Boxing with the sleep demons

by doodaddy on September 30, 2006

A: staying-awake strategies

  1. Make a constant stream of sound. Boobaby sounds sort of like “Gqhaaa aaaaa aaaa,” “gqwhaaa aaaaa aaaa aaaaa,” repeat.
  2. Pretend to be about to suck your thumb and jam your hand violently into your eye.
  3. Toss your legs into the air. Punch and claw at the sleep demons that are crawling everywhere.
  4. After you’ve been rocked to sleep, stir and threaten to wake every time you’re lowered into the crib.

B: getting-asleep strategies

  1. Start early. Don’t wait until she’s obviously sleepy.
  2. Swaddle.
  3. If she’s crying, make a rattling noise nearby. Don’t use a brightly-colored rattle, though: she’ll want to play with or suck on. (This is a good general-purpose crying-jag stopper.)
  4. Blow gently in her face. Gently is important.
  5. When you lower her into the crib, continue to swing her gently. Rock slowly.
  6. When she’s on the mattress, continue to gently rock her by bouncing the mattress up and down.
  7. Want to tell if she’s asleep? Lift her hand three inches and let it drop. If she stirs, she’s still “in transition.”

Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child Boobaby is not colicky. I mention this to assuage the guilt I feel about complaining about getting her to sleep. I’ve got nothing to complain about, it seems, compared with some. The baby sleep books (there are many, for the uninitiated, and I’ll have a lot to say about them soon) are filled with horror stories about babies that won’t sleep, which, as the authors know, is a great comfort to us parents. Then NPR ran a story about colicky babies that included one who cried for 13 hours straight.

Thir. Teen. Hours.

So complaining about Boo, who sometimes takes 30 minutes to put down (an hour at the very outside), seems a little precious. But even though we’ve really got nothing to complain about, sometimes it’s just wearing. She almost seems conscious of trying to stay awake (see sidebar A!), like falling asleep is the worst thing that could happen.

I just don’t get it. I can’t think of many sensations more pleasant than falling asleep when I’m tired; it’s a total rush. “Fatigue is the best pillow,” says Ben Franklin. I bet hormones are involved, some sort of autoöpiate rewarding me for letting my body go down. So why, then, does it seem like Boo tries her very best to stay awake? Sometimes I wonder about the biology; does the baby monkey who gets put down to sleep left behind by its troop? I guess that explains why being rocked helps: maybe the baby knows it’s being carried along in the migration?

Today was a perfect example. I actually managed to get some sleep myself last night by pulling my usual 2 a.m. bedtime back to 12:30 or so. (My self-induced insomnia will be a topic for another day!) For morning nap, she started showing tired at around 9:45, just on schedule (she was up at 8). Here’s more or less the schedule:

  • 9:45. I try to feed her, but she would take the bottle for about 10 seconds and push it out. Too cold?
  • 9:55. I try again after warming the bottle. Same result. Just not hungry.
  • 10:00. Changed, swaddled, and in my arms. Crying up a jag (from the changing). I use strategy #3 (see sidebar B!), rattling an object (I use the diaper cream tube against the changing table). I have some success, although she switches to the constant stream of sound (sidebar A, baby strategy 1).
  • 10:03: Bouncing on the yoga ball. Helps to align my birth canal, too, I’m told.
  • 10:06: Rocking on the yoga ball. She seems asleep! I stand up and she stays down. I pace once, twice. Boo stirs prettily, but stays asleep and looks to be about to suck her thumb when WHAM! She shoves a finger into her own eyeball. I’d forgotten about that trick!
  • 10:10: Back to rattling, and I add strategy #4: gently blowing. This is a tricky one, because if I “puff” too much, I’ll get a startle response. Actually, a light breeze from waving a cloth is the best, but that’s hard to do if I’m holding her. So I exhale gently from a distance. I hope she likes the smell of coffee.
  • 10:14: It’s worked. She’s asleep. Now I’ll just put her down gently and… Nope. As soon as her head touches the mattress, she swings her legs up and goes hyper-alert again. Sigh. I try the flow of air, bouncing the mattress, but nothing works.
  • 10:15: I pick her up again, and she’s instantly asleep. OK, then, I’ll let her sleep on me for a bit.
  • 10:16: I sit down in the rocking chair. I’ve taken special care not to move her at all while doing this: I don’t change her angle, position, nothing. But somehow, even asleep, she knows I’m in the chair. Whenever I sit down, she knows I’ve done it and she punishes me. So she’s awake again.
  • 10:17: Up and pacing, using every strategy frantically. Thing is, Boobaby knows I’m frantic, and nothing you do frantically will ever get a baby to sleep. So gradually, I calm down, and she does, too.
  • 10:24: I sit again and rock, jiggle, and roll to keep her asleep. I pick up my book and finish the last chapter.
  • 10:40: I stand and the baby seems to have finally moved past that transition point. (There’s a great test for that: Lift her hand three inches and let it drop. If she stirs, she’s still “in transition.”)
  • 10:42: I put her down in her crib. She still throws her legs up, but her heart isn’t in it: it’s just her obligatory reminder that she’s still in charge and she could wake up if she wanted to.

A Nap DevelopedAnd that’s it. Not bad, huh? So the actual comforting-swaying-rocking was only about 30 minutes, but the whole process was about twice that.

I think the thing to do is get into the Zen of it all. In my previous existence, I worked with wild animals. One thing I learned was that although you may not be able to tell exactly what they’re going to do next, that doesn’t mean that it’s not logical. Animals aren’t predictable, but you can anticipate their actions, since they always behave according to their inputs. This does involve a little thinking on your feet, since the inputs will change constantly. But all the actions of animal and baby are appropriate to their own experience. It just gets a little murky because you can’t experience life from the point of view of a creature as alien as an animal or a baby until you’ve paid really close attention for a really long time. And even then, you can be easily surprised.

So I’ll be OK as long as I always let myself be surprised and never think I know everything (or even very much at all). And, in the end, always keep a book handy so that I can simply wait it out.

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tagged as in crying,sleep,Tips for Doodaddies ·

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