The Sleep Games

My husband and I have guided our daughter to sleep for about 430 nights now (and yes, thank a calendar for that number, not my fuzzy mommy brain). Some of those 430 nights we dreaded bedtime and fought over who would initiate sleep mode. Some of those nights she fell asleep in a peaceful slumber without much effort on our part. And there were many nights that fell somewhere in the middle. Regardless of your parenting style, bedtime can sometimes equal stressful time for newbie and seasoned parents alike.

In my pre-baby months, I really didn’t give baby sleep much thought except that I didn’t want to do a nursery. We purchased an Arms Reach mini co-sleeper (best purchase ever, by the way!), bought some king-size pillow cases to use as sheets, and got an organic mattress for it as well. That’s all we needed, right? I had heard the phrase “sleep like a baby” and assumed that means babies sleep soundly. Yep, total fool.

In reality, I didn’t actually understand the logistics of infant sleep. I guess I erroneously assumed that babies enter sleep and stay asleep in a similar pattern as adults. But in fact it is so much different! Their sleep cycles are shorter (50-60 minutes), and they just don’t sleep as deeply as adults. When we try to shoehorn babies into adult sleep before they are ready, we are ignoring their biological wiring and even basic needs.

And believe me, there were many nights that my husband and I, after listening to multiple people tell us that our baby should be sleeping longer or in her own room, tried to (briefly) make it happen. We wished so ardently for that elusive “good sleeper.” But time after time we realized that we did not feel comfortable forcing her into a sleep pattern that her little brain and body couldn’t handle. It just wasn’t our parenting style.

And as I’ve talked to more and more parents, I’ve realized that what we’ve experienced is more the norm. That it is incredibly rare for babies to sleep through the night, and most likely it’s either because they’ve either been pushed to do so or the parents have been blessed with a heavy sleeper. And if you’re pregnant now, throw out any books that promise you a baby that sleeps through the night by 8 weeks because it’s not a realistic or healthy expectation.

Ultimately, parenting a baby to sleep can be stressful or it can be a beautiful, shared moment. We have two choices as parents: to focus on the negative (my baby won’t sleep through the night!) or focus on the positive (my baby and I have a special nighttime bond). I choose the latter, and I cherish the moments my daughter is sleeping peacefully in my arms or next to me. And EVENTUALLY she’ll sleep through the night, right?

What have well-meaning friends, family, and physicians told you about infant sleep? Did you follow their advice? 

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Kate has perfected the twin arts of sleeping upright and taking extreme cat naps in random places. Her favorite guilty (sleep) pleasure is taking an afternoon nap with her daughter whenever she can. Read more about her and her family at Boomerang Mama.

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7 thoughts on “The Sleep Games”

  1. Reading your story felt like I had written it myself. So many times did I get caught up in the “baby should be sleeping through the night now” thing. It’s distressing and time wasting. It’s so lovely to be reminded that there are positive and negative ways to look at things. When it comes to our beautiful children, time is so precious and the more we recognise this, the more we enjoy it. In the big scheme of things, this particular time we spend cuddling up is so short. One day they’ll be all grown up and those baby cuddles will be a memory that we long to be reality again.

    Thank you for your sweet reminder.

    1. I agree, Jade, it is so distressing! What’s so tough about it is that feeling that there is something wrong with your child for not sleeping through the night. It was my goal with this post to remind parents that sleeping through the night is such a rarity. If one’s child does, it is a true blessing. Every parent has to figure out what is healthy sleep for the whole family. Thanks for commenting!

      And amen to the baby cuddles. 🙂

  2. “But time after time, we realized that we did not feel comfortable forcing her into a sleep pattern that her little brain and body couldn’t handle.”

    You hit the nail on the head. I think childbirth or newborn classes (which I know not everyone takes, but it’s a starting point), so really drive this home–babies are not miniature adults! They have different needs and different norms than we do. As we understand any aspect of their lives, whether it be the need to eat frequent small meals, or sleep near mama, or be held and cuddled–or wake up way too many times for our liking–it does make it a bit easier to go with the flow, eh?

    1. I agree, Miriam, that parenting classes need to emphasize the limits of the infant’s ability to sleep alone and for long periods. And as for going for the flow, yes, it is essential with a little one. I like to think I have an internal parenting “barometer.” Whenever I go too far in one direction or another, I usually can tell that I need to do it differently the next time. It’s an amazing tool that parents have, the ability to listen to one’s own instincts. We all make different parenting choices, but they have to be ones that speak to our own values and hopes for our little ones.

  3. I am kind of a social media mommy freak so the more i read the more normal your comments sound 🙂 my son is 17 weeks old and sleeps from about 9-4 and then goes back down until 7 or 8. Last night he got up at 1230 and i was happy to nurse and change his diaper….someday he will want nothing to do with me at night, better enjou it now. For some reason people are so obsesses with baby sleep….i can’t quite figure out why? My only guesses are maybe they had to work (i stay at home) so they had to get up and function all day while i can nap when i want to as needed :). Or they didn’t breastfeed? I love nursing my son in the middle of the night 🙂 plus it keeps my milk supply going. Don’t get me wrong the first couple weeks after he was born was rough…every 2 hours round the clock….but i feel great after 6-7 hours now….maybe a good healthy diet and lots of water help too? Not sure what we will do once he outgrows the cosleeper ( LOVE that thing)…. Maybe put his crib in our room? Or will i have to go sleep in his room? I love having him near me at night 🙂

    1. I think you have a wonderful perspective! Parenting is a 24/7 job, and it is so disheartening to hear that many parents don’t want to be bothered in the middle of the night. I love my sleep as much as the next person (and maybe even more so!), but it is our role as parents to help guide our children into healthy, secure sleep, whatever that might look like for each family.

      We weren’t sure what to do when our daughter outgrew the mini co-sleeper at 5 months. We used her crib as a sidecar on our bed for awhile. Didn’t really like that so she slept with us. Then we noticed she slept better in the crib, but still in our bedroom. Take it day by day and don’t rule anything out, is my motto. 🙂 Good luck!

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