He said if Uma gets one, he gets one too.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Better living through child abuse

Our system for Kieran's sleep was not working. He was waking up frequently, not only at night, but in the middle of his daytime names. He always needed help to fall asleep, and he just seemed tired a lot. We did a little more directed research and reading, and reached three conclusions:

1) He needed more nap time
2) What we thought were signs of tiredness were really signs of over-tiredness; he was getting tired after having been awake only an hour or so in the morning, but we had been keeping him up for 2-3 hours
3) It was getting harder to help him to sleep, not easier

Each of these dysfunctions fed into each other. Those conclusions dictated a new strategy. We decided to be more diligent about making his nap time, accepting the sacrifice to our schedule and household needs that would require. We aimed to whisk him off to sleep at the first sign of any kind of tiredness, rather than waiting for it to become obvious. Finally, and most importantly, we went cold turkey on helping Kieran fall asleep.

It's this last that was the hardest but seemed to have been the most necessary. We attributed at least part of the nighttime waking to him being unable to fall back asleep. We all wake up in the night and fall back asleep, not even remembering having woken the next morning. He had no capacity to fall asleep on his own, so when he had one of those regular wakings, he stayed up.

What was cold turkey? When it was bed time, we put Kieran down, walked away, and closed the door. And then tried to resist the urge to run back in when he wailed. It wasn't easy. I think I lasted 4 minutes the first time. I went in and tried to help him calm down, albeit in a more restrained fashion. Eventually, he fell asleep. After a few nights, I realized that I wasn't actually helping him when I went in, because all I did was make it take longer for him to settle. So I stopped. We'd been using the kitchen fan for white noise to help him sleep; very quickly, it became white noise to help us when he cried.

We started about 10 days ago. The first night, he only woke up two times in the night. That's compared to his then normal 4-5 wakings. Most nights it has been once. Last night, Kieran didn't wake up at all after going to bed at 7pm, though he woke up a little earlier than usual at 6:20am, but there were some loud noises at the time that were likely the cause. He takes full naps during the day, instead of waking up when he obviously needs more. When we're in the room with him, he'll shift and move, but usually doesn't wake up and get upset. The best part of all, is that he usually complains (not cries) for only about a minute or so at nap time. Then he settles.

This has made a huge difference. Kieran is just so much happier when he's awake. He's always been a happy boy, but he'd been getting increasingly moody (by his standards); usually, it only took about 45 minutes to an hour after waking for him to get a little grumpy. Now he's happy and all smiles for nearly the whole time he's awake. That's a lot more like the way he was before things went off the rails a few months ago.

It's obviously better for us grown-ups, because we get to sleep. Our schedule is more predictable, and we have a lot less anxiety. There are less obvious benefits for Uma. She doesn't have to go solo so often while Jessica is trying to coax Kieran down for a nap. She's only 3, so it's not reasonable to expect her to play by herself quietly for 20 or 30 minutes. Plus she gets some exclusive Mommy time during the day, time that Jessica now has more energy for. This was an unpleasant period, but it was brief. We're all better off for it.

Oh yeah, and we also turned off the nightlight in the bedroom. My toes have suffered, but it seems to have helped otherwise.



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