We're working on sleep lately. Charlie is known to grunt, groan, holler, and squwak in his sleep. He flails and kicks, and causes enough commotion to wake himself (not to mention his mama) from what should be a pretty peaceful sleep. The first thing he and I had to learn was how to sleep through his night time antics. For the most part, we're doing OK on that front, but boy was there plenty to learn after that.
From the very beginning Charlie has done most of his sleeping at night. Lucky, I know! Here's how a good night would usually go down: Sometime between 8 and 11 he would go down for the count, sleep for two or three hours, then get up to nurse and have a diaper change. Then he would go back down for 2 more hours, then 2 more after that. Around sunrise (6 or 7 am) he would get up and stay up.
On a bad night, the first chunk of sleep would be more like 2 hours instead of 3, and the smaller chunks? We're talking 45 minutes to an hour, with hour to two hour waking periods in between. Those nights are killer, especially when they happen a few nights in a row.
My goal lately has been to gently nudge little Charlie's routine into something more dependable. Every night I tweak my strategy just a little bit to see if I can eek out an extra bit of sleep from the process. I'm glad to say that my efforts seem to be paying off, and we're seeing that first chunk of sleep not only last longer (Usually 3 – 4, but sometimes even 5 hours) it is starting at about the same time every night.
So here's what our sleep routine depends on:
- Establishing Bed Time – Charlie nurses pretty frequently, so in the beginning it was a little hard to guess which feeding would be his last for the night. I started treating any feeding after 8:00 as a bed time feeding, which meant getting him into a night-time (thicker) diaper and a comfy onesie before we begin, then turning the lights low and the white noise on. He's getting so used to this environment as bedtime that it is beginning to help with naps too!
- Mood Lighting – At night we only have minimal lighting in the room. We use a salt lamp with dimmer control for soft light all night. When Charlie wakes up, I turn on the bathroom light and leave the door just slightly ajar so that I can see to change and feed him.
- White Noise – We have a little white noise machine that plays ocean, rain, and heartbeat sounds. At bedtime and naptime we turn this sucker way up. The only downside is that it puts me to sleep too – making it hard to keep my eyes open during those middle of the night feeds.
- Miracle Blanket – We tried a few different kinds of swaddles over the past two months, but recently invested in a couple of Miracle Blankets. These swaddles made a huge difference. We saw an immediate increase in Charlie's length of sleep as soon as we switched.
- Risk vs. Reward Diaper Changes – I used to change him every time he got up, but then I realized that this was causing him to wake up too much. So I reasoned things out like this: I would happily let him sleep for three or four hours in a row in the same diaper, so if he wakes up after only one or two hours, why am I changing him? I've discovered that skipping that step after his shorter sleeps helps me get him back into bed a lot more quickly and easily.
- Black-Out Curtains – My Mom sewed blackout panels into my curtains. Originally, she did this to help with my post-partum insomnia. This ended up being a double blessing since just like his mama, Charlie will NOT sleep deeply with too much light present. The curtains help extend his night sleeps past the break of dawn, and they help make day napping possible.
- Smell-Factor – I just started trying this thanks to something I saw on a wacky internet forum. Another mom suggested leaving the shirt you wore the previous night in close proximity to the crib (naturally not IN the crib, since that would break the SIDS rules). It's supposed to help fake your kid out – making him feel like he is still sleeping on you. I gave this a shot this morning, and while it might totally be a coincidence, Charlie just had an exceptionally long and peaceful nap.
Then there is the matter of naps. He sleeps during the day, but it tends to be at random, and he has a tendency to fuss himself awake whenever he leaves my arms. When he does have a good nap, it lasts for two glorious hours and it takes place in a crib. Those are gold, and for a while I felt like there was no rhyme or reason to them. Lately though, I've noticed that these magic naps tend to happen around the same time of day. Maybe, just maybe, if I play my cards right, I can use our bedtime strategies to create a tenative naptime schedule as well.
I've been trying this for the past week, and while it doesn't work every day, I feel like it is starting to work more often. I find that the hardest part of getting the nap routine established is guessing when to begin our bed time ritual. There have been quite a few afternoons recently where I get the kid nursed, dozing, and swaddled only to see those cute little peepers pop wide open – as if to say "Are you kidding, Mom?"
So, fellow parents, what are your best tricks to help your littles ones fall asleep and stay asleep?