The one thing that I can confidently say about every parent, whatever their beliefs, is that we could all do with a little bit more sleep! Here in the Alt.house, we each have our own very different styles when it comes to sleep. Whether this makes for harmonious times all depends of course on whether we are all actually asleep at the same time or not!
Alt.Father could sleep on the proverbial washing line. His sleep habits have led us to wonder whether he was in fact quite possibly a cat in a former life. A single shaft of golden sunshine falling across just about any kind of soft surface draws him in like a moth to a flame, and soon he is snoring gently. He’s a big fan of quick naps and like a trusty Nokia phone a short charge-up leaves him re-energised and ready to go.
Whereas I can’t do naps at all. A cat-nap for me will turn into a two hour zonk out from which I will wake slightly groggy and disoriented. I’ll hold my eyelids open with matchsticks so that I can finish reading the last chapter of my book, and struggle with my self inflicted tiredness by being grumpy like a bear with a sore head the next day. I love to sleep where it’s quiet and comfortable, although darkness isn’t mandatory. A peaceful summer afternoon in the garden snoozing on a rug for a couple of hours would be absolute bliss.
Alt.D1 started off as a shocking sleeper. Her preferred pattern was 20 minutes sleep at a time, day or night, with a lot of noise in between. It would take us hours of pacing up and down in between those sleeps just to get her back down again. Her sleep pattern was not unlike a series of delayed trains, with one sleep becoming so far gone as to roll into the next. She settled down as she grew older, eventually taking morning and afternoon naps and at long last, bedtime in the evenings became a more predictable state of affairs. Now she sleeps wrapped in snuggly duvets and blankets, legs and arms sometimes poking free, head sometimes at the foot of the bed and sometimes hanging off the side!
Alt.D2 was the opposite of her sister on arrival. Sleeping for four hours at a time as a newborn, quickly making it known that she wasn’t hungry and just wanted to be put down to sleep. We had made the decision to co-sleep before she was born, and she cuddles down comfortably in the evenings, sucking a thumb to send herself off. We call her the “light police” though – no chance whatsoever of reading a book in bed for her parents, she’ll snuffle and squeak until we turn the light off!
Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, we used to frequently remind Alt.D1. Somehow she always seemed to know when there was an early morning meeting for Alt.Father, and would choose that night to remain awake during the early hours, refusing to be put down, refusing to just GO TO SLEEP! We tried all sorts of tricks: hot water bottles in her moses basket, warming the blankets in our bed, wrapping her up in my t-shirt… mostly to no avail. We read up on all sorts of methods for encouraging good sleeping, including the No Cry Sleep Solution (although it wasn’t clear whether it was the parents or the babies doing the crying!), the Baby Whisperer, Babycalming, and the Dr Sears website.
|Alt.D1 teaches Alt.Father the meaning of “share”
What worked for us? Probably just the passage of time. Alt.D1 did suffer from awful colic for many weeks, something I will probably write about another time, but that aside, things eventually just eased up. We “gave up” on trying to get the baby into her own bed, and kept her in ours, moving her cot right up against the side of our bed with the bars removed like a little refuge she could be rolled into when she eventually dropped off to sleep. Even then she was about 15 months old before she slept through a night (March 5th, 2010, I have it etched in my mind!) and sadly, it was a fluke! We were like the line from that Alanis Morissette song “I’m tired but I’m working, yeah”. Somehow, be it hormones, or adrenaline, or magic powers, we just kept going through the days and nights until things became easier of their own accord.
By the time Alt.D1 was 2, she was often sleeping through. Sometimes it was in her own cot, in her own room, and sometimes it was in our bed, but sleep is sleep, as far as I am concerned! We started to think about having another baby. We reasoned that the sleep deprivation couldn’t be as bad as the first time around, and anyway, if it was, we would be prepared for it. We bought a bigger bed. Plenty of room for all of us.
Alt.D2 had a lovely moses basket. I used it for storing my laptop, phone and book in. Whilst we were in the maternity hospital, we had been tucked up in the bed together by the midwives, and she had slept beautifully, nestled into the crook of my arm. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, they say, so we continued that way once we came home. I read Deborah Jackson’s “Three in a Bed” which reassured us that this was the right thing to do. It’s working out ok so far, although Alt.D2 hasn’t yet begun to roll! A much easier life for all of us, and still space when Alt.D1 decides she wants in on the action, too!
Co-sleeping isn’t for everyone. You do need to be careful, as although you are unlikely to roll on the baby and squash them as many people fear, it is not without its risks. The NHS current guidelines are that the safest place for your baby to sleep for its first six months is in its own cot in its parents’ bedroom. There is more information available here about sharing a bed with your baby. Statistically, mothers who co-sleep breastfeed for longer (probably because they are not driven half mad by lack of sleep!) so there are health benefits, too.
In most parts of the world, babies sleep with their parents, and it does make sense, really. For 9 months they were inside their mother, then all of a sudden, they are out in the big wide world. They feel safer, calmer and more relaxed when next to their parents, making sleep come more easily and life a little better for everyone!
I will leave you with a clip that sums it all up. Michael McIntyre on children’s bedtimes:
Sleep well, all.