Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sleep, glorious sleep

Ah.....sleep. I remember you well. Once, not so long ago you would find me in the afternoon. You would wrap your warm arms around me and whisper in my ear: "time for a nap". Sleep. I used to sleep soundly through the night and wake when my body was rested. I used to Sleep In! My husband would tease me because I could never sleep past 8 or 9 on a vacation and I would try to push myself to sleep a little longer. Somewhere along the way I have forgotten what all of that was like.

6:30 a.m. That's what time our children wake now. And that's late for them. We went through a long period where our son would wake at 5. 5:30. A few times, even 4:45. And he was UP. And he wanted you to be up too and it was TIME TO START THE DAY. Seriously? That is not morning. That is what time you wake up if you're in the army. Or prison.

I don't function well on lack of sleep. Somehow Dad manages to do it and still go to work and function at a particularly high level. Me? Not so much. I am cranky. I am slow. I am impatient. I resort to all sorts of things to get through the day like Jiffy Pop popcorn as entertainment and a Dora video as education. I decided it had to end. I needed sleep. And so did the kids!

I will say that Sleepy Planet saved our lives. They are geniuses when it comes to teaching your kids to sleep. They wrote a book which has most of their wisdom in it, but if it is in the realm of affordability to you, call and make a private consultation with them. Jill Spivack, one of the proprietors, is considered a "twin expert" and she has given us so much good advice over the years that we never got from just reading their book.

Sleep issues with children of differing ages is tough if they're sharing a room, but I believe that, like just about everything else, sleep disturbances with twins is exponentially more difficult. But I'm not interested in debating that, I'm just here to share some of our major trouble spots and what has worked for us so far.

  • As newborns, we used Dr. Harvey Karp's book, The Happiest Baby On The Block for our basic sleep plan. We swaddled, we used  white noise we shushed loudly and so forth. It worked very, very well for us. As a side note, many worry about getting "addicted" to white noise and I will say that our children still use a noise machine (although now they prefer music over "noise"). At some point your kids will be old enough to tell you they like it or they don't. It helps them sleep when they are babies and, with twins, it helps make a noise barrier between cribs so hopefully if one wakes in the night, he/she won't wake the other! The other things that was key to our sanity was keeping the babies on a schedule.  With twins it is almost out of the question to just let the babies decide when they are ready to sleep or eat. If your kids are not doing those two things at the same time, you will never leave the house and you will never get any sleep yourself.
  • At 5 months old we "sleep trained" our children using Sleepy Planet's methods.  They were already sleeping in their own cribs at this stage but we were rocking and singing them to sleep. Our son was obsessed with his pacifier. Every night he would drop it and cry for it and I would have to retrieve it. Our daughter would wake up the instant we put her down after bouncing, singing, rocking. Getting her to bed was taking forever.  There is a lot of controversy about CIO (Cry It Out) methods. I do not believe Sleepy Planet's method is a true CIO. Yes, it's hard to hear your baby crying and you do want to rush in to "fix" things. But you are not simply putting them in a crib and going to bed and ignoring them. You are slowly weaning them off of needing you to do everything for them and are teaching them to be able to soothe themselves to sleep. This worked fantastically well for us and within 3 nights our kids were sleeping on their own at night and within a week, naps were on track as well.
  • At around age 2 we began to have the issue of waking really early (as mentioned above). I was beside myself (as mentioned above). I would go in to tell whoever the offender was (usually our son) that it was still night time and he needed to go back to sleep. Then try the check ins recommended by Sleepy Planet. The problem was I was usually so exhausted at this point that I would give in and take him to our room and pray he would fall back to sleep. God help me if our daughter woke too and realized her brother was in there already! I found a product called The Good Nite Lite  which is basically a moon night light that you can set to turn into a sun at the desired wake up time. On the advice of Jill Spivack, I created the first of many books about our kids' sleep habits. Creating books about any major change that is about to happen is a fantastic way to help your children adjust. This book detailed their bed routine and introduced Mr. Moon and Mr. Sun (otherwise known as The Good Nite Lite). They learned quickly that if they woke up and saw Mr. Moon they would know it was still night time. If Mr. Sun was up they could call me quietly and I would come in to start the day. We've definitely had limit testing and they did scream for me if they woke early but if you remain consistent they learn very quickly that they are not getting what they want and they stop the screaming. I slowly was able to move their wake up time to 6:30. Heaven, for me!
  • By about 2 and a half, our daughter decided she didn't need to nap anymore. only sanity in these early years.  Our son would nap for 3 hours, but not her. At first she would happily play and sing to herself in her crib while he napped. Then she realized it was more fun if she woke him. I promptly put her in a Pack 'N Play in another room.  That worked for a while until I noticed that it was taking them over an hour to fall asleep at night and he was waking numerous times during the night as well. Sadly, I realized that both of our children were about to become Non-Nappers.   cried for about a week I think. After I dried the tears I called Jill again and she helped me create a new version of our book which included information about mommy calling the sleep doctor who helped come up with a new night time plan and why it was important for the kids to get a good night sleep and how mommy isn't coming into the room in the middle of the night etc. etc. (I will detail these books on another page as soon as I have some free time....they really are extremely helpful). We dropped the naps and move bedtime up by about 45 minutes at first (that part was fantastic for mommy).  They fell asleep instantly and slept through the night!  Mr Sun was waiting for them in the morning! Yay! Life was restored. After a week or two, bed time was back at it's usual hour of 7pm.

We've been doing really well with this routine but in a few weeks we will be transitioning to big kid beds. I'm anticipating having some sleepless nights and early mornings again. But I am preparing new books about the rules for having a big kid bed and my husband and I are planning to sleep in the new room with them for a night or two then slowly ease our way out of the room and back to our bed. And back to sleep.

As with many things about having small children, I remind myself often that I should enjoy this while it lasts. Those early morning cries are tough when I'm tired, but watching my children sleep peacefully in their bed (or mine), as they clutch their loveys, is a wonderful thing. When they're teenagers they will sleep until noon and I will miss them. I will, perhaps, be better rested...but I will miss the early morning cuddles with my little babies.
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