Sleep is a funny thing. You don’t appreciate its value until it’s gone. It was a shock, for example, to experience that all-encompassing tiredness that came with having a newborn. Not knowing when you’d be able to get more than a couple of hours sleep at a stretch was mentally and physically draining. It was, hand on heart, the one thing I found hardest about those early baby days.
And then came the emotive side of sleep. The side that you’re totally unprepared for pre-motherhood, where random strangers ask if you have a “good baby” and you come to understand that babies who don’t sleep through the night do not come under the “good baby” category. I was always reluctant to label my baby as “bad”, so I would get defensive about her sleep or, sometimes, just tell an out-and-out lie. “Yeah, she’s slept through the night since she was 6 weeks old. Total dream baby. The best. My baby wins at being a baby.”
In this country children’s sleep seems to be inextricably linked up with ideas of good parenting. Some of the most highly charged parenting debates are around sleep – co-sleeping versus controlled crying and the like. People are passionate about defending their own methods of raising their kids, sometimes taking other people’s different approaches to dealing with the sleep issue as a personal slight on their own parenting abilities. It seems to be the one area (apart from breast vs bottle) where people can get extremely judgy.
I’ve never written about sleep on my blog purely for that reason. I’ve avoided wanting to enter the sleep debate, preferring to do things in my own home in my own way. I’ve tried to trust an instinct, believing that I know what is best for my child without having to take advice from total strangers or enter into heated debates about something that is so personal. I suppose you could say I’ve just been too tired.
My little girl will be four years old in just over two weeks time. And, just recently, she has started to wake in the night again. Regularly.
Frog has never been a particularly reliable sleeper, either reliably “good” or reliably “bad”. She’s always gone through phases of waking in the night – weeks can pass and then BOOM, we’ll get five nights of waking.
This time though, the waking is lasting longer than five nights.
It always begins with a peaceful bedtime – bath, PJs, story, milk, bed. Frog falls asleep on her own. Then, between 11pm and 2am, she wakes up again. And that’s when the fun begins.
It doesn’t matter who goes in to her, she wants me. No one else will do. She wants me to lie in her bed with her until she falls asleep. I have to lie still, and if I attempt to sneak back to my own bed her eyes snap open.
Sometimes, this results in her swapping beds with the NLM (our bed is too small for a 6ft 4.5″ northerner, lanky child and pregnant woman), so that I can get at least a bit of sleep. But then we realised she seemed to be specifically waking in order to come into our bed, like she had some kind of pre-programmed alarm.
A couple of nights ago, in a desperate attempt to get some sleep and stop Frog’s 2am tears waking our next door neighbours, we made a bed up on the floor in our bedroom, so she could sleep near us without either of us having to leave our own bed. This night followed a night where I’d been in her bed with her for most of the night, practically falling out of bed, cradling my bump as it hung over the edge. It seems that sleeping near to us helped and she promptly dropped off, not waking until morning.
But now she just wants to sleep in our room all the time. She says her bed is “rubbish” and bedtimes, once fairly straight-forward, have become a bit of a battle-ground.
I know there will be people reading this thinking, “You’ve got it easy, my child hasn’t slept for eight years.” I was one of those children myself – I didn’t sleep through the night (not once) until I was five years old. I don’t recall ever being left to cry on my own, so I’m not willing (and I physically can’t anyway – I’ve tried) to just leave my own daughter to cry herself to sleep in the dark.
But I’m not sure where to go from here. Part of me says it’s just a phase and it might stop next week. But the other part is worried it’s become a habit and we’re screwed. I’m wondering if we may as well sell up our three bedroom house and all move to a one bed place somewhere as, come the autumn when the new baby arrives, there may well be four of us sleeping in that one room.
I don’t know why I’ve blogged about this really. I’m not particularly looking for advice (I have The Baby Bedtime Book still to read by my lovely wise friend Fi which may well help). I suppose I just wanted to get it out there and admit it’s a bit of an issue at the moment.
If you can relate to any of the above I’d love to hear. Even if it’s just to nod in sympathy and say that, yes, it’s pretty rubbish when your child gives up on sleep.
And now, if you excuse me, I’m going to bed to get some sleep before my child wakes me. Again.
I’m writing this in the dark next to my 2-year-old son who is snoring away – I’m biding my time before I can sneak away, like a silent ninja.
Five days ago I wouldn’t have believed this possible. After a year of crippling sleep deprivation, he finally got the hang of sleep and has been a big fan ever since.
Until now, suddenly, completely out of the blue, he’s pleading we stay in the room with him, hold his hand or sing, or ‘mummy bed’. Then he wakes about 3 times in the night and is up at 5am.
Funnily enough I’m 35 weeks pregnant, and I just wondered if it is linked. I really think he can sense change ahead. I’ve been distracted and stressed recently too – trying to squeeze in extra freelance into hours that don’t exist and panicking about all the ‘jobs’ I need to do before our newborn arrives. He must sense it. Maybe he’s as terrified as I am!!
I don’t have to heart to leave him to cry it out – why would he go from being a happy, relaxed sleeper to suddenly wanting to manipulate us? I just can’t believe he has it in him. In my mind, he’s feeling anxious and therefore he needs me. But hey ho – we’ll see how we go and how long I can cope with the lack of sleep! In the meantime, I shall tap away in the semi-darkness, humming Postman Pat.
Fingers crossed this is just a phase. I wish you luck and hope sleep comes soon x
I love the silent ninja image! I agree – I’m inclined to think our sleep issues are down to a “phase”, especially as they don’t always happen every single night. It’s so hard to know what to do for the best, but I’m focused on trying to do what feels right at the time. Hope you get some sleep soon too! xx
Snap! I have a four-year-old who has started waking every night around 12-2am due to nightmares where dinosaurs are after him (and I thought that trip to the Natural History Museum was educational). For a few weeks he crept into our bed for the rest of the night, but the lack of sleep (for me) became unbearable – and the deal now is that we have a mattress made up on the floor in our room – he has to start the night in his own room (because I don’t want to creep around my own room at bedtime), but can shift into our room anytime he likes. This is not meant as advice – just an example of what we’re doing to ensure that everyone gets as much sleep as possible and feels safe and secure. The baby (of course) sleeps soundly through the whole thing every single night!
Just to let you know it does pass my child started waking up through the night at about 3 years old after her being the perfect baby and toddler at sleeping. When I asked for advice I got is she hungry no she is fed well, we’ll is something making her upset not that I know of and she is always with me so I think I should know. When she was waking in the night I would catch her in the bathroom, in the art sets trying to paint and in the kitchen one day. So I had to put locks on all the doors because I was scared I wouldn’t hear her one day and she might harm herself and I put a potty in her room in case she needed the toilet. She is nearly 6 now and has started sleeping through again there is the odd night she will wake up but most nights are fine but now my 4 year old has started it but she just plays in her room or gets a book out. I’m just hoping it doesn’t take her 3 years to grow out of it too because by then my youngest child will turn 3 or I will have 9 years of it lol.
This could have been our family last year – me heavily pregnant was too uncomfortable with our 4 year old in the super kingsize bed so put her truckle bed in our room. She insisted she wanted to stay there when the new baby arrived, however on day 1 on hearing the baby cry in the night couldn’t get back to her own room quickly enough!
Sadly, it hasn’t lasted, daughter has perfected the knack of sleeping through baby cries so we usually share our bed with 2 children now although woke this morning to find that husband had relocated to the spare room.
It does seem to relate to being alone – she has always been fine sharing a bedroom with Granny on holiday.
My daughter is two, she had a brief patch of sleeping through the night between 9 and 16 weeks. Health visitors thought this couldn’t possibly be healthy and suggested waking her for a feed at about 2am. So I was setting alarms and feeding her while she was mostly asleep. Now the same health visitors are shocked and appalled that she wakes between 11pm and 2am, horrified that she gets into bed with us and determined to fix this ‘problem’
OK, I sometimes think that, like you say, she has this alarm clock that wakes her at that time because she’s used to it. But aside from leaving her to scream and wail at the child gate, there is nothing to do but get up, go in, sit on the floor and flop my boob onto her pillow. Sometimes it’s half an hour, sometimes it’s two minutes and sometimes I just can’t and she squeezes in with us.
From what I’ve seen of adults I am pretty sure this will not continue into her teens, despite the assurances of my mother/mother in law.
I have decided to save up for a king size bed.
I wanted to laugh when I read about the ‘good’ baby question! I was never asked that – but if I had been I would have innocently asked what the definition was (and would assume they were not a parent!).
Every child is unique and every parent/child combination is unique – it is no-one’s fault all we can do is think things through, listen to other people’s experience and decide on what to do for ourselves – suck it and see.
As a FT working Mum from 41/2 months bedtime was not an issue – we enjoyed each other’s company as long as they were awake and nothing was fixed timewise.
Personally I would always take anxiety very seriously. Has anything triggered this do you think? e.g. starting nursery or a change in her day to day routine? Has something frightened her? If ever mine ‘got clingy’ I would sort of overdo it and soon they would be pushing me away to get on with things. At night this is different though – one loved being hot under the duvet the other hated being hot and was in a Moses basket by the second night at home.
My mother was a health visitor and would tell me that anxiety in a young child should never be taken for manipulation but accepted. Perhaps cuddling up over a book or cartoon programme/film would fulfil this need for reassuring closeness?
Hope these thoughts help – trust your instinct!
I seem to remember my daughter going through the exact same thing at this age, when I was pregnant with her brother. But I can’t quite recall, which goes to show that it has now passed, as all phases too.
My son was a DREADFUL sleeper as a baby. I found the best way to handle people asking about sleep or if he’s a good baby was to say cheerfully ‘oh his sleep is awful!’ and move on. I have become defensive with people, tho, and semi-snapped that, believe it or not, we love him just as much and think he is just as fabulous and ‘good’ than if he slept brilliantly.
Ps he now sleeps fine too
Thank you! It’s so lovely to hear from someone who has been there and can say “This will pass”. I know that, in the whole scheme of things it’s not a huge deal and it’s not like F has never slept through the night – this is definitely just a phase – but phases feel like they go on forever when you’re in the middle of one!
Caroline (Becoming a SAHM) says
Ah you poor thing, must be exhausting, lack of sleep is hard at the best of times, let alone when you are pregnant and trying to juggle everything else! I know what you mean about the sleep debate – particularly when they are tiny and it drives me mad as the judgement is really not helpful! Different things work for different kids at different times – I really don’t believe there is one easy solution for every single child! I hope you do find a solution that works for you soon and that you get some much needed rest – and as a few other comments have said, so what if you sleep all in one room for a while – whatever gets you through it, and who knows, when faced with sharing a room with a screaming baby she may well be desperate to get back to her bedroom! xx
Ha – very good point! The screaming baby bit may well be a deterrent come the autumn! x
Chrissy Chittenden says
Having not read all the comments,but read the post itself, I wonder whether just letting her sleep in your room might be the solution.
We are a family of bedsharers, though I respect that it’s not for everyone, and passionate about the idea that if a need is met then that need will eventually go away.
I found sleep so hard as a child, hated the separation from my mother and eventually when I stopped sleeping alone, the need went away (to sleep with her).
I agree with the idea of need too – although we’re not in a position to bed share (our bed isn’t big enough for starters) there are some nights when I think F just needs to be near us. If that means making her a bed on our floor so she can be close to us, or lying next to her in her own bed, then that’s just something I’ll have to do. It’s nice to hear from someone who doesn’t automatically say, “You’re setting up bad habits” etc and has a calm approach to it all!
Vanessa Holburn says
I totally sympathise, my 2 girls have not been ‘good’ sleepers although the older one was a nightmare at first but then settled down by about 10 months and was then mostly fine. But my younger one (6 today) has similar issues to your child. At first she was quite the sleepy baby, not needing the constant close contact her sister needed as a newborn, but somewhere around 2 she got very clingy at bedtime – and then went through a phase of coming into the bed to sleep with me – turfing hubby out and often leaving me with a cricked neck. I really thought I’d never stop it and would be permanently sleep-deprived and in pain! About a year ago however, we started rewarding her with a bead in a jar when she stayed in her own bed (at the weekend the beads are counted up & exchanged for 5p each, which then can then use to buy sweets – there are a series of other things they are both rewarded for too – it’s a whole system here!!). Miraculously it worked – although occasionally she does still do her night time wandering! It also seems all about spending time with me – and not being alone in the dark (like you, I was a poor sleeper as a child and crept in to my parents room to secretly sleep on the floor…). Maybe you can bride your child out of the habit – or maybe it will pass in time. All I can say is, don’t be hard on yourself, get the sleep you need however it has to be done! And ignore the judgy people – kiddie karma will catch up with them one day!!
The bead idea sounds good – although at 2am there’s no rationalising with F and if she’s decided she needs to be near me (either in my bed or hers) there’s no talking her round at the moment! I’m hoping it’s a phase that will pass, just like all the others. We’ve introduced the idea of a jar for pocket money at the end of the week for helping with basic chores, so it’ll be interesting to see if the idea works!
Looking for blue sky says
Over my 21 years of parenting (so far) my children and I have spent a lot of time sleeping in the same room…I actually didn’t mind so long as it meant I got sleep, and my experience is that they do grow out of it. Eventually xx
Thank you! I don’t mind too much either – I’m debating just making F a bed on our floor before I even go to bed to save me time in the middle of the night. It’s not so much the sleeping in the same room as the being woken and then trying to fall back to sleep. Mind you, I am waking regularly for night time toilet trips at the moment anyway, so I guess a full night’s sleep at the moment is unrealistic!
They tend to go through a waking phase again at this age – she has a lot going on too – starting big school in September and the responsibility for becoming a big sister!
Fi from childcareisfun was my saviour with both Isaac and Eliza and it took just a few days to get them back into a routine…..drop her an email and I’m sure she will help you.
Good Luck xxx
Fi is a friend and I’m lucky enough to be reviewing her book (when I can stay awake long enough in my current sleep-deprived state!) so I’m hoping there may be some useful tips in there. We have the bedtime routine down to a tee and it’s something we’ve done since F was tiny, it’s just the waking in the night bit we’re not so sure about! xx
Jane @ northernmum says
Arghhh and her bed is lovely, and you can’t drink!
I am not helping am I?
Invaluable support as ever Jane. Thank you. I might just send her to yours for a few weeks. Or Libs can come here and they can have a sleepover again. That way I’ll get my full night’s sleep and Libby can talk to her when she wakes up at 2am! x
I don’t have any useful advice either – I could do with some myself! Aside from my daughter having just turned 3, our situations are very similar – we’re going through sleep disasters and I’m expecting another baby in September. I am blaming my husbands recent erratic shift patterns on our daughters sudden change in her sleep – she wants to be in my bed all the time, and then only when I’m there too so I’m having to go to bed with her super early to try and encourage at least some sleep each night. All of a sudden she doesn’t like her bed, and is telling me there are cows, or wolves or any other animal she can think of in her room! So while I’m no use in solving your problem just yet (ill keep thinking!), hopefully you can take comfort from knowing you are most definitely not alone! Pesky kids, eh?! Hope you get some rest soon! X
Kids are unpredictable aren’t they?! Mind you, if I thought there was a cow in my room I’m not sure I’d sleep too well either! x
Jess @ Along Came Cherry says
Cherry goes through phases of waking in the night and she will always just come and get into our bed but she ends up kicking us and whispering which stops me from sleeping and luckily as she prefers her own bed she will usually go back in once we’ve put her music toy on. Do you know what she wakes? Cherry started at the same time she started having nightmares and being scared of things. In the day she won’t go upstairs along or in the garden as she’s terrified of bears / noises / monsters. I’m really hoping it’s just a phase and know I have to make her feel it’s okay to feel scared and that nothing is going to come out of the toilet. By bedtime I’m exhausted though and she makes me have a bath while she is going to sleep which means she asks me questions, not very relaxing! Sorry I’m rambling! In our situation we found not letting her watch any telly for the two hours before bed made a real difference in her waking, I think her mind was going into overdrive. Anyway I hope you start getting some more sleep soon! Xx
Cherry sounds very similar to F – F will often try to have full blown conversations with me about things in the middle of the night! I usually pretend to be asleep and that soon makes her get bored and fall back to sleep eventually. Still, it’s blooming exhausting!
Emma T says
This could have been written by me a month or so ago. We’ve gone from having a child who’s always slept well, in his own bed, and then just come in to see me (his dad leaves the house at 5) anytime between 6-7.
Then couple of months ago, and he started wandering. He’ll just swap beds – even straight after going into his own bed and us going back downstairs. Spare room, our bed, whichever he fancies. Thankfully the OH moves him back to his own bed when we go up which works ok. Sometimes he’ll creep in the middle of the night and just go to sleep – the OH moans about snoring (me and N), so ends up in the spare room to get decent sleep. But I don’t noticed N coming in because I’m a deep sleeper so there’s no way I can move him back.
We tried changing him out of his cotbed to a normal single bed, and that helped a bit. But it’s sporadic. We find it funny, because at least he does sleep – it’s literally, get up, walk and sleep. But it does need stopping. Unfortunately unless he wakes me when he gets in, there’s not much we can do until he grows out of it.
I think they all grow out of it eventually. That’s what I’m hoping anyway! x
Erin goes through phases too. After a night with sleeping with me she always says I think I’ll sleep with you later mummy. Its nice isn’t it? hmmmm
Ha – Erin is like F in that sense!
Hannah has been coming into our bed EVERY night for the last 6 months, we don’t even notice when she comes in anymore ( luckily we have a large bed ) but it is exhausting as inevitably she ends up stuck to me, which affects my sleep.
I’m sure I’m meant to take her back to her own bed and not give in, but I’m way too tired….
I think we need a bigger bed. Yes, a bigger bed is definitely the answer…
Adele @ Circus Queen says
Empathy here. Two things I worried most about while pregnant with my second daughter were sleep deprivation and breastfeeding challenges. Thankfully, neither have been an issue with the baby. In fact, she’s fed like a dream and slept through from the start pretty much which really freaked me out – the latter did, that is.
However, my 3-year-old has started waking every night. We bed shared until she was two then she moved seamlessly into her own bedroom without wakings. So it’s a surprise that she’s wanting to sleep in the “family bed” (my husband rolls his eyes when I call it that, haha!) now but perhaps it has something to do with her sister being in it. We have an extra king though so it’s not a space problem per se – though both kids somehow manage to pin me into one position, leaving their father with most of the bed!
We’ve just decided to let go of all the “shoulds” and go with the flow from night to night. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I’d rather not share a bed with anyone, even my husband but nothing’s forever and I do think there’s a reason my older daughter’s craving nighttime closeness. And if my baby’s not keeping me up, I’m certainly not going to lose sleep trying to get a 3yo to sleep alone! 🙂
Hope you all come to your own sleep solution (maybe different ones for different times). x
That’s such a measured, wise response, thank you. I like the idea of different solutions for different times. I think part of me is worried about the “should” thing – we’re told so much as parents to be wary of consequences after all. But I’m with you, I’m not willing to spend my whole night trying to get my daughter to go back to sleep on her own, plus her crying would wake the whole street!
I wouldn’t worry too much……I suspect this is simply a phase (probably on this occasion, pre-sibling anxiety that she doesn’t know she’s sufferin from or can’t vocalise) & she will be happy to be back in her own bed soon enough!
We have co-slept with all our Babies at varying stages, but thankfully there was never a real issue putting things back to “normal” – I say that anything that allows all of you a good night’s sleep is a perfectly good solution right now!
It could be so many different things and you’re right, I need to not worry. I guess if I wasn’t being woken by my child I’d be woken by my full pregnant bladder anyway!
I have three children aged between three and seven and haven’t had a full nights sleep more than a couple of nights in a row since my middle boy (aged five) was born. He and his little sister are big fans of the freaky you wake up in the middle of the night and they’re standing over you tapping you on the face wake up. Since you don’t want advice I won’t offer any but it sounds to me like your approach is perfect – would it be so terrible if all four of you ended up in the same room for a while?
You know what, it probably wouldn’t be actually. I’m just aware I don’t want it to last forever…
Oh don’t worry, nothing lasts forever, sure she won’t be having her friends over for sleepovers in your room.
Ha – can you imagine?! Not sure the NLM would be a fan of that at all!
Fritha Strickland says
I’m glad you said you weren’t after advice (as I have none) but wanted to drop you a message to say I feel your pain, sleep deprivation is rubbish and hope this phase passes soon and you get some more kip! 🙂 xx
Sleep deprivation is no fun at all. Sleep deprivation while pregnant is even less fun! xx