Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sleep Patterns

Sleep. If there is one thing that tests every new parent at some point, it is sleep. How to get it. How to keep getting it. How to persuade your young one to submit to it.

I have said this before, but if there is one thing I’ve learned about parenting it is that nothing lasts forever. Patterns shift and change. Likes become dislikes. A favorite toy gets discarded like a used tissue (or maybe for a used tissue, which has somehow become a more entertaining plaything). Kids go from breastmilk to formula to milk to pureed veggies to small solid foods to mouthing an entire apple in a matter of months. As soon as you get used to one, it is time to introduce something different. Everything happens fast and everything changes, usually just as one routine becomes, well, routine.

Sleep is a perfect example of changing habits.

Olive started out as a great sleeper. I wrote about this early on in the blog. We didn’t think we had a real baby. We never woke up exhausted and bleary eyed from late night tussles with the Sandman. Life was good.

But soon Olive decided she wanted to know what the world looked like at 4:00 AM. Then she decided that she liked sleeping with, or on, mommy and daddy. Then came the days when she would sleep easily from 7:30 PM – 6:30 AM – we call them the Golden Days. During this time we fell into a nice bed-time pattern. Change into pajamas (sometimes after a bath), brush her teeth, bring her downstairs, put her in to a sleep sack, and give her a bottle. By the time Double Jeopardy started, you were climbing the stairs with a limp and drooling toddler slung over your shoulder. Sing a quick rendition of “Hush Little Baby” and she was out.

But recently we eliminated the bed-time bottle, and everything went haywire.

When do we put her in to the sleep sack?

How do we give her milk at the end of the day (a moot point since she refuses to drink milk at all from a cup)?

How do we transition from dinner to playtime to bedtime without her thinking it is still playtime?

We struggled with this for a while. And we ended up with some ugly bedtime battles, some early mornings, and a tired toddler. But we think we have solved it for now.

New bedtime routine (which will probably only last for the next four weeks before changing again): bring Olive up to her room to change into pajamas (or get a bath), brush teeth. Shut door to her bedroom and lower lights. Read a parent-limited number of books, usually two or three, in a calm and sleepy-like voice. Put Olive into sleep sack and sing a long song with the lights off. Put in bed. We also spend a lot of time saying things like “…then you’ll go to bed” and “…but after this is time for sleep” and “It is time to say goodnight to daddy soon.”

The last few nights this routine has worked remarkably well. Reading the books seems to give her the time to just sit and decompress and get ready for dreamland that she WAS getting while drinking the bedtime bottle. Closing the door to her bedroom prevents her from running all over the house and thinking she is playing.

We’ll see if this works long-term – long term meaning until Thanksgiving – but the early returns are good.

What have been some of your bedtime routines for toddlers? Go ahead and leave a comment here on on the Facebook page.

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