Every parent knows the saying “sleeping like a baby” is a lie, babies don’t sleep! From the moment you bring home your new bundle of joy, what that really means is that you give up all rights to getting a good night’s sleep. That’s right, you will never sleep again!
In the beginning the lack of sleep is due to the basic needs of your child. This may come as a shock, but they can’t do anything themselves (Ugh, freeloaders!) and they depend on you to do everything, so you are in charge of the feeding and burping and changing and cleaning and dressing. Your day turns into a loop of those activities, and earlier when I said you were in charge, I was being generous because you’re not in charge, you are at their beck and call, which usually happens every couple of hours. Yup! TWO!
The other thing that starts immediately is the change in your sleep habits. You are forever a transformed sleeper and from this moment on you are on “high alert.” This is the innate need you have to protect your child and keep them safe, and high alert doesn’t stop even when you are in a state of REM. There is a fear that overwhelms you, and even when your baby is finally asleep, for those couple glorious hours, you are still peeking in on them, watching their little chest making sure they are rising in a rhythmic pattern you can recognize. And when you are satisfied that everything will be okay, you lay in bed trying to listen for the slightest sigh or sign of discomfort so you can run in and attend to this little person you just created. Eventually you will get to a point where you are so exhausted, it takes your precious little thing three or four good screams before you are jolted out of a dead sleep.
Now for the good news, things do get better. After the initial shock of being responsible for another person wanes, you do start to sleep a little more, but unfortunately parents never get away from being on high alert. In addition, babies get bigger and no longer have to be changed and fed every few hours. Yay! Things will even out, and after a year or so, sleep comes.
Eventually in about six years you become spoiled and your child’s need for sleep extends to around 10 hours, there is no more crying in the middle of the night (yes, I mean from your spouse), and that’s when it hits you like a ton of bricks! The fear no longer belongs to you but your child. “Mommy, I’m scared” is accompanied by a tap on the forehead. And soon your cute kid has turned into the creepy kid, standing in the dark staring at you in the middle of the night.
At first you tuck you child back in bed and try to get back to sleep; this is repeated throughout the night. Then this is repeated for a few nights and then a few weeks. Eventually you give up and in desperation you ask, “You want to just sleep with me?” That is the beginning of the end. And the lack of sleeping stage you thought you had grown out of is back in full force!
Why is this happening!?! AGAIN.
Congratulations, your baby is growing up. They are experiencing more, seeing more and understanding more as their minds are absorbing all of that information, and their imaginations are running rampant and all that together equals fear and nightmares.
Our first attempt at preventive measures, much to my son’s dismay, was in the form of removing the constant flow of Minecraft videos and the use of headphones. This helped, but just for one night. The bonus was that in the morning my six year-old did recognize the benefit of not having voices pushed directly into his head via headsets and acknowledged that he was watching too many videos.
Then I got all “Maria Von Trapp” on him and before bed we talked about happy things and positive experiences and just a few of our favorite things. That also seemed to temporarily aid in the sleepless nights. Temporarily! The morning following our “Sound Of Music” moment he said, “That kind of worked and kind of didn’t. It didn’t help me sleep, but it gave me the confidence to stay in bed.” YES!
We have now included the addition of aromatherapy. The last thing I do before I leave him to his night of personal terror is spritz lavender around his bed. He likes this a lot!
This is where we are, I have not slept for weeks and am going crazy! And when I say crazy I just mean I’m exhausted. And to my girlfriend who has three boys and told me this is going to last until he is about eight, I don’t like you anymore.