babies, circadian rhythms, cry it out, Ferber, insomnia, night waking, sleep
Perfect Husband mentioned to his mother recently that Babby had been up screaming for over an hour in the middle of the night.
“You never did that, ever,” she said.
She never sleep-trained her kids. They just slept.
Sleep is such a mysterious thing.
At least, it always has been for me. It’s like this promised land that I am supposed to visit every night, but have never been given a map to.
There are suggestions for how to best battle insomnia: keep the lights dim before bed time, do relaxing activities leading to bed time, don’t lie awake for too long, don’t use bed for stressful activities like homework, etc etc. These suggestions are as vague and unhelpful as Peter Pan’s directions to Never Never Land.
Second to the right, and straight on ’til morning.
As a child I would lie awake and watch the time on my clock pass me by as everyone went to dream land without me.
My mother knew that I had trouble sleeping – sometimes I would cry at bedtime, because I was so tired but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. This mostly happened towards the end of the week, on Thursday or Friday, after days of running on five or six hours of rest.
More often, though, I simply complained that I wasn’t tired. Because I wasn’t. Sure, every morning I was exhausted. Even seven or eight hours, achieved on a good night, isn’t enough for a growing child. I was exhausted.
By bedtime, though, I was raring to go. Even when I felt tired, it was a tiredness in my brain: that buzzing feeling you get when you’re desperately short on sleep. But my body never agreed. It was warm and racing and ready to run. My bed was a prison, hot and lumpy. In the morning my body wouldn’t respond. It was cold and heavy and my bed was a veritable haven of pure comfort. I wanted nothing more in the world but to stay where I was, forever.
I don’t think my mother ever fully realized how much difficulty I had. Speaking to her recently, she expressed surprise when I mentioned lying awake until one in the morning every night.
“One!” she cried in surprise.
“You knew I lay awake at night and had trouble sleeping,” I said.
“I didn’t know it was that bad.”
She isn’t to be blamed, because I had never made it clear. My childish mind and my inexperienced mouth didn’t know the words, and had no frame of reference for how bad “bad” really is.
A recent study showed that some children may have much more trouble sleeping than their parents think they do. How could the parents know? They’re sleeping in a room down the hall, and the child probably learned as a baby that making a fuss doesn’t work.
It is because of my childhood memories that I am so hesitant to resort to Cry It Out methods, so long as Babby cannot talk.
It’s not that I think that a short week of Ferberizing (properly done) will have a lasting effect on bonding. Not if the mother is attentive and responsive in all other ways. It would be a mere pea under many mattresses of maternal experiences.
No, it is because I simply don’t think Cry It Out actually helps the baby sleep. I think CIO trains the baby not to cry for its mother at bedtime. That’s not quite the same thing.
It’s basic operant conditioning, and I have no doubt that it works. That’s how you train a puppy not to cry in its crate. Simple.
Many babies, relieved of the responsibility of crying at bedtime, might drop right off to sleep. Others might lie awake like I did, and the mother wouldn’t know, because the child wouldn’t cry for her.
I think sleep and “sleep training” are separate (if related) issues. One is an involuntary function. The other is behaviour modification.
Am I blaming Cry It Out for children’s poor sleep?
I know my mother Ferberized me when I was a baby, but I don’t think that’s why I have difficulty sleeping. The world is full of Ferberized adults who sleep like logs.
I just don’t think it really affects sleep itself. It affects that baby’s behaviour; it teaches him to go to bed quietly and not cry when he wakes in the night.
I think that many babies and many children drop right off when they go to bed. But I was not one of those children.
This wasn’t unique to my childhood, either. It has stayed with me my whole life. My biological clock just seems to automatically set itself at “nocturnal” instead of “diurnal”. No amount of early morning classes could make me a morning person, or give me the ability to fall asleep before midnight.
I go to bed awake and wake up exhausted, unless I get a chance to sleep in.
Left to my own devices on summer holidays, my natural rhythms always settled into a predictable pattern. I would go to sleep at three or four in the morning, and wake up at around eleven. My insomnia never bothered me on this schedule. I went to bed tired and woke up rested, when I could follow this schedule.
When I entered the working world, the veterinarians who employed me discovered quickly that I belonged on the afternoon shift. Put Carol on morning shift and she shuffles around in her scrubs as though still in her pyjamas. She stares at you blankly for a second before responding when spoken to. When left without an obvious task, she does nothing.
Put Carol on the evening shift, and she jumps for the phone when it rings. She chatters with clients. She sweeps the floor. She is cheerful and helpful. Even competent.
I just recently found out that there is a name for this. I totally fit the profile for Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. It means that some people seem to have a wonky biological clock that is always a few hours off of normal, so morning IS night to them, and evening IS midafternoon.
They don’t know why it exists, and they have no real way to cure it or even treat it. But I think it totally describes me.
The label gives me nothing except validation.
This physical quirk of mine helped me mightily in the early stages of motherhood. Not only am I accustomed to functioning on a sleep debt, but late night wake-ups didn’t faze me, so long as I could keep going back to sleep until I was rested in the late morning.
The problem is, Babby now wakes up naturally at 6:30 in the morning, full of smiles and ready to play.
Since he didn’t have the good luck to inherit his father’s effortless ability to sleep, he could have at least had the good grace to inherit my wonky schedule.
It’s good for him that he seems to have normal diurnal rhythms.
But God, I’m tired.