We’ve never implemented any of the various sleep training techniques that many parents swear by. This isn't because I don’t think they work, but because each time we’ve hit a rough spot on the sleep front, it’s generally resolved itself right when I’ve hit the breaking point. We just wrapped up a miserable couple of weeks, however, during which I got a little panicked, deep down, thinking that we might not be simply clearing a temporary speed bump as in the past, but might instead have found ourselves entering upon a new phase of no sleep. Ever. That this would ultimately crush our souls and leave us for dead. So, I reconsidered the whole concept of sleep training, drawing something from it, and leaving the rest deliberately behind.
Kaspar’s usual evening routine involves an hour-long bedtime with books and a bottle— could be shorter, but it’s nice and we savor it— followed by sound-ish sleep until he wakes up around three or so for another bottle, and then lands back in his bed. Consistent, full night’s sleeps are the ultimate goal, and I will be relieved when my relationship with three a.m. is less intimate than it is now, but I appreciate Kaspar’s sleeping well on either side of that late-night bottle in the meantime. We use evening hours for cleaning up, doing work, having conversations. We use nighttime and early morning hours for—God-willing—getting some sleep ourselves. When those hours are not available to us for these things, dishes pile up, work gets put off, and our brains start malfunctioning a la Hal gone unplugged in Kubric’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (“Dais-y, Dais-y…”). Not good.
This is what happened, or started happening, two weeks ago: We’d get Kaspar down in the usual way, but he’d wake up an hour later, at which point one of us would rock him or whatever until he was sound asleep again, which would take about thirty minutes. Then, upon putting him (snoring… out) back in his crib-- WHAM: he’d be wide awake, fussing insistently, and we’d have to take it all from the top. This, by the way, is torture at three a.m. when you’ve been doing it all night. And it persisted, night after night… I started to dread his bedtime, knowing it was just the beginning of a very long, sleepless night to come. We began to wonder, too, if we might somehow be conditioning Kaspar in the opposite direction of that coveted full night’s sleep. He’s hit milestone city these days—he’s babbling, pulling himself up on everything in sight, walking around with our assistance—perhaps he’d also hit a new phase with regard to sleep, and needed some help figuring out how it works. We had no idea what was up (still don’t, actually).
By the way, in the midst of all this, Kaspar remained his unabashedly exuberant, smiley self during the day… We, on the other hand, had to fake it.
By day five or six in this new nightly pit of doom, we realized that we needed to do something if we wanted to retain our sanity. I decided to take a low-impact approach first, which basically amounted to continuing to respond to Kaspar when he woke up and called out at night, but trying to keep him in the crib as much as possible—rubbing his back before picking him up to see if he’d settle back into sleep that way, and, if not, putting him back into the crib before he was totally passed out again—so that he’d eventually learn to put himself back to sleep in there. This approach was all about the long-term. That might have worked if I’d stuck with it, but I only think short-term at three a.m., and found myself just putting him back to sleep in the way that already works for us, which is in my arms, start to finish (I put him in his crib once he’s out). I just kept hoping he’d stay asleep for the duration of the night, like he had before this painful new phase kicked in. No dice.
After several days more, I was so exhausted that I brought Kaspar back into our bed with me when we hit the three a.m. mark; if I couldn’t have sleep, I at least wanted to be in bed. Interestingly, the first night that I did this, Kaspar fell sound asleep there between us, and stayed that way until eight in the morning. The same thing happened the next night, and the next.
We were grateful to be getting some consecutive hours of shut-eye, but our relief was bitter-sweet, as we considered the solution something of a concession, another step away from what we’re shooting for. Our basic need for sleep, however, mitigated this; I frankly don’t care where Kaspar sleeps, as long as he’s sleeping. “If co-sleeping works, then why don’t we just co-sleep?” I asked Aaron one morning. Aside from the somewhat ill-defined suspicion that we might be ‘sleep training’ ourselves into a hole, we really didn’t have a reason not to go ahead and share our bed, especially if it meant that we weren’t up at four, five and six. Still wanting those evening hours to ourselves, however, I took a cue from sleep training techniques and determined to continue putting Kaspar back in his own crib until at least midnight, irrespective of the number of times he awoke.
Amazingly, within a few nights of this, Kaspar returned to his old evening routine. He’d go to sleep in his crib and stay asleep until he woke around three for a bottle. Then he’d sleep in our bed. Thinking we had perhaps cleared the mysterious sleep hurdle, I tried putting him back in his crib after the bottle one night… He wasn’t into it. I experimented the following night by making a little bed of blankets on his floor, and sleeping beside him there. He didn’t fall for it. But our bed? That does it for him.
We’re cool with it. Aaron and I still get our baby-free time for work or whatever else in the evenings, and then we go to sleep in our bed. Kaspar joins us some time later, drama-free. He’s sleeping for ten hours a night this way—he definitely keeps sleeping longer in our bed than when he was in his crib all night. He’s cozy, and so are we.
In fact, I like sleeping beside Kaspar. I like his warmth, the smell of his hair, the sound of him breathing, soft and even. I like waking up to him babbling, pressing his face into my face, grinning at me. Sure, we might be willingly enabling the formation of a habit that’ll be difficult to break… but I’ve learned from this experience that it’s risky to get too invested in habits and patterns with little ones; these things change or pass much more quickly than we might expect. I don’t want to miss the here and now, either, in fear of hypothetical ramifications (i.e. “What if Kaspar ALWAYS comes into our bed in the middle of the night, and simply refuses to sleep on his own ever again, because we’re letting him sleep in our bed now?”). I have a feeling that, one of these days, Kaspar just won’t need that three a.m. bottle, and he’ll wake up in the morning in his crib, not having come into our bed at all. Then that’ll become a new pattern. I’ll welcome that one, too.
Do you co-sleep? Why? Why not? Has it backfired? Worked out wonderfully? If you are co-sleeping, do your babies/kids start out in their own beds and end up in yours, or do you have another system? I want to know who's in your bed at night!