Monday, August 21, 2006

Parents of Babies: Is a Good Sleep Possible?

I have often heard it said that once a baby is born, nothing will ever be the same. This is very true and the first thing to change will be our sleep patterns. There may be some "restful years" between the birth and the baby's marriage (yes, that's tongue-in-cheek!) but there are many nights that a parent will need to get used to simply not having much sleep if any.

The first time my own sleep patterns changed drastically is as soon as my daughter came home from the hospital. She was a colicky baby after the first few months and I found that I needed to have the same mixed up sleeping patterns or I was out of luck! When she got a little older but still needed feeding in the middle of the night, I found many nights that not only was she hungry at 2 a.m. but she wanted to stay up and party at that time, too! I wasn't ready to don a party hat at that time of night, so I recall being exhausted often during that time period.

When that phase of a baby's life matures and they sleep all the way through the night more often, fear not, there are plenty more 2 a.m. parties to look forward to. There will be nights when the child is sick and you will be sitting up for hours on end with them. I never thought of this as a negative thing and I didn't mind it, but many people can't afford to spend the night awake if they will have to head off for work in the morning, as one example.

There will be many nights that you may actually get some sleep. And *then* comes the day that the child was waiting for and you were dreading for years; they have a license. The sleepless nights now will come when they're out in their car (or yours!) most likely being good, but that doesn't help a parent to sleep! Most of the insomnia time is used wondering how your little baby could be 16 years old and out past curfew with a car!

But we get over that. We get over that just in time to have the dating start. Suddenly "the baby" starts staying out longer and the sleepless nights are spend wondering how long your "little one" will even be living under the same roof with you now.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though, and we will go back to the problem of a baby or toddler not sleeping well. One thing that many experts will suggest is that you should try grabbing a nap when the baby or toddler does the same. It works for many people but I could never really rest in the middle of the day. That's really too bad because I think it may have helped me!

If the baby is sleeping from 1:00 in the afternoon until 2:30, for example, use the time to lie down and rest whether or not you actually fall asleep. It isn't the same as 7 or 8 hours in a row, but you may find it very beneficial.

Some people may suggest trying to keep your baby awake during the busy part of the day so that they will sleep better during the night. This may work for some babies, but in my own experience, a lot of babies can doze off no matter what happens to be going on around them. It is not guaranteed that he or she will stay awake just because there's a television or music blaring and the rest of the family is rushing in and out of the room.

If the baby does indeed stay awake during the busy time of day, keep things very low-key at bedtime. Keep the lights turned low and have a calm atmosphere. If he or she is old enough for a bedtime story, keep that a "quiet-time activity" as well. This will be teaching that bedtime is a time to stay calm. A warm bath is often as relaxing to children before bedtime as it is for adults.

One thing you will most likely be facing when it comes to sleep patterns is whether you want to let the child "cry it out" and establish sleep patterns that way. This isn't, however, recommended, for babies under half a year of age. Although there's a division over this between pediatricians, I could never personally do this. I always wanted my daughter to know that I was there. I didn't pick her up or allow her to get up on her own when she was younger, but "crying it out" never sounded like a good solution to me.