Monday, October 29, 2007

The Truth About Kids and Sleep

I think I convey a spirit of candour on this blog. I cop to my failings and misdemeanours as a mother with a kind of misplaced enthusiasm, using them as self-deprecatory currency, a means of creating sympathy, friendship, and even a kind of reverse adulation. There are limits, however, to my candour, and I’m about to breach one of them: I’m going to write a post about sleep.

One of the few worries I had about the spacing of my children was that Bub would be evicted from his crib before he was ready. We had weathered a few weeks of sporadic CIO in order to get him sleeping through the night, and it seemed like madness to meddle with a system that was working so well. It was with much trepidation that we moved him into the big-boy bed when Pie was six weeks old: we put the mattress and box-spring directly on the floor, installed one of those side-rails, and tried to make the environment as crib-like as possible: the folded-down quilt acted as a visual barrier at the foot of the bed, and the soothers and blankies mimicked the layout of his crib. The trompe-l’oeil worked – for a good six months or so, Bub called out for us first thing in the morning, never realizing that he could scramble out of bed of his own accord.

I remember the first morning that he solved the puzzle of the big-boy bed – there was a little rush of air as he padded down the hallway, and then a face appeared at the side of my bed, inches from my own. At first, this newfound freedom was used only at wake-up time: it was a good month or two before he began to explore the middle-of-the-night possibilities. After nearly two years of sleeping through the night, suddenly he was free to wander.

We tried adding a room-darkening shade, to no effect. We piled on additional blankets, thinking he must be cold. He rarely seemed frightened or upset, but just in case, we added a nightlight. We responded to his noctural wanderings with brisk, mute promptness, avoiding eye contact as we tucked him back into his bed. And still he was getting up, sometimes three or four times per night. He wasn’t doing it because he was cold; he wasn’t doing it because he was hungry or scared; he was doing it because he could.

Finally, we took action: if he got up during the night, we locked him in the basement in a playpen.

I’d like to think that this isn’t as barbaric as it sounds. The basement is a familiar environment: his train table is down there, along with many of his books and toys. The basement is dark and quiet – and, moreover, it’s far away from the Pie’s bedroom, so the children cannot awaken each other. Bub had actually been taking naps there for several months (ever since he had lost the ability to nap under the brighter and less confined conditions of his bedroom). Instead of deterring his nighttime wanderings, the “downstairs bed” (as Bub calls it) began to act as a motivation: at four in the morning, Bub would come wandering into our bedroom, asking to go downstairs.

On the plus side, a trip to the downstairs bed usually meant that Bub would sleep later, especially in summer when the first rays of sunlight would act as a kind of jet-propulsion, ejecting him from his bed at 5:45. In the quiet darkness of the basement, he would slumber until seven o’clock. For nearly a year now, hubby has been lugging Bub’s increasingly heavy self down two flights of stairs to tuck him into the increasingly cramped quarters of his playpen. Some nights he would last until six in his own bed; other nights he would be downstairs before four.

The last few weeks have seen a downturn in Bub’s sleeping habits. Now, his first night-waking occurs shortly after midnight – usually about a half hour or so after we turn out our lights. When I’m lucky, this happens before I’ve fallen asleep; when I’m not so lucky, his arrival in the room pulls me with torturous slowness from the depths of my first deep sleep of the night. We tuck him back into bed, and two hours later he gives a repeat performance. If he goes downstairs too early, sometimes he awakens around five and yells for a tuck-in until I wake up, stagger downstairs and rearrange his blankets firmly around his arms and shoulders. The downstairs bed is no longer my friend.

So Friday night we tried something new. At bedtime, we tucked Bub in and put a child-safety gate in front of his door. Most three-year-olds have long since learned to defeat such mechanisms, but Bub has never been one to challenge physical boundaries – he doesn’t climb out of his playpen, and he does not attempt to circumvent baby gates. We explained to him that the gate would stay up all night, that he would have to stay in bed until morning. At midnight, I heard the creak of the floors and held my breath. The floors creaked again, and all was silent. At six-thirty, I heard Bub murmuring sleepily … but again he stayed in his room. When morning came, he stood by the gate and whispered, “Mama! I’m ready to get up!”

It has been only three nights. It can’t possibly be this easy. I’m sure that within a month or two he’ll have figured out that a well-placed shout will get us to come running. But for now, I’m wondering what’s wrong with me that I didn’t try this before.

57 comments:

Kyla said...

This is why I am so weary of moving KayTar from her crib. But I think a baby gate will work nicely for her, as it does for Bub. She isn't one to challenge boundaries, although she is one to protest loudly on occasion.

andi said...

Elliot was the exact same way. She didn't figure out for months that she could get off of her bed, and when she did, you'd think there was an amusement park in our upstairs. She would wander around, read books in the hallway, hold tea parties, or just walk into my room and scare the crap out of me.

So the baby gate went up (she too has never been able to figure them out). Since then she has stayed happily in her little cage. She only occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night (if she has a nightmare or something) and is easily put back to sleep.

Suz said...

It really sounds like a good solution to me. I worry about what we're going to do when it comes time to take the babies out of their cribs. Without a reason to do so, they'll be sleeping in them until they figure out how to climb out!

Mad Hatter said...

I hesitate to speak on sleep issues b/c after years of placating the sleep gods and getting no divine warm fuzzies in return, things are going well in our house. Too well. It makes me want to watch my back. It makes me hesitant to tell other mothers for fear of the assassin's bullet.

May this solution be THE solution for you and may family Bub&Pie have many a restful night.

Pieces said...

Congratulations on three nights of good sleep! It is well deserved. We used the gate in the door for many years. Boykiddo never tried to climb over it, isn't that weird?

My Buddy Mimi said...

I've had the "It can't possibly be this easy" moment too. Mimi used to have a complete meltdown when we eventually had to stop reading books at bedtime. This went on for about six months. Nooooooo, read it! Read it! Reeeeaaaad it!

One night out of total desperation I gave her a book to "read" herself in bed. She said OK, laid down, and started flipping through it. Since then, she has gone to bed without any fuss as long as we give her a book. Why didn't I think of that sooner?

crazymumma said...

I really do not know why this worked for you. Never, in my house would that work.

It's unfair I tell you.

Veronica Mitchell said...

Our house has old, stiff brass doorknobs, so the crisis came to us when the girls finally learned how to turn that knob all on their own.

DaniGirl said...

Speaking of sleep deprivation - I honestly thought, when I clicked through to read this on your blog from Bloglines, that I was about to read a post entitled "The truth about kids and sheep." While this was a fine post about kids and SLEEP, who will tell me the truth about kids and sheep now?

Ahem, anyway, I admit I initially cringed at the idea of Bub sleeping in the basement, until I realized I was hardly in a position to cast aspersions at anyone's nighttime solutions. I was 8 months pregnant and Tristan about 20 months old when we turfed him from his crib to the big boy bed, and he didn't share Bub's reluctance to leave his bed. He'd wander all night long from my room to his and back again. I think one of my worst parenting memories is of making sure the gate at the top of the stairs was firmly in place and locking my bedroom door so he could no longer wander freely into my room at all hours. (Did I mention 8 mos pregnant? And working full time? Eek.) I'd find him some mornings curled up against my bedroom door, fast asleep. It still breaks my heart to think about it... but you do what ya gotta do.

I'm glad Bub likes his new gate, and hope he never figures out how to circumvent it!

Beck said...

It's very hard as a parent to get out of a routine that is not working, even when we are FULLY AWARE that it is not working. Trying something new carries with it the risk of freaking the kid out.
Having said that, sleep is not an issue at our house because my husband is the Bedtime Dictator. And my kids share a gigantic room, which makes things quite congenial, I think.

Mouse said...

Scooter never climbed out of his crib and hasn't attempted to get over baby gates either--though we haven't had one up lately to see how he'd react. Now he very rarely comes out of his room before about 6am, even though we leave the door open.

May the gate continue to work for ages to come!

b*babbler said...

Really, can't we just leave them in their cribs until they're ready to go to university?

Seriously.

jen said...

sometimes you hit it so right on, as you did with the intro to this post.

not to lament, but i am struggling with the same issues, the repeated awakenings filled with trivial requests (my bunny is on the FLOOR!) and yet i've been at a loss. last night, four times at least.

and look - lament, i did.

bubandpie said...

Dani - Well, I can't blame you for cringing because I'm the same way - this has gone on for a year and I've never blogged about it because the basement! barbaric! (Except a friend of mine has a side-split, so both her kids sleep in the basement because that's where their bedrooms are. If it's warm and furnished down there, what's the difference? Oh, right - the difference is the playpen rather than a real bed...)

Magpie said...

Wow - good idea. Fingers crossed that it works for a good long while.

Kathryn said...

All praise the baby gate! When we switched our oldest to his big boy room we used the gate immediately. He right away knew he couldn't leave his room. After a while we took it off, and he just never tried to get out of his room because he was so used to staying in bed. It worked awesome.
Yeah Bub!, for being a such a big boy! :)

Mimi said...

Oh geez. Just this morning, after a rousing night of no sleep for anyone, and some failed CIO, Pynchon and I decided that tonight? If she pulls this nonsense again? WE are going to sleep in the basement and leave her upstairs in her own room, to wail to an empty upper floor.

You're singing to the choir.

slouching mom said...

If the gate should stop working at some point -- not that it will, mind you -- a friend of mine had great success when she put a digital clock in her son's room and told him he could not come out until the clock read 6:30.

He TOTALLY respected the authority of that clock.

Momish said...

I am in love with you right now because of that last line. The humanness of it gives me the tingles!

Laural Dawn said...

In our house, most nights Matt wants to fall asleep in our bed and then my husband moves him when he comes to bed.
We have tried everything to keep Matt in bed - and it seems to be working. Once he is asleep that is. It's getting him to go to sleep that is our issue.
As for the baby gate - sometimes when you try things earlier they don't work. It's like you suddenly realize it's time.

Laural Dawn said...

PS when we were looking at houses pre-baby we saw a kids room with a lock on the outside of the door. At the time I thought that was AWFUL and I would never ...
Shortly after my son started walking (and climbing out of his crib) I thought - wow. Genius!

Nowheymama said...

I think sleep issues are hard to deal with because they happen *at night* when we are tired and just want to sleep and aren't thinking clearly about solutions (like the baby gate).

This post supports my "whatever works for your family" theory perfectly.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Both my kids learned to climb out of their cribs before I was ready -- my son was not quite 2 and my daughter about 2 1/4. It was dangerous so I had to take down the crib but oh! the kids thought the bed was such a great game!

You know what I did? I turned around the doorknob in the kids' room. So I can lock them in. I confessed this to the kids' pediatrician & he said, What's the difference between a crib wall and a locked door? What makes you think one is acceptable and one not? They're both ways of keeping your kids safe. So, I was absolved, and even now will occasionally lock them in.

Christine said...

my son frequently pads down the hall to stick his little face in mine.

our basement is FAR too creepy in a silence of the lambs sort of way to put a bed down there, though i'm tempted when he gets up at 4 frickin' am!

KAL said...

We have one of those baby gates outside J&S's door and he treats it much like Bub does. I hope it lasts for you, sounds like you could use some sleep!

painted maypole said...

often the things you think will never work are the ones that do. i hope this new sleeping arrangement has a good, long run!

nomotherearth said...

Wow, I can't get over how much this sounds like the Boy. The only difference is that he hasn't yet figured out that he can leave the bed. I'm absolutely terrified of the day he does. I think the gate in the door may be just the solution we need. Right now, the gate is at the top of the stairs.

And thank you for writing how Bub doesn't challenge physical boundaries. I can't tell you how many times, before we switched to a bed because we need the crib, I would tell people that the Boy had never tried to get out of the crib and people would look at me like I'm crazy. They acted like he was a freak or something. I'm glad to know that the Boy is not the only kid like that. I see a lot of people have responded with similar situations, too.

Karen said...

well, it's nice your basement is so cozy and lasted as long as it did - when we moved to our new place LP moved to a bed and we had some crazy early wake-ups for like 3 months. He is not gateable any longer (forget unlocking it, he just scales it) and Matt and I bickered back and forth about a hook and eye lock on the door - I wanted it and he did not, until one day I had put him in his room for nap, gone to deal with the baby and heard his voice coming from outside, at the top of a hill, at the bottom of which was a stream. We put the hook and eye lock on that evening and he has slept til 7 or 8 ever since. Thank God!

cce said...

Well....once he figures out the babygate you can always do what we did when our early riser figured out how to scale the gate - install a sliding lock on the outside of his door. I know, I know this sounds so Draconian and there is the fire issue to worry about but seriously, we were desperate. It worked too. And, because we're really mean and desperate we also took away the night light and found our son a lot less apt to wander in deep darkness.
Good luck. Hope the sleeping stays good.

Kit said...

I hope that the gate works for a nice long time.

Our son is now nine and was always an early riser. He has no compunction about sharing his awakeness with the rest of us even now.

We recently had to lay down the law yet again - that he must take his watch to bed and not get up before it says 6.30, as he was stomping though to check the time on my husband's cellphone which is also the alarm, at 5.30 am.

All three share a room, which at least means they've got company and are less likely to come to us for lively conversation in the night. But we have been through loads of desperate stages of sleep deprivation in the past, so the basement seems quite a reasonable proposition.

Now our youngest is five it is more usually the dogs that are causing the broken nights these days and those we can banish to an outside pen!

Chaotic Joy said...

Ah yes. This story rings true here as well. We were so tickled when we moved Ben to his big-boy-bed and it never occured to him that he couldn't get out of bed. Then we were less tickled when he started his nightime wanderings. His favorite thing to do was to get on the computer, surf the net, and print things...at age 2. So finally we put a child lock on his door which we just removed last week. He is 3.5 now so we decided to give him a bit more freedom. If he starts his nighttime wanderings again though, we will put the bars back on his cell.

Great post.

Gwen said...

I'm going to curse myself by saying I wish one of my children could figure out how to get out of bed in the middle of the night to a)go to the bathroom b)pick up a beloved stuffed animal c)throw her own snotty kleenex in the trash, thank you very much.

Maybe by the time he figures out the gate, he'll be done getting out of bed! See, you're not the only optimist.

Aliki2006 said...

I really hope this is the solution for you--it does sound too good to be true!!

cinnamon gurl said...

I honestly think that just because something goes easily doesn't mean it should have been done sooner. As another commenter said, I think it means it was the right time. And I hope the gate works for a very long time.

mamakie said...

I dreaded the move to a big bed for both of my kids. What worked for us was a twizzler (child safety device so they can't open doors) on the inside of their rooms. Works like a charm.

When my daughter was old enough to need to be able to get out to go to the bathroom, she was already well versed in staying in her room. She'll come for the odd middle of the night visit when she has a bad dream, but most nights stays in bed until morning.

The plan is working for my youngest now too and he shows no signs of potty training interest. He does however like to yell for us in the mornings - so has figured out the yell and parents come method.

Blog Antagonist said...

My first one was remarkably easy. He never got up without asking permission, even when he could. Plus, he usually slept soundly.

The second child...not so much. He's a born insomnica and as soon as he learned that he could get out of his crib, I bid a fond farewell to sleeping soundly.

I constantly worried that he would get up and do something dangerous...if you remember, he is "spirited" and is always pushing boundaries.

To this day, he doesn't sleep well, but my worry of his nocturnal welfare is mostly behind me.

I hope your success with Bub continues. Sleep issues really suck.

kittenpie said...

This is exactly the advice I've heard, too. Treat their bedroom as the crib, with a gate to keep them in like the rails used to. We are about to make the leap, and I'm hoping the screen door plus normal door combo will work, since I don't want to put a latch on the screen door in case of emergencies. We'll see. Crossing my fingers! Adn good luck that the gate holds...

bren j. said...

I'd say 'congratulations,' but right now I'm too jealous! We're just in the process of trying to get the Little Goat to sleep in her crib instead of our bed and it. has. been. AWFUL.

But, okay. Congrats on the sneaky gate trick! We'll file that for later!

Julie Pippert said...

Truth? My kids and sleep? Not good. My kids and cribs? Dangerous.

So early on my kids got futon mattresses on the floor.

We tried several methods, somewhat similar to yours, to convince children In Bed means Stay In Bed.

I will say that now at 5-almost-6 (please don't let me be cursing myself) Patience is really good.

Persistence, though, has been a tougher nut.

I feel for you and good for you finding a solution that works (and hopefully will continue to do so!).

This is why I have a playroom for the toys...keep the bedrooms as stripped down to BEDroom as possible.

Julie
Using My Words

Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

Raising my hand with a sheepish look on my face....
N first climbed out of his crib at 17 months. 2 months after he learned to walk. O was not to be outdone, so then they were both out. Up went the crib tents. I used to say that they'd come out of the crib tents when they were smart enough to smuggle in pocket knives and cut themselves out, but they were even smarter. Though they've never minded me zipping them in (and N actually won't let me NOT zip him in now), O just started pulling them apart from the inside out. O is the kind of kid who would quietly wander into the kitchen at night and start an experiment on the stove-top. Seriously, the kid is smart and curious and determined as hell, and I am often worried to pieces over his safety. the things he comes up with are just unbelievable sometimes. So when he ripped the third crib tent and started keeping his brother up all night, we knew it was time to give him his own, extremely child-proof room. With a latch on the outside, the monitor cord taped to the ceiling where he can't get to it, and turned up high and safety bars on the windows. He's perfectly happy up there, and sleeps great, but this is the least amount of words through which I can explain why my kid is in a locked room with bars on the windows without feeling like all who read this will think I'm a horrible child abuser. I just want to let all of us get some sleep and keep my kid safe. Thanks for writing about this.

Victoria said...

Yay for you guys!! I have a Lazy Nightime Waker...she's never attempted to leave her bed, let alone make the trip to our Big Bed. She just yells for us. At the top of her lungs.

Grr.

Janet said...

Oh intricate sleep dance I know thee well!

It's whatever works, B&P. No judgement, no guilt.

Jenifer said...

We used the baby gate on Rosebud (who is now four) as soon as we moved her to her big girl bed at 2 1/2 - same thing we did with her sister when we needed her out of the crib. It worked like a charm and neither of them ever tried to move it or open it.

We stopped using it ages ago and it sits propped in the hall and most nights as I am half way down the stairs she will shout, "You forgot the gate!"

Obviously now that she is potty trained we no longer use it, but still she wants it.

I have suggested to everyone who had a night waking child who could get out of their room and I can't think of anyone it didn't work for...glad this is working and letting everyone get a good night's rest.

theflyingmum said...

Yeah, I don't think this is too unusual - Ben used to get up in the middle of the night, and still does sometimes. One of us will groggily go lay down in his bed with him. I usually vote for TFH to go, because he will fall asleep in there and then I have THE WHOLE BED TO MYSELF! :)

Mary G said...

Best of luck and I hope it continues to work ~ I had a night wanderer and I really feel for you.

Ally said...

I laughed out loud when I read the "we locked him in the basement" bit. Our Eli slept in a portable crib in the basement closet (with one of us sleeping nearby) for about 6 months, so I laughed as I related to your solution. At least your friends didn't make "coming out of the closet" jokes like ours did. :)

As to your new solution-- kudos! Hope it keeps working!

Lisa b said...

Every time something so simple works I wonder why I didn't try it before.
I hope he stays put. My midnight wanderer defeated the baby gate this week. For a long time she didn't realise that she could open her bedroom door but since she figured that out it has been hell around here.

Sarcastic Mom (aka Lotus) said...

Oh, isn't it always THE way? Something you try after all the hell works and you're left slapping yourself in the face for not just doing THAT before.

Good luck!

Jennifer said...

I thought the title to this post was "The Truth about Kids and Sheep" too. I am sooo wondering what that means, now that I've seen someone else thought the same thing. Hmmm.

Baby gate? Best. Invention. Ever.

bgirl said...

oh how i miss the crib, like your little guy, mine never climbed out (still sleeps in one at his grandparents) and when we travel, he always wants the coziness of the pack and play. in fact when he first began getting up from his bed, as you describe, i thought the pack and play would be a *discipline* measure to keep him in, rather he was soooo happy to see it and began to request it vs his bed.

i'm putting up the gate! so sleepy from all the 5:45 am nose-to-nose wakeups i'm getting...

JCK said...

They just always have the one up on us. Just when you think you've figured out their sleep pattern - they change it.

This is a great idea! You have now outwitted him. It may last a week, it may last 6 months. The important part is that you are once again getting sleep.

My BOY has been waking up 2-3 times a night for weeks. Last night was the first time he again slept through the night...amazing what sleep does to help your weary brain! Enjoy!

Catherine said...

Excellent, excellent post. I'm so glad you breached. It was great to read this. I hope it works...

Ah, sleep. I never learned to sleep myself - still cannot fall asleep in a room by myself, or if there are people awake in the building I'm sleeping in. Unfortunately, I'm serious.

So its been so important to me to "teach" my kids to sleep well...if such a thing is possible?

Marie said...

Wow...sounds like a good solution! Our three year old (I guess it was when he was two) kept getting up earlier and earlier every morning, until it was regularly 5:30 or earlier. We decided we'd send him back to bed whenever he got up before 6 AM, but he'd have a meltdown most mornings he got sent back, because he never knew if he'd be allowed to stay up or have to go back to sleep. We finally bought a little blue nightlight that we turn on every morning at 6. He knows that he can't get out of bed until the blue light is on. It works fairly well.

Heather said...

Oh I hope it lasts!

We have just been going through a big night waking phase with the Peanut (almost 3 now). She is still in a crib, but has learning that a panicky sounding cry will bring one of us stumbling into her room where we will come prepared to clean up vomit, slay an imaginary dragon, whatever. Instead we get the desperate complaint, "My pillow is bumpy."
ACK!

I fear the day she moves to the big girl bed and can roam free!

Jenn said...

Oh, good, so I can tell you that for a few days after the "big girl bed", I looked at the huge dog kennel and thought, "Hmmm"... :)

Kidding.

Half.

Alpha DogMa said...

I'm going to post a photo of my children's bedroom doors which we 'inherited' from the last owner. They pretty much saved our sanity these past 4 years.

Patois said...

I'm hopeful it lasts more than a few months for you. I will confess that it took us countless child years to figure out the way my husband and I would not get evicted from our bed was to place a sleeping bag and pillow at the foot of it. Now the wandering youngest knows to just go to the foot of the bed if he awakens in the middle of the night. I can't believe I never thought of it before a month ago. I blame it on being overtired for many, many years.