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.
I think the baby-sleep-training stuff and childhood/adult sleeping disorders are definitely different. One is about soothing and rituals and calming. The other is about actually getting your body to sleep.
The Bug was one of those born-good sleepers who sleep-trained himself the week before we were going to attempt Ferberizing him.
I was a horrible sleeper all through childhood, high school, college, etc. Hated it. Got stressed by it. My major solution has been a constant schedule, so actually my job and the Bug have been excellent. The Bug wakes up these days like clockwork every morning. I go to bed at almost the same time every night. And it’s the single best thing that’s ever worked for me.
And melatonin. How I wish I’d known about that stuff in high school!!
I hope things get easier for you!! You have my sympathies with the sleeping stuff. The number of nights I spent doing relaxation exercises I can’t even count!!
I heart melatonin. It’s a life saver!
My husband has ALWAYS had trouble sleeping and will happily stay awake until 3 or 4 in the morning. I think the Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome totally explains it.
They should make more people aware of this!
Should they ever! His sleep problems are also made worse because he’s allergic to absolutely everything too.
I’m thinking of picking up the husband some melatonin to see if that helps as well.
A-ha! There’s a name for it! Thank you!!
I have it too, and I’m pretty sure Liam has inherited it. That kid just will NOT go to sleep before 10pm, no matter how busy his days are. It’s a struggle to get him up by even 8am, when we SHOULD be getting up at 7am to make it to nursery school on time. But I know it’s not worth fighting it, really. His schedule, like mine, always adjusts back to this even with time changes and attempts to shift our schedules. (Of course, we will work on it before Kindergarten, though. I promise.)
Chris, on the other hand, just requires very little sleep. He stays up super late, but has no trouble getting up in the morning. I think Jonah’s taking after HIM. It’s tough to go to bed at 10:30 or 11pm (and not falling asleep till at least midnight because I CAN’T), nursing a baby every couple of hours, then being awoken by said baby by 7am. I’m thankful he gives me that much time, though. Could be worse.
Sleep deprivation SUCKS ASS. You have all my sympathies.
Melatonin. Try it. I wish it had been around when I was a kid!
For me or Liam?
I’m nervous to try it. I looked into it for Jonah, actually, because HE is the most restless sleeper ever. Like, he rolls and crawls to every edge of the king-sized bed each night, and Chris can’t share with us when he’s home because of it. He also can’t seem to stay asleep without boob every two or so hours. Ugh. (Liam sleeps pretty great, on the other hand, once he gets there.)
Anyway, I forget the specifics of why, but I decided against it. I’ve been trying out calcium/magnesium supplements for me (they helped my restless legs in pregnancy) in the hopes that it will help him through the breastmilk. So far, no luck.
Either or. I use it for me all the time. It works, but it’s not a drug so it doesn’t dope you up.
I used to think I was a morning person. And I sort of am… but I need about a half hour of peace & quiet when I first wake up or I’m cranky and ill-tempered all day. Because both of my kids are early risers – 7AM is sleeping in, for god’s sake – I have to get up at 6AM to get that precious time to myself.
Also, Isaac can stay up until midnight or later if he’s allowed to (like on New Year’s Eve, for example) and still get up bright and early the next morning, at his usual time. UGH.
I wish I were like that.
My husband has this big time! I had it at least through my teenage years as well, though I’m not sure that I do anymore. My “comfortable” schedule was solidly somewhere around 2 or 3 am for sleeping, 11 am – 1 pm for waking up (I always fall into this on holidays, etc.). Somewhere along the line, though, my body has trained itself to wake up in the morning whether I want it to or not (and whether I’m still exhausted or not, or have only had 4 hours of sleep or not), around the time that the alarm clock usually goes off. So now I do everything in my power to get myself sleeping by midnight so that I’ll be slightly less wrecked the next day. It’s interesting to know this has a label, though…
Apparently it’s quite common in the teenage years but many teens outgrow it.
Hi, I'm Natalie. said:
Warm milk is my bedtime godsend. I was also a nocturnal teen – I couldn’t get to sleep until 1, 2, 3, 4 – then I was exhausted all day. Which cannot have helped the debilitating depression. It was not the greatest – thank goodness I outgrew most of that about ten years ago.
I am extremely fortunate that everyone in my family has an easy time falling asleep (except for me on really bad days) and we’re all ready to go shortly after 6 in the morning… (Frances actually asks to go to bed when she’s tired if we lose track of time – and she just lies down and goes to sleep – We are CRAZY-lucky.)
Hi, I'm Natalie. said:
Also – Beautiful header! (Is it new, or am I crazy? =)
I find it interesting that sleep problems such as this are comorbid with depression quite frequently.
I wish I liked milk. Warm milk always sounds so nice in concept, but to me milk tastes like greasy water.
(and yes, it’s new! Glad you like it!)
I am AMAZED by the number of consistencies and links that begin to show up when you start looking into depression and other disruptions of the autonomic nervous system, or serotonin disorders, or dopamine problems, or Things Often Triggered By Stress. I’ve done a ton of looking into various sides of it now, and I am totally convinced that years down the road people will recognize the very clear connections here. Depression, digestive problems, fibromyalgia, sleep disruptions…all absolutely related.
I know it sounds a bit corny but I use relaxation/meditation tapes to go to sleep. Of course, I live alone, so there is no one to bother with this.
For some reason I really like this dude, http://www.withandrewjohnson.com/. There is something about his accent.
Honestly, it’s OK to hold your mother responsible for not knowing what you were going through. I struggle with that too. I know my mom was sick but that didn’t really make my needs go away and I suffered, and am still suffering, as a result.
Btw, sleep hygiene is far from abstract, it’s just that given your very consistent troubles it might not make a difference.
1) Go to bed, and get up at the same time every day.
2) An hour before bed stop doing anything involving technology, TV, computer, etc. The lights and images is stimulating. You can read though.
3) Only ever sleep and have sex in the bedroom. No reading or watching TV, etc. Presumably it’s to program the brain to get tired in that room.
4) When you wake up get at least 30 minutes of daylight into your eye. That it, take a walk outside without sunglasses, or use a sunlamp. It promoted wakefulness.
5) Don’t exercise in the evening.
Does this stuff work for me? Don’t know. Too hard to stick to. Takes too long to figure out if it has an effect or not.
I used to use Solitudes tapes, with nature sounds. But really, they just gave me something to listen to until my usual sleep time came around.
It’s important to hold a parent responsibility for their duties as a parent, especially when they have failed to meet them.
But thankfully this was not my problem. My mother was a very concerned and involved mother, and she tried calcium supplements, a rule of no pop near bedtime (when I was older – when I was little I obviously wasn’t allowed pop, ever), and even introduced the idea of sleep tapes to me. She tried. She knew it was a problem of mine.
She just didn’t realize HOW bad it was because I never actually said the words “I am up past one am every night.” Children that age think they can say “I can’t sleep” and their mother will inherently know what that means, exactly. But obviously, no mother is psychic.
And yes, I suppose that’s what I mean – sleep hygiene never really made a difference to me, so to me the directions were vague and unhelpful. It’s right up there with people who hear about my weight problems and say doubtfully, “did you try eating healthier?”
Going to bed at the same time every night just meant laying awake for the same amount of time every night. Reading in bed helps me unwind and is necessary for me in the going-to-sleep process if I want to sleep at all, but I still won’t fall asleep any earlier.
I have never been a good sleeper, but it seems to have gotten worse the older I get. It’s maddening, and even more so now that I’m married and get to witness nightly a person who can fall asleep within five minutes of laying his head on the pillow. Not getting enough sleep is one of the things that I don’t worry about when it comes to having a baby one day — I don’t get enough sleep as it is, and I’ve been getting along quite well with the few hours I’m able to get during the week, and the days to sleep in on weekends. But I sincerely hope any kid of mine gets my husband’s ability to just conk out — insomnia is a beast, and I don’t wish it on anyone.
Oh, and I’m dutifully writing down the melatonin suggestion from previous commenters!
Isn’t it aggravating watching them just go to sleep, like they just shut themselves off?
Yes, Melatonin is really helpful. I love it.
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