- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Sleep, nod off, conk out, snooze and catch some z’s — all words expressing how to reach that wonderful, and now seemingly unattainable, state. The rested, relaxed shoulders and mind that a good night’s sleep produces are a mere memory. Yes, I miss those days, and nights, and wonder if I will ever feel that good again.

That’s right. Get your sleep now if you’re a parent to be. Once the baby arrives, there is no telling how many hours of snoozing in a row you’ll get — or not get.

The Little Viking was a great sleeper his first three months. In fact, his father and I were the envy of the neighborhood. But after the 3-month mark, his shut-eye pattern went south. Why? His teeth bothered him initially. Then it was wet diapers.

Now he’s 11 months old, and we’re not quite sure what the problem is. It could be anything from stomach cramps to separation anxiety.

Finding a good sleep solution is for some what finding a good weight-loss diet is for others. It’s that difficult. Consequently, sleep advice books are almost as prolific as diet books. Don’t nurse the baby to sleep, some say. Let your baby cry it out, others say. Don’t use a family bed, a third group says.

The sleep debate also is ongoing on parenting Web sites, in chat rooms and in play groups. How do you get your child to sleep on his or her back, which is considered safer than sleeping on the tummy? How and when should you expect the child to go from two naps to one? How long should the naps be? When should the child go to sleep at night? What calming routine should you use for nighttime?

In the middle of this sea of questions and advice is the sleep-deprived parent who is so tired he or she can barely remember his or her own name, has a hard time concentrating and is a little on edge. Keep in mind that systematic sleep deprivation is a form of torture.

In this frazzled state, it’s no wonder parents start worrying about bad sleep patterns and the long-term consequences of lost sleep. Will the Little Viking turn into an insomniac? What if he gets the tight shoulders of his sleep-deprived mama? Or the caffeine addiction of his exhausted papa?

In attempting to improve the Little Viking’s sleep pattern, we tried to identify possible bad habits. The first one was easy. The little guy had a habit of waking up and eating several times a night.

He’s a hungry guy, but his eating at 2 a.m. and maybe also at 5 a.m. every night was interfering with everyone’s life. Fortunately, this habit was pretty easy to break. Now when the Little Viking wakes up and wants something in his belly, he gets water, which seems to be fine with him.

Another “bad” habit is that we don’t let him stand in his crib and cry his little heart out. We always come up and comfort him, and according to many books and fellow parents, this is a no-good practice. The Little Viking needs to learn to go to sleep on his own and not feel abandoned if he wakes up alone in his crib.

But letting one’s baby cry himself to sleep is much easier said than done. Using oneself as a yardstick may not always be appropriate, but both my husband and I feel that crying is the Little Viking’s way of communicating that something is wrong, and if we don’t respond, then we’re basically saying, “We don’t care what you feel.”

We eventually, however, need to just get over it. Our friends tell us that if the Little Viking is fed, bathed, read to, cuddled and changed, we have met his needs and he should be able to go to sleep on his own. They’re probably right. Yet feeling or, worse, being lonely at night is usually not an enviable place to be whether you’re a baby or an adult.

Until the day we feel ready for the “cry it out” method, we’re using our own, not-always-successful method of getting the little guy to sleep.

We give him a big dose of mommy and daddy time before bed to show him he is our No. 1 and that everything else, including dirty dishes and laundry, can wait. We read “Very Busy Spider” and “Elmo Loves You” and take a bath with rubber ducky, trying to create that soothing, cozy setting for sleep.

When he wakes up at night, we rock and cuddle with him until he goes back to sleep. These methods are considered crutches and bad habits by baby experts — but to us, it’s about showing affection.

As with all aspects of child-rearing, improving sleep patterns is a learning experience for both child and parent. We want to teach and instill independence in the Little Viking, but we also want to show him attention and affection. We’ll keep tweaking until we get it right.

Gabriella Boston is a features writer for The Washington Times. She and her husband welcomed their “Little Viking” in May 2002. Send e-mail to [email protected]

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