Sleep. It seems easy, right? Just close your eyes and relax. How hard can it be? Well, apparently pretty freaking hard sometimes.
My baby is 10 months old. He doesn’t sleep. I don’t mean he doesn’t sleep through the night, I mean he doesn’t sleep more than 90 consecutive minutes. He wakes every 60 to 90 minutes at night to nurse, and his typical nap is 20 minutes long, if it happens at all.
I believe in attachment parenting, not because I read it in a book and it sounded good, but because it is what comes naturally to me – it is how I was made to mother. Part of attachment parenting often times means co-sleeping, and sleep training isn’t even on the radar. We started my son out in a bassinet in our room, but he is a light sleeper and our rolling over or getting up would rouse him, so off to the nursery we went. All was well for a while, but then a slow downward spiral began. First his reflux started acting up again, so he was up often, wanting to nurse to ease the discomfort. And then he was sick, back-to-back for 6 weeks. Nursing is what made him feel better and could get him to sleep. Gradually over the course of 2 months he ended up sleeping in our bed every night, and eating all night long. No naps, no real sleep – grumpy and tired little baby.
Chin up and get through it. Parenting isn’t supposed to be easy. He will grow out of it. Yes, I agree with all of these points. But…just how important is sleep really? Is my desire to feel rested just selfish? Is it time for me to put aside my emotions to focus on his long-term needs?
After reading a lot, and eliciting the help of a sleep counselor, one thing has become very clear: Sleep is vital. It’s that simple.
Sleep is a period of tremendous healing in our bodies, particularly for your heart and blood vessels. An on-going lack of sleep has been associated with increased risks of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and stroke. OK, so that’s not good.[i]
Sleep also helps to balance other hormone levels in the body, affecting our ability to process carbohydrates, which affects our glucose tolerance. A lack of sleep results in increased blood sugar levels, which can increase the risk of diabetes.[ii] On top of that, sleep deprivation increases levels of ghrelin (the hormone that makes you feel hungry) and decreases levels of leptin (makes you feel full). Surprise – sleep deprivation has been linked to obesity.i
Now lets talk about the big issue…the brain! Sleep is anything but idol time for your brain. Instead, it is the chance for your brain boost itself up, to increase its strength and power.[iii] While you are far away in dreamland, your brain is actually creating new pathways that help you to remember and develop. In fact, it has been shown that sleep deprivation can change the way parts of the brain behave. Here are some of the ways that sleep deprivation has been shown to affect children and teens: trouble making decisions, difficulty controlling emotions or behavior, difficulty coping with change, depression, trouble socializing, anger and impulsiveness, problems paying attention, lower grades, and feeling stressed.i
So wow, this lack of sleep is no laughing matter. Regardless of how I feel about wanting to snuggle my baby close at night, he is not getting what he needs right now, and that is not okay. So what’s a mom to do?
Thank goodness there are people in the world known as sleep counselors! We are using a series of gentle techniques to gradually teach my son the skill of sleeping. We are in the early stages now, with a couple of weeks to go, but you know after the first two nights I could already see changes. He is happier. He plays more independently. He doesn’t freak out every time I am out of his sight. And we didn’t have to let him “cry it out” either. So we have found a solution that I can cope with, but that also meets the needs of his rapidly growing body and brain.
If you have a wee-one that is a problem sleeper, please consider the long-term ramifications of this and work to correct the situation. Maybe there is a medical issue, maybe it is behavioral, but either way the situation should be dealt with. If you can teach your children the skill of sleeping at a young age, you are setting them up for a lifetime of healthy sleep habits. There are many methods out there: elimination, Ferber, gentle sleep. We opted for gentle, but there are pros and cons to all sides. Do what you need to do for your family and your child – guilt and fear of judgment should be left at the front door.
Looking for some assistance? I cannot thank Dawn Braun at Well Rested Family enough for her on-going support and guidance. This lady was able to do more in one night that we had hoped to accomplish in a month! We have a plan, support when things go bad, a cheerleader to remind us of our successes, and most importantly, the belief that we can get our son to where he needs to be.
If you are not in the Annapolis area, please check out this site for assistance in finding a coach closer to home.
[i] “Why Is Sleep Important?” NIH. National Institutes of Health, n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2015. <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why>.
[ii] University Of Chicago Medical Center. “Lack Of Sleep Alters Hormones, Metabolism, Simulates Effects Of Aging.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 October 1999. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/10/991025075844.htm>.
[iii] Feature, Michael J. Breus PhDWebMD. “Healthy Sleep In Children.” WebMD. WebMD, n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2015. <http://www.webmd.com/children/features/good-sound-sleep-for-children>.