleep by midnight. He will wake up and eat a little around 4 or 5. Then he sleeps until 8 or 9 before eating again. From where we have been this seems like heaven. Both of us are getting a pretty good nights sleep every night. All that remains is for us to one day again sleep in the same bed. I can't wait for that day but I will be satisfied with our new rhythm for now.

Your on your own

I assume this is the next step. We have not made it there so I might learn that there are a few detours still yet to take. This is the step where you put your baby in his crib in his room and go sleep in your bed in your room. My wife will have a really hard time with this. I am sure one day I will have to insist that she comes back to bed with me. We will worry about that when the boy starts rolling out of his swing. I figure that is a good time to put him back in the crib. I hope that goes relatively smoothly because I don't want to revisit any of Dante's 9 circles of hell.

The quest for sleep is a long and arduous road if you have a non sleeper. Some people will have babies that sleep all night right from the start. To these people I say get out of my face before I strike you. If you are currently on your own quest for sleep good luck and god speed.

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