Last night, my wonderful sleeping newborn, who has slept so well since he was born, decided to sleep like a baby instead.
Darn newborn sleep.
Anyway, he was awake and crying from 2 am to 4 am. Lovely. I know this because I’m tracking his sleep patterns, on the off chance that a pattern will naturally emerge like people say it’s supposed to. But even though he’s never slept “all night” as in ten hours, he usually sleeps “all night” as in six hours, and last night was the first time that he was awake for a long stretch in the middle of the night. Lucky me.
Fortunately, I’ve got lots of experience staying up with crying kids in the middle of the night. It was par for the course for my daughter. So, based on my experience over the past few years, here’s my list of what to do when your baby won’t go back to sleep. Keep in mind that you should only turn to this list after your usual techniques have failed. If you’re cosleeping, for example, then most of the time when your baby wakes up you can just roll over, put a boob in his mouth, and go back to sleep. But when that doesn’t work, and nothing else does either, here’s what you do.
1. Do not try to go back to sleep yourself. Stop even thinking about sleep. The more that you long for sleep, the more your baby will resist it. They sense weakness. Be strong.
2. Do not turn on the lights. That would make baby think it is daytime. He already wants to think this, so you need to prevent that belief. Keep a flashlight or nightlight by the bed so overhead lights will never be necessary. I use the flashlight app on my iphone. Avoid all lights if possible. Learn to see in the dark, like a vampire. Or else just memorize where you put everything so you can do stuff without any light.
3. Change the diaper and offer the potty. Seriously, even if you’re not doing EC, you should try a potty position. The classic EC hold is perfect for both pooping and burping. Do it with a diaper on if you don’t have a potty and don’t want to go to the bathroom. If your baby is struggling with a poop or a burp or a fart, this will help.
4. Start doing something entertaining that you enjoy. Reading is good (I read ebooks on my phone, since the screen is lit up so I don’t have to turn on any lights or deal with a booklight), but watching a movie is even better. Why? Because it takes longer, and you don’t usually stop in the middle of movies. The best choice is something you love but never get the chance to do during the day, like watching that silly tv show that your partner refuses to watch with you. The likelihood that this activity will actually help your baby go back to sleep is directly proportional to how much you enjoy it and how long it takes. If you start a movie that you’ve been wanting to watch forever, I guarantee your baby will be asleep within minutes.
Well, either that or he’ll start crying so loud that you can’t hear the movie. But at least you tried.
5. Read about developmental stages and how they cause sleep disturbances. The wonder weeks site (or the book if you have it) is a good start. This will not improve things, but it will make you feel better. Now you have an explanation for your baby’s sleeplessness! The best part of this is that the wonder “weeks” actually have a pretty wide range when they can occur, and since they happen pretty frequently, you can convince yourself that any week is actually part of a wonder week. Which will give you hope that it will end soon.
Which may or may not be true, and even if it does, there’s another wonder week coming right on the heels of this one. But like I said, it will make you feel better.
6. If you really can’t convince yourself, by any stretch of the imagination, that you’re in a wonder week, then try reading baby sleep advice sites. This will not make you feel better–it’ll make you certain that you’re doing everything wrong (because no matter what you’re doing to help your baby sleep, there’s an expert who will tell you you’re doing it wrong), but it will make you feel like you’re doing something constructive. You’re actually not, because most baby sleep advice is all the same, and most of it starts with what you do during the day. But reading about it might make you feel like there is something you can do. Which is probably not true, but it’s a nice thing to think about in the middle of the night. And you’ll probably forget all the advice by morning anyway, so no harm done.
7. Go on facebook and post a status about how you’re feeling right now. Ok, so some of your friends might defriend you if you posted what you really feel right now. But that’s okay. They weren’t real friends anyway. As a new parent, you need friends who can take the complaining about lack of sleep.
8. Call a friend in a different timezone. If you’re lucky enough to have friends in, you know, China. Just be sure you calculate the time zones correctly. Your friend in California will not appreciate it if you call them at 3 am EST. It’s not that much earlier there.
9. Go outside. Sit on your porch and watch the moonrise. Or the sunrise. Or Venus rising. Or whatever the heck is going on in the sky right now and who really cares what planet that is anyway? But the cold air might help baby sleep.
10. Make your partner take a turn. I put this last on the list out of respect for single parents, who probably need ideas for dealing with night wakings more than parents with partners do. But if your partner is around, then by all means, move this option to the top of the list. If you’ve been awake for an hour and baby isn’t going back to sleep, then by golly it’s the other parent’s turn.
11. If all else fails, get up for the day. Make some coffee (lots of coffee), and eat breakfast. Fold laundry. Whatever. If you have older kids, start looking for a babysitter for the afternoon so you can take a nap later. If you have a job, email your boss and tell him you won’t be coming in today. Because at some point, eventually, your baby will sleep. I promise. He won’t stay awake forever. And when he does finally go back to sleep, you should do the same.