Mar 15, 2013

When Sleep is a Battleground

When producer Hannah Palin recorded her infant sleep journal for our Sleep episode, I wasn’t yet a parent. I listened to it, and while I felt sympathy for her predicament, it didn’t raise any kind of anguished emotional response. But now, I feel sick to my stomach when I hear it. It reminds me all too vividly of the first 2 years of my daughter's life, when I didn’t get more than 3 hours of continuous sleep. She was every bit as bad at sleep as baby Dominic.
My daughter is now 3. And she still hates to sleep at night. (Although, like a premature teenager, she loves to sleep late into the morning.) Last week, in the wake of the change to Daylight Savings, we experienced new levels of bedtime angst as we tried to convince her to settle down at the end of the day. My husband and I are completely flummoxed. We are desperate. We are exhausted. Anya, our 3-year-old, in the midst of a bedtime battle, protested loudly: “But I don’t know HOW to fall sleep!”

I wrote to Hannah. What does Dom do to get to sleep? Can he offer any advice for Anya? Or me?
On Thursday, Dom, now 8, and his buddy Max (that's them in the tires) were having pizza, along with Max’s sister Anni and his mom, Deb. Hannah put the question to all of them: how do you get to sleep? They came up with a list of tips for Anya.

  1. Hug a stuffed animal. (Or pillow.)
  2. Count sheep.
  3. Get your mom to scratch (or tickle) your back.

There was also discussion of favorite bedtime reading and the importance of the nighttime routine. Either Dominic or Max also suggested picking out “7 pillows when you go to sleep each night.” After all of these helpful (and not so useful) tips, Hannah’s friend Deb started talking about her own tortured relationship with sleep – after the kids go to bed. “Sometime I sleep a few hours and then I don’t get back to sleep.”

The day after this pizza-party/sleep-tip brainstorming, Hannah wrote to me about how her friend’s comments echoed for her:

I haven't really been able to sleep since Dom was born. There's some hormone that kicks in and, as a parent, you can never relax enough to let down your hyper-vigilant mother-radar. You're always on alert.

She says that she’s heard this a lot:

I was comparing notes with a mom friend at lunch the other day. She said, "I used to sleep like a log. Then I had kids." Knowing that most people tend to get less and less sleep as they get older, we both decided that we are doomed. Our only hope is napping in our armchairs while well-meaning grown-up children take care of us in our dotage. It's not much to look forward to, but it's something.

Do you have more how-to-get sleepy advice for Anya? Or, anything to offer the perpetually sleep-challenged parents out there?


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