Surviving those difficult nights: infant sleep.
You're becoming experts week after week on these keywords, right? :
- baby sleepiness
- sleep cycle in young children
- child's sleep phases
- sleep disorders in children
- good sleep habits
Don't worry, you've just become new parents.
Rest assured, one day your children will sleep so well that you won't even worry about turning on the lights, flushing the toilet, or starting a machine while they just fell asleep.
Meanwhile, how do you manage the sleep of little ones and, most importantly, YOURS, when it seems like the baby wakes up at every breath, every noise, every movement you make, and their nights are reduced to 4-6 hour intervals?
This is a topic that keeps you on the edge! Know that it's the case for most parents, you're far from being the only ones. Because let's be honest, lack of sleep is just THE thing, one of the things, that's most difficult to deal with when you become a parent.
So here we go, I'll share with you my tips and experiences as a mom of three little sweethearts.
I'm basically a groundhog. But let's face it, the mode of sleeping 9 hours in a row a night, is very quickly called into question when you become a parent, and has an unfortunate tendency to drag on over time when you build a family with children of close ages.
I'd like to go back to my own experience and say that for each of my dolls, I was only able to resume real full nights, over more than 10 days in a row, when they were all over 2-3 years old. Yes, it's a long time, we had to be patient and respect their needs to now see that they fall asleep on their own and have full nights.
Before, when we were breastfeeding (between 9 and 6 months - possible, chosen and wanted), the nights were chopped up and I could only allow myself, let's say, 3-4 hour stretches at a time. It's very exhausting, mentally, nervously and physically. Having had 3 children in 3 1/2 years, this period seemed interminable. But fortunately afterwards, nights became a daily routine again.
Sleep: as essential as breathing, eating and drinking water
We won't remind you again, you already know this from having tested the lack of sleep generated following the arrival of an infant under your roof, if you don't sleep, or sleep badly, the suitcases of grumpiness, crying, loss of control, grimace soup, etc. land. And a bowl of coffee doesn't help, or in any case, doesn't restore our former energy.
It's the same with little ones. They need sleep to allow:
- their brains to rest in order to develop properly, memorise new information (language, motor skills, etc), manage emotions.
- to their bodies to grow (we grow at night, yes we do), to heal properly (night is restorative)
- their parents to rest (that's for sure, the most important point, isn't it??)
Our babies are big sleepers. This little phrase has always made me laugh a lot. I often thought to myself that my children were the only ones on this planet who never slept and that I was screwed. But then I got a stopwatch and when I counted, I was actually getting cumulative sleeps of over 13 or even 20 hours a day. I couldn't understand why I was so tired when I had so much time to sleep too.
Well no dear parents. Yes your baby is a heavy sleeper but he does it in a choppy way and at his own pace. Go to sleep you little mummy at 3.06pm sharp. We can't necessarily sleep on command. And then there are all the logistics of the house to contend with. In short, yes, your baby sleeps a lot, but their sleeping times may not suit you. Adults and babies don't have the same rhythm and that's why it's so difficult for us, to be the guardians of our little angels' nights (days).
The phases of restorative sleep
It's important to remember that in the alternating phases of sleep, we don't recover in the same way. So you need to be able to go through the different phases of sleep (slow wave, light, deep, REM) to recover properly, and the amount of phases in deep sleep is really important because it's very regenerative. And therein lies the rub. Because as a parent of young children, achieving deep sleep (well apparently gentlemen have an increased and facilitating ability to access this stage) is the equivalent of winning a jackpot in the national tombola.
So what do we do?
<==> Tips and tricks
To recover, well, we isolate ourselves. And we'll do it for at least 15 hours at a time once a week at least, in a place that's familiar to us, with pleasant comfort, and quiet, yes a very quiet place if you can, where you won't hear your baby.
So arranged, this little moment of luxury will allow your brains, bruised by your long days and nights on standby, to rest, to recuperate and that's vital.
We should be able to arrange this precious time at least once a week, but I know it's not always easy to put in place, especially in our living spaces that don't always allow for isolation. Earplugs will become your friends.
Sleep in the very young: a real education
Of course there are the real problems, like night terrors, a lazy bladder, walking around in zombie mode at 3.45am. But toddlers aren't affected by these disorders. They just can't tell the difference between day and night. So it will be up to you, the parents, to gradually make your child understand that during the day we party and eat and that at night we go into wifi loss and prolonged fasting mode.
Adapting the environment to mealtimes
Infants will need to eat at night, that's normal. But it's up to you to make night-time feedings or bottle-feeding moments different from daytime.
<==> Tips and Tricks
For night feeds, make sure you don't over-light the room, be quiet, be discreet, talk to him in a whisper. This is not the time for stories, games or endless cuddles either. Think about the little burp after the bottle, but not necessarily changing his nappy. Avoid over-stimulating him. If the nappy really does need changing, sit in a dark place, on a warm cloth, and be efficient.
For daytime feedings, go straight for it. Bright light, sound atmosphere while remaining calm. Play with your child, let him taste new things. Make the moment interesting.
Adapting the environment to nap time
Little ones need to nap during the day. YES, this is very important. BUT they also need to be able to differentiate this nap time from the big sleep at night. So we'll change the decor, the room if possible.
==> Tips and tricks
Daytime naps will be taken in a different bed, for example. We can also simply dim the daylight, and not necessarily place him in complete darkness. We'll also try to carry on living, by not depriving ourselves of the slightest little noise. A light background sound will indicate that this period is marked by real activity.
At night, on the other hand, the child will be installed in his or her room, the darkness well done (a small nightlight will simply give the room its depth). The environment will be calm, soothed and quiet. Small noises coming from the kitchen will be discreet.
We'll also be careful to keep a fairly long wake-up time between the last nap and the big sleep. If the little ones go off for a big nap at 6pm, inevitably you can hope for a delayed start to the night.
Setting up a bedtime ritual (the one before the big sleep) has a lot of advantages. Unlike all other naps, the big sleep should stand out from all the others. By establishing a clearly identifiable ritual, the child will understand the uniqueness of this nap from the others.
So bring out the heavy artillery: bedtime stories, preparation of cuddly toys, cuddles, a little book that they can read on their own in bed if they're older. Make this time a real ritual, a time for sharing, give your child a serene and secure environment to show them that something special, sweet and calm is happening. Give them the security they need in this nocturnal atmosphere, which can sometimes be daunting for little ones. Show them that they are safe at this time. Explain that this night's rest, which he needs, will enable him to relive some crazy days of adventure and discovery the next day.
Safe, calm, subdued.
Secured, the child will then be able to familiarise himself with his night-time space. Alone in a slightly darkened room, they can learn to feel at ease.
Secure, your child will be able to familiarise himself with his sleeping area.
You've tried everything and the nights are still difficult
If your toddler keeps waking you up at night, but isn't eating or hardly eating at all, his nappy is clean or just damp, he's fine, that's when you'll have to learn to be brave. Each to their own school, but for me, there was a time when I thought it was time. It was time to trust them and let them call me without necessarily going there.
It's not easy and put like that, it can sound harsh or mean to the child. I know that I needed it and I knew what I wanted afterwards.
Then 10 minutes before going, then ....
That went on for several weeks eventually until I didn't need to go any more.
This period isn't easy, because for me hearing a baby cry is too hard. I couldn't not listen to them and come and reassure them. I never let my little ones cry their eyes out, but I have learnt to differentiate between their cries.
There's the crying calls when everything is ok if not the need to see mum or dad.
There's the crying of panic, pain, hunger .... those where there's a real problem. For me it was necessary to be there for them.
Learning to identify and differentiate between your child's cries will help you a lot.
And then one day they slept. Two nights in a row, then 5 days in a row, and gradually they were finally sleeping through the night. During this period of acclimatisation to my absence at night, I was able to catch them being awake and calm in their beds, eventually managing to go back to sleep on their own.
You'll have to find your own rhythm, but this period of getting used to your absence can be long and more or less difficult. Listen to yourself. I'd say that's the most important thing. Trust your instincts as a mum, as a dad.
Nighttime, a special atmosphere to tame
Children need to understand that they are not abandoned at night, that like them their parents just need to sleep, that they are just there, next door, because sleep is vital for EVERYONE and as important as drinking or breathing. The night brings a special atmosphere, it's up to you to make it reassuring for them.
<==> Tips and tricks
During the day, you can take time to show your little ones where your bed is, your room, show him the distance between your room and theirs, make that little path with your baby in your arms. Explain that you sleep like them at night.
You can also repeat this little ritual just before the big sleep and ask your partner to get into bed and pretend to be asleep in their room plunged into darkness.
You can also repeat this route (when they are very small), when you have to join them at night. Go with him into your darkened bedroom, approach dad who is sound asleep, explain to him that we sleep at night. You can also walk around the house in the dark, whispering to tell him that everyone is asleep, describing the atmosphere, the calm, the silence, the half-light. You can also show him the street, the absence of cars, pedestrians, etc.
Learning about sleep and circadian rhythms requires patience and a secure framework, but also a clearly established framework. Verbalising this seems important to me, because we'll say it again but the notion of day/night is not innate in very young children. It's by establishing a very clear and regular routine (for mealtimes, activities, bedtimes, ..) that you can help them.
Find supports to list and visualise all his activities in one block over a 24-hour day. Show them how their day goes, and how long their night lasts in relation to the day.
Find supports to list and visualise all their activities over a 24-hour day in one block.
We all go through this, so take heart you're not alone.