Who Needs Sleep?

Two weeks ago, my husband, Matt, and I were two smug parents. Why not? After suffering five months of midnight feedings and one month of 6 a.m. wakeups, our boy started to sleep later, until 6:30 or 7, sometimes even 7:15. Yes, we thought, we conquered the night. Christian was finally a good sleeper. We could rest easily and enough.

Until now. For no apparent reason, the kid started waking at 4 a.m. again. By stuffing him with rice cereal, we were able to coax him back to 5:30 a.m., but that was it. We came, we saw, but this time the night kicked our collective ass.

At the beginning of the ordeal, Matt’s shift lasted until 6:30 a.m., when mine started. Although he’s the one who works outside the home, he’s much better at losing sleep than I am. He can function on five hours sleep – badly, but still. I can’t function unless I get at least eight hours. I know what you’re saying and you’re right. I’m a sleep wimp. And it took a long time and a lot of 5:30 a.m. wakeups for Matt to believe in my need for sleep. But now he does. And he loves me so much that he volunteers for the midnight baby shift. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Although I like to attribute his sacrifice to love, affection may not be his prime motivator. On the days that started at dawn or earlier, I’d grab the baby and plod to the living room, where I would feed him and place him on the floor to play. Then I would crawl under a blanket on the couch and doze until my daughter, Rose, or Matt would wake up. If Rose awoke first, I’d get her breakfast and crawl back under the blanket to doze until Matt’s alarm at 7. Then I’d go back to the bedroom to hand the baby off to Matt and sleep for an hour until Matt absolutely had to get ready for work.

When Rose was an infant, I’d wake up early with her and fight sleep like a teamster on the night shift. Sometimes, I was ashamed to say, sleep would win. Christian is my second child and I definitely treat him as such. I don’t even pretend to be awake this time around. The living room is childproofed, so I tell myself it’s a safe environment and of course, if he gets somewhere uncomfortable, he’ll let me know. I know it’s bad parenting but I can only give what I’ve got, and I have not got 5:30 a.m. wakeups in me. I think that Matt took the early morning shift to shield the children from my neglect. And again, I’m grateful.

But all this losing sleep is taking its toll. Matt woke at 5:30 with Christian today and I got up at 6:45 so he could go back to sleep. He had until 8 to sleep, and I thought an hour and 15 minutes would give him some much-needed rest, but he awoke in a horrible mood, bemoaning the whole morning process. Apparently he’s not as good at losing sleep as we thought.

Exhaustion has taken its toll on our relationship, too. We no longer have the energy to meet each other’s emotional needs. We both know we’re just tired, but nevertheless, we get touchy when we miss our hugs and kisses or private grownup conversations.

We need to find a solution that works for both of us. I spent the morning reading up on infant sleep. If we could just go back to that sweet spot of 7 a.m. wakeups, everything would be fine.

We know what we must do, sooner or later. We’ll have to let him “Cry it out.” Every effective sleep solution I’ve seen is some version of “cry it out” –where the baby must cry itself to sleep. Every parent I’ve known who had sleep issues had to endure “cry it out” eventually. We did it with Rose when she was nine months old and it worked. She cried herself to sleep and learned to go back to sleep if she awoke. Although I didn’t think so at the time, “cry it out” was easy with one child. I had a high tolerance for crying, and at the time, we, and the neighbors in our building, were the only ones losing sleep. But when we have Christian “cry it out” he’s going to wake Rose in the next room. And she’s a monster when she’s cranky.

So here’s my solution: Rose needs to lose her pacifier, so if we banish the binky and “cry it out” at the same time, they’ll both cry and we can condense all of our misery into a few days or, at worst, a week. And once Christian sleeps and Rose quits the binky, maybe Matt and I can get some sleep again.