When I catalog the universe of experiences critical to my day-to-day happiness, a full night’s sleep tops the list every time. I would love to log more miles in my Brooks. I aspire to eat organic, seasonal vegetables at every Instagrammable meal. And frequent contact with friends brings me closer to the best version of myself. But, as a parent who has eagerly cast off the shackles of perfectionism, my daily bar for success is the preservation of my sanity. If my kid sleeps well, then I sleep well–and when I’m rested, I can be that woman who calmly affirms her son’s emotions when he overturns tables at the sight of an oblong Cheerio.
Some admirably superhuman Marvel characters can function–even thrive–on less than seven hours of sleep; I am decidedly not one of them. I survived the early months of Simon’s life due to adrenaline alone. I remember being genuinely excited to leap out of bed at the sound of his infant meows, one part terrified and one part magnetically drawn to his beauty and preternatural charm. That infatuation still exists, of course, but it is somewhat more confined to the hours between sunrise and sunset.
Since those early months, I have crowd-sourced almost all of our parenting strategies. I trust my gut in the end, but the milquetoast in me initially defers to books, seasoned moms and dads, and online chat rooms riddled with exclamation points and emojis. My emails to friends no longer include educational hyperlinks to articles about conspiracy theories and ninja eagles, instead devolving into shameless pleas: “HELP, OH HELP. My kid won’t sleep. He is doing X. We have tried Y. I am willing to try Z, 84(a), and B-G if you can corroborate that any of these strategies may help me break up with 3 a.m.”
To be fair, Simon is a relatively good sleeper. We sleep trained him at four months (using a very gentle take on the Ferber Method), and he was sold by the third night–I attribute this to luck and disposition, not ingenious parenting. But even now, at 2 years old, we experience the occasional sleep regression–and each time I have to actively remind myself that my child is not purposefully trying to make me miserable. I whisper hackneyed mantras to myself (“This too shall pass,” “It’s just a phase,” “I am stronger than a midnight poopy diaper”), invent lullabies involving trucks, and marvel at my child’s velveteen cheek. We’re all doing our best, and I will rest when he’s a senior. In college. Who’s passing his classes and practicing civic engagement and opting for the side salad over the mac ‘n cheese.
It is currently 9:06 pm, and we’re having one of those “occasional sleep regressions.” I am trying to forget the last 121 minutes by eating a
9-inch single-serving lemon tart while Kenny takes a turn playing bad cop. Am I forever condemned to army crawling from my son’s bedroom, the pre-arthritic crick in my knees a dead giveaway of my desperate prostrate escape? I’ll report back in 2035.
Below, a few of the strategies that friends and I have swapped during those zero dark thirty moments of exhausted desperation.
(1) Consider the eat/wake/sleep routine endorsed by Baby Whisperer Tracy Hogg (and, well, biology).
(3) Establish an adaptable, based-on-your-baby’s-needs bedtime routine. We have the luxury (ha) of living in a tiny apartment, so it’s easy for us to set the mood after bath time by turning off almost all the lights and setting our Sonos stereo system to the “Solo Piano” station.
(4) Evaluate different sleep “philosophies” (acknowledging that they–like pretty much everything in life–are on a continuum) and how these apply to your and your baby’s needs.
(5) Consider your stance on sleep props: white noise (we use an old iPhone and a white noise track we found online for free and put on repeat), blackout curtains, “lovies”, pacifiers, thumb-sucking.
(6) Try logging your baby’s sleep in the Baby Connect app to better understand her natural sleeping rhythm.
(1) If your child is pole-vaulting out of her crib, it might be time to transfer her to a big kid bed (or just take the side rail off her crib). Let her pick out her own big kid sheets, and try to keep her bed in the exact same spot in her room. Prepare her for the move by reading a special book.
(2) If your child is an escape artist, you might try putting a baby gate in the doorway. Some parents have success with locking the door (again, ALL of these ideas are proffered on a take-it-or-leave-it basis).
(3) Get an OK to Wake! alarm clock.
(4) Adjust your child’s nap time.
(5) Adjust your child’s bed time.
Good luck, and sweet dreams.