Saying Goodbye to Bleary Eyed Exhaustion?

My son is almost three years old. A week ago he slept for 4.75 hours straight, from 8 pm until nearly 1 am. That was the lifetime record for maximum time slept in his own bed.

He does not nap. He’s never napped in any consistent way. I was estimating with my husband a few days ago that he’s probably taken 40 one-hour-plus long naps in his post-infancy life.

Sleeping Son

Rare moment.

Some of you know what it is like to have a “hard sleeper.” You are maybe remembering your own years without REM sleep. Your own bleary-eyed dependance on coffee. Maybe you are in this stage of perpetually interrupted sleep too, because you have a normal infant, or a pre-schooler you’re still “working with” on sleep stuff.

Some of you are maybe thinking your particular magic program would have solved everything if my husband and I had just known about it and been good enough parents to institute it faithfully. You people should probably keep quiet while those of us in the former category quietly weep, because your well meant sleep advice sounds exactly like this:

Don’t let your baby sleep too long, except when they’ve been napping too much, then you should wake them. Never wake a sleeping baby. Any baby problem can be solved by putting them to bed earlier, even if they are waking up too early. If your baby wakes up too early, put them to bed later or cut out a nap. Don’t let them nap after 5 pm. Sleep begets sleep, so try to get your child to sleep as much as possible. Put the baby to bed awake but drowsy. Don’t wake the baby if it fell asleep while nursing.

The only thing more trying than having a baby with terrible sleep issues is having a big kid with terrible sleep issues. Everyone can sympathize with a new mom and dad whose infant is keeping them up. When your nearly three-year-old has never slept through the night, you’re a leper parent. Other parents feel kinda bad for you, but mostly they just don’t want to catch whatever horrible thing it is you have.

Also, toddlers are able to escape. Really, what is a six month old subjected to Cry It Out gonna do? They are gonna cry, right? That’s what makes the technique so painful for parents whose kids never settle. There is a point where you just can’t listen to your beloved child go through that anymore no matter what some fucking book promises. We made it nearly two hours one night. It sucked and didn’t change a goddamned thing. We have another child in the house – a school age daughter who needs her sleep too – and there comes a point when enough is enough. Did we give in? It was more dramatic than that: we failed. Or perhaps the techniques failed. Who knows.

The point at which we had to transition our monkey-boy son out of his crib was the day we were attempting a variation of Cry It Out and he responded with Climb It Out. He grasped the top rail of the crib, jumped up and down hard enough to shake the house for awhile and eventually pole-vaulted himself right out of his crib. We heard the dull thud of a 20 month old landing flat on his back on the carpet, then brief silence and a change in pitch to the crying that had both my husband and I out of bed (where we’d been cowering against the crying from the next room) and sprinting to our son’s room to check on him.

Oliver was fine. I’m not sure we were. From that night on we put him to bed on his crib mattress placed directly on the floor. (As every college kid knows, you can’t fall off the floor.) Our son took this new arrangement as free license to come and go. After all, the only thing keeping him in his crib were the jail bars and now those were gone.

Eventually, with consistent, diligent effort, including many nights where his challenging ran longer than our patience, we got him used to falling asleep in his own, bar-free bed in his own room. At around midnight, usually right around the time I was getting ready to put my book down and fall asleep myself, I would hear a creaky door open and little padding footfalls down the hall as he made his way, quite self possessed, to our room and crawled up into bed with me.

The remainder of the night – however long that lasted, would involve Oliver aggressively sleep-punching and sleep-kicking me and Homebrew Husband. I had dreams of not being able to breathe and woke to Oliver doing “the human scarf” across my neck. Once he wasn’t next to me in the bed when I woke up and I thought, briefly, that he hadn’t come in during the night. Oh no. He had sandwormed his way to the foot of the bed and was curled up at the base of the bed, under the blanket. This, in case it’s not apparent, is not an American Pediatric Association approved way of sleeping. Dangerous and scary.

And so it went for a year or so, until last week. I had – and let’s be frank here – given up. Like a pregnant woman ten days overdue starts to believe that she will never actually deliver her child and the whole thing is a cruel hoax, I had begun to believe my son would never actually sleep through the night.

I was coping as best I could. I mean, I had started to make compromises, sure. Nearly three years of chronic sleep deprivation will do that to you. All the first-child pride in such important brag-worthy bullshittery as limited screen time, for example, had gone out the window. If he would sit still for 30 or 45 minutes in front of a flickering screen so I could rest or do laundry or write, that was a solid win in my book. I was just hanging on, and sometimes not particularly well. I suspect Oliver would say the same, if he could think it through like that.

Then, last week. Maybe it was an inflection point? We were returning from a stay in Bend, Oregon, where I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding (sorry for the dearth of posts, by the way, I’ve been gone.) On the way back through Portland, Homebrew Husband and I spontaneously decided to stop in at IKEA to check out the “Big Boy Bed” offerings.

We found a fantastic white metal twin trundle bed – simple and on-sale (not to mention tax free because we were in Oregon) and we snapped it up, along with a new mattress. We let Oliver pick out his own bedding. We basically threw money at the hope – the whisper of the possibility – that we might improve our current sleep situation.

Did it work? Well, the day after we returned from our vacation I had given up on the idea of additional sleep by 4:30 am, and snuck out of bed, leaving my husband and son behind. After stumbling around the pre-dawn garden for a bit with a giant mug of coffee I started assembling the new bed. An hour later, my son was wide awake and alongside me, helping me with the Allen wrench and the funny screws.

Oliver has taken to his Big Boy Bed. His favorite part is the pull-out trundle bed we fitted with a hand-me-down twin mattress and let him jump on during the day. My high-energy son is very, very good at jumping as you might imagine.

We took advantage of the change to re-attempt various positive sleep behavior techniques: bed time routine sticker chart, longer wind-down time, earlier bed time, etc. etc. It seems to be working. In the past week we’ve watched his time in his own bed increase night by night. It’s slow-going, not some miracle, and in the morning he’s still in my bed, but it’s definitely improving night over night.

So, cross your fingers for us all. Our family could all really use some more and better sleep on a consistent basis. Hopefully the Big Boy Bed really is our ticket.

If you are a parent, what did you do to help your young children sleep?

Comments

  1. bless your heart…our kids are almost 5 and 6 and are finally what I would consider good sleepers. we didn’t have it nearly as bad as you do and I know how tired we were, so you have my sympathy. To help our oldest, who sounds a bit like your son, we took her to occupational therapy (OT) and found out she had some sensory issues that were interfering with her sleep…have you ever considered it? It was a life saver for all of us. i wish you many sweet dreams in the future.

    • Sara Mason says:

      We had this same issue with our son! OT was our salvation! I was nearly in tears trying to get my little guy to stay in his bed. Who knew sensory issues could derail sleep! I surely didn’t! Not to throw anymore useless parenting advice at you, but having our son evaluated and getting regular OT has changed our lives. You might want to consider it. Honestly, my son sleeps 12 hours a night with a two hour nap during the day. I never knew he could do this, I just assumed I had a “bad sleeper”.

  2. Abigail says:

    I have a bad sleeper too. By the age of 3 he still hadn’t slept through the night and now (at 14!) he still doesn’t but at least his poor sleep habits no longer interfere with ours. PHEW! My heart goes out to you, it’s a long and hard slog and you have to do things that will work. For a while my son slept in the hallway outside my living room so that I could get (as a then-single mum) some “adult time” watching the tv and he could try to fall asleep without me. We called it his “hallway bed” and that was my “mummy time.” Oh how your post brought back memories.

  3. Yea kids that don’t sleep suck. Our oldest didn’t start sleeping through the night until around 2.5 years old. Then at best it was 50/50 as to whether he would be sleeping in his bed or ours. Even at 4.5 y/o he periodically joins us but at least he lets me transfer him back to his bed after 5 mins…assuming I’m awake at that time.

    His younger brother much better but we are attempting to have them share a room because of an impending move and soon to come baby #3. Now his bad sleep habits are transferring to his younger brother and we have a new one so no sleep in our household for anyone.

  4. Hooray! Hooray hooray hooray!
    And I’m so sorry! My middle son was the tough sleeper. At 18 months he was still waking once a night. I was (surprise!) pregnant and basically hysterical because I never thought I’d sleep again. But he did sleep. Comparatively though, his non-sleeping wasn’t that bad. But it felt bad to us.

    I actually have two close friends who have had real non-sleepers. One who’s oldest slept fine until she had a newborn, and then suddenly her 4 year old wouldn’t sleep. She eventually hired a sleep therapist (do they have these where you live?) for the family and it help a lot.

    The other friend, her daughter was very very much like Oliver. Her daughter would not sleep from birth. They would do laps around the house in the stroller and drive the neighborhood. They co-slept, and they didn’t. They tried everything. They played musical beds for a solid four years. When she went to kindergarten this past fall, she finally started sleeping routinely, mostly in her own bed. But I know that she still sometimes wakes up and goes into her parents room in the middle of the night.

    The point is – do whatever you can to hang on to your sleep and sanity. And celebrate the victories, no matter how small or big. And some kids – they just don’t sleep. Eventually, they either will sleep or they will get big enough that you can sleep regardless of them. Hang in there!

  5. No words of advice here, just commiseration. Our boys are 2 and 4… both still sleep with us in one way or another. 4 year old still doesn’t ‘sleep through the night’, really. I asked an acquaintance whose kids coslept, at what age could I expect him to move to his own bed for the whole night without a fuss and she LAUGHED and said that her 9-year-old had just done that. I might have cried a bit, yeah. My two-year-old still nurses at night, at least twice and usually more. Needless to say, I haven’t had a full night’s rest since before I got pregnant 5 years ago… Ah well. I’ll sleep when they’re older, right?

    • Not when they start driving to parties

      • @dina : LOL so so true!
        @ Mara: for perspective, we co-slept with our two boys, and both sleep peacefully in their own beds – consistently since about 2 yrs for #2 and about 3.5yrs with #1. I am blessed, but the point here, is that not ALL co-sleepers have to wait until near-adolesence to get their kids out of their beds! Good luck!

        • Thanks Megan! It’s nice to know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel… We’re about to do a big room re-arrangement that will put them in the same room. My husband is hoping that maybe they’ll sleep together instead of with us. I’m not holding my breath, though!

  6. I so hear your pain – my son, now about to turn 4, was a terrible sleeper until Christmas. Like I had to sleep in his twin bed with him from midnight onwards, had to be walked in his buggy to fall asleep in the first place, often woke at 2 or 3am for no reason and stayed up until 6am… He had been a bad sleeper from the start.

    We were losing our minds, and then we hired a sleep consultant. It was fixed in a MONTH. Over the phone. He now is asleep by about 7.30pm and wakes at 6.15am (which may sound early but I know you are seeing the uninterrupted hours there!) and it was life changing. Our sleep consultant was Pam Nease, google her, she does international clients. I cannot tell you how much better I feel now that I actually sleep.

    Hang in there. x

  7. When my mother-in-law recently told me that after her eldest of five was born, that she didn’t sleep for 20 years, I thought she was exaggerating. Now I am a mother of a one year old and a foyr year old, and now I know she was telling me the cold hard truth. Sleep deprivation has turned me into a different person. I recently had the experience of someone asking me “Does your baby sleep through the night yet?” I wanted to say “Man, my four year old doesn’t sleep through the night yet!” But of course I said no such thing for fear of being judged an inadequate parent. All this sleeping-through-the-night crap … It’s just crap. Hell, I’m 44, and I can probably count on one hand the amount of times I have slept through the night since I was in my twenties. I really don’t think we were meant to sleep through the night solidly. There is research to suggest that this “idea” of a solid eight hours of sleep is a very modern creation that is not based in the reality of primate sleep needs or sleep patterns. You may want to read some of that. I did, and it helped me to accept my and my family’s sleep patterns. If you ask around, you will probably find that interrupted sleep patterns, in kids and adults, are the norm and not the exception.

  8. Oh my goodness! I’m so sorry for you, tired mama! Sleep deprivation is such an insidious thing too–you don’t realize until you have a couple of ‘eight-straight’ under your belt WHY it is that you’ve been on a week-long crying jag, grousing at everyone, and just generally hating life!
    We had an ‘active’ non-sleeper too, with similar bed-burrowing habits. He also–at two–was the size of an average 4/5 year old. Once he was in our bed , he slept like a litter of pups…a very large litter of very large puppies. He slept-walked too, creating new forms of terror for me. Once, I found him digging through the fridge at 2 a.m.! We had to put in locks at the top of doors to keep him from wandering out in the wee hours, and duct-tape the fridge above his reach each night.
    When he was three-ish or so, and able to have a little understanding, we cut a deal with him–he could come in our room at night, but he couldn’t come in our bed. We explained (as best we could) that he was such a big boy now, that there wasn’t quite enough room for us all, so if he wanted to sleep with us, he had to sleep at the foot of our bed. I put a blanket down there for him, and more mornings than not I would wake up–after sleeping all night–to find him curled up on the floor with his ‘blankie’ on the bed I’d made for him there. It seemed to work, and eventually he began spending whole nights in his own ‘big boy bed’, making the transition on his own.
    Hang in there Mom–it’s such a hard time right now, but it WILL get better! I hope Oliver’s new bed does the trick for you all!

  9. jambongris says:

    I don’t know how you’ve managed. I wish I knew what led to our success but I imagine it was mostly luck. Our son, currently 5 months old, has been sleeping through the night since around 7 or 8 weeks. He usually stays down for 10+ hours every night and I wake him up as I leave for work in the morning. The only thing I can think of is that we were always careful to not be quiet around him so he can sleep through moderate levels of noise no problem. Occasionally he cries at bedtime so we wait it out for 10 minutes then soothe him then let him cry for another 15 and repeat with longer and longer wait times until he falls asleep. We also never co-slept because I’m a violent sleeper. Of course he is still very young so this could all change but we definitely realize how lucky we are.

  10. I have a 3yo and 5yo who have been terrible sleepers and to this day are more likely to wake me more times in a night than my 3mo. And i have finally given up any guilt about my habits and sleeping because my third baby is the charm. you can lay her down drowsy and she goes to sleep. She sleeps 6-7 hours at night at 3months old and easily takes naps. Seriously, is the child, not you!

    • tawn, you are so right! I have four bio children, all over the age of 12 now and no one co-sleeps except for special fun sleep overs at THEIR apartments ;-). Three of them were hard sleepers, the third was easy. She would as to go to bed as soon as she started talking! When #3 was little, I thought maybe I had finally learned what to do after two bad sleepers. Then 9 years later #4 came along. Another hard sleeper. It is the kid.
      Hang in there Erika, you are on the path to better sleep, eventually….
      On another note, it may actually take you quite a while to ‘learn’ how to sleep through the night your self after so many years of interrupted sleep. My kids started sleeping through the night eventually, but it took me a few more years to regulate my own sleep!!!

      • I meant that no one co sleeps anymore except for fun sleep-overs. We did it all back in the day!!! ;-)

  11. Natasha says:

    Oh my gosh, everyone I know has babies and children who sleep while mine (now 6) NEVER SLEPT! It was hell. He stopped napping at one (was NEVER a good napper), never actually slept “through the night” (he would average an hour to two hours of sleep before waking and screaming bloody murder until attended to – no chance in the world was he going to “cry it out”!) until one magical night at three and a half he actually slept 8 hours!! But, after that continued to wake up multiple times per night for the next several years. It is only now, at 6 years old, that he doesn’t cry or wake up most night (still does some). He still doesn’t go down well though. When he was 2 and a half we went to a sleep clinic. There advice was great, but not effective in helping his sleep patterns. I checked out every.single.book in the library that had sleep and child in the title and tried to implement the plethora of suggestions and advice to no real avail. I wanted to know what was wrong with my child since literally everyone I know had children sleeping through the night as infants! I felt mad, jealous, exhausted, and scared that I would never sleep again and scared that something was wrong with my son. I spoke with the pediatritian multiple times. He is fine. He is healthy. His brain just works differently. He doesn’t want to sleep and even when he is tired, his body and mind won’t allow him to slow down enough to fall asleep in a normal amount of time (it usually takes an hour to two hours for him to fall asleep after he is in bed, and yes, we do a relaxing wind-down “routine” every night). That still sucks pretty bad and gets frustrating. But, it is a million and one times better than those first four-five years. It took me a long time to accept that he is just different and there wasn’t a magic answer, book, or method for him (and us!!). Hang in there, you guys will make it!

  12. We had to go gluten and dairy free for our boys to sleep through the night. Also, sleep buddies, a big pillow that they could sleep against, a heavy afghan over their bodies. Once we did that, we all got to sleep.

    • Yes, we had to do this with a few of our kids, though it was just dairy and they had to avoid it after lunchtime (they could have it in the morning and it was fine.) After a year or so, they were fine having dairy any time, and slept just fine. I think food sensitivities and/or allergies can be a big contributor to not sleeping well.

      • My kids have problems with gluten and dairy allergies/intolerances too! My daughter used to wake up every two hours or more at night before I removed all dairy.

  13. Oh, Erica. I really feel your pain and am so hopeful for you. I was truly going insane after really bad sleep deprivation with my second child. I was angry, often so tired I knew I was unsafe to drive, and probably had depression from the lack of ZZZs. Both of my boys were bad sleepers as babies (you know, until 12-18 months…not the newborn weeks) and my youngest continues to be a night partier if the situation isn’t set up perfect. He was three in April and this is what we have to do: 1) His room has a child-proof door so that he can’t open it. It sounds mean but he isn’t upset by it and we feel much safer because we’re not worried about him getting up at night and getting into the kitchen or going outside without us hearing him. 2) He can’t sleep in the same room as other people. This is his ticket to partying. He thinks we’re all there to play. 3) We have to make sure he gets to bed early if he misses his nap and we have to keep his nap under 2-hours or else he stays up too late and gets overtired.

    We’re about to go camping, so I’m gearing up for a few nights of partying with my 3-year old. Maybe there will be a RV party somewhere we can join.

    Hang in there!

    • There will totally be an RV or campfire party somewhere you can join. Find the childless people who are up late with a fire and if they’re anything like my 8 friends and I, they’ll be delighted to make new friends and feel helpful instead of annoying!

  14. The best advice on kids sleeping arrangements I ever got was that whatever works for your family is the right answer for your family. I have a six year old plagued with night terrors, a three year old who refuses to close her eyes until at least eleven, and a 18 month old who will sleep for ages as long as someone lies down with her until she falls asleep. After trying every gimmick in every book and magazine available, we threw them all out and came to our own solution. My husband likes to stay up late so he goes to bed with the night owl, in the older girls room, so he is on hand for the nightmare scares (which are much rarer now that she knows he’s there). I am an early bird so I take the baby to bed in “our bed.” Family bed, sort of. Do we get judged by people who read all the experts, you bet. But ever since we figured out our own system, we are all healthier, happier, and almost always get a good solid eight hours.

  15. Oh ugh, those poor sleep years were hard. And you started (or maintained, idk when you actually started blogging) a popular, amusing, uber-helpful blog during this time period!

    For us, sleep has always been an indicator of health (both naps and nighttime), so removing foods (gluten and dairy for kid #1, a few more for kid #2), supplementing magnesium, and using melatonin for some time periods have gotten us finally to sleep nirvana–they fall asleep at a reasonable time, they sleep an age-appropriate number of hours and seem well-rested during the day. But they’re also 7 and 9 now, and I’ve been problem-solving for quite a few of these years.

  16. We’ve been there, and I know it is not fun to have poor sleep for so long. But my son is now 15 and we all sleep through the night well. Our son was 7 before he started sleeping in his own bed all night. But that didn’t happen until we moved his bed into our bedroom. We had been cosleepers for a long time, and he often spent much of the night in our bed once he gat his own bed. But, as he got older, we were getting worn out by the middle of the night wakings, and the lack of space for three humans in one queen size bed. We finally made the connection that, when we were visiting in other people’s homes and all three of us stayed in the same room, our son would actually stay in bed (either an extra twin in the same room or a bed on the floor). It is my theory that he wanted to know we were available to him. When we moved his bed into our room, he may have been able to see us when he woke up in the middle of the night, or maybe he just heard our breathing and knew were were near. Anyway, even though we didn’t have our room to ourselves, having our bed to ourselves and not getting up in the middle of the night was so great for all of us. A couple years later, when we repainted his “bedroom” and did some reorganization of his toys, he told us he wanted to sleep in his room. So, when he was ready, he moved away from us (just next door) and has slept well in his own bed ever since. Wishing you all a smooth transition towards better sleep.

  17. This is going to be a very remedial suggestion. Our son has always been an early riser. Like 4 or 5 in the morning when we were still asleep. Once we even found him running around outside in the early morning hours, which freaked us out. We live on acreage so it wasn’t a scary deal, but still.

    While I am not a fan of noise toys, especially in the morning, we did get some pretty cool toys and implemented a system of him being able to get up whenever he needed, play with his toys and even go get a snack and bring it to his room as long as he didn’t go outside or be ridiculously loud. It worked. Your guy is still a bit young to trust to that extent, I would suspect, and I’m sure you’ve already done this, but maybe some fun new toys that can only be played with quietly in his room? Allow a little snack area or something that is safe (crackers, juice box) and let him go for it without interrupting you.

    I put tall deadbolts on my doors to the outside when my oldest was little. While I was showering she opened the front door and walked outside. This was when we lived in a neighborhood. I rushed through the house in my towel and found the front door open. The next day we installed locks that had be opened with a key and kept the key high up right next to the door. I locked them only when my toddler was busy playing by herself for a few minutes.

    I am a fan of letting kids be who they are. I can’t force them to fall asleep. My oldest, now 12, stays up until the wee hours reading in bed with a headlamp. I guess I’d rather have that problem than a host of others.

    If you can make their non-sleep night hours safe and allow yourself some rest, you are a good mother.

  18. You’re not alone. I think that kids crawling into bed with parents somewhere in the night is one of the dirty little secrets we all think we’re keeping to ourselves. It’s so prevalent, I’m beginning to think it’s normal and typical. I console myself with the same thing I told myself when potty training: No kid goes off to college or their own apartment still sleeping with mom (or wearing a diaper). Somehow, we all get there. I wish you all sweet sleep.

  19. Mary Hall says:

    I’m so right there with you. My youngest didn’t sleep by himself until shortly after he was four. I spent four years stumbling around, half sleep deprived and trying to keep our lives together. This whole “wake up in the middle of the night” thing was completely foreign to me–both my daughters slept through the nights–in their own beds–since they were six weeks old. My son? Nope. I coped with it by planning for him to come into my bed in the middle of the night. (Advice: buy a bigger bed. If that’s not possible, make a special pallet on the floor and have a conversation beforehand–”This is where you can sleep when you come in during the night.”) Finally, shortly after his fourth birthday, he spent the night (the ENTIRE NIGHT) in how own bed. I got up in the morning and swore he must have been dead and raced into his bedroom to check on my (sleeping soundly) son. He’s 19 now and sleeps just fine in his own bed. It’s likely that your son will as well. Eventually.

  20. So know what you have! Three kids ages 13-8-and -6….Sleep what’s that? I would drive up the coast of California to get my first one asleep. I knew where every drive through coffee shop was :)
    Gas prices? ha! Number three same way–My vacation $ went to nap drives! I told my husband I should drive a motor home! I live in my car anyway :)

  21. I 2nd the OT (occupational therapy) eval. I suspect the reason he loves to jump on the bed so much is because it compresses his joints and gives him lots of sensory imput. he’s self soothing. I have a 6yo son that was the same as your guy. I have an autistic daughter who’s sensory problems are off the charts. I have a 1yr that won’t sleep much, is non verbal, and always on the move. I suspect he’ll be in OT in a few months. your little guy doesn’t sound all that bad, but an OT can give you lots of points and tips to helping your son sleep and calm himself. I may be wrong, but it can’t hurt to check into esp if it helps him & helps you get a good nights sleep. the sooner these kids get help the sooner they’re better. my 6yo will always be a busy kid, but he’s sooooo much better than he was when we started. & he’s no longer on an IEP in school. he’s a “normal” kid now. just trying to help, sorry if I offended you.

  22. Have you read Our Babies Ourselves? If not, read it. You need to understand WHY he’s not sleeping. It won’t make you feel more rested but you will understand why he doesn’t sleep. I have three girls – girl 1 was up every 40 minutes around the clock until she was about 3.5, and then she’d wake up at least once a night until she was 6. Girl two came out sleeping and has always slept. And girl three followed in the footsteps of girl 1, except now at just over 3 she sleeps. I sleep with two kids, my husband with one, and finally, 9 years later, we’re all rested. We survived.

    The more you can let go and just embrace the tired and try to relax your pace, the easier it will be on you. Don’t fight it. There’s no point. In due time, everyone sleeps through the night. Or, like me, they don’t ever sleep through the night, but they no longer need the reassurance of a parent near by to get themselves back to sleep.

  23. You are not alone… We never attempted CIO because it just wasn’t going to work for us and both of my kids (just-turned-3 and 5.5) sleep in my bed all night, every night. Neither one of them has *ever* slept through the night. The five year old is getting close. He typically only wakes once or twice now, and often doesn’t purposefully wake me. The three year old half-wakes constantly, and makes sure I’m awake, too, before she goes back to sleep. It’s murder. It used to stress me out much more than it does. I guess now that I’m single I’m not as stressed because I don’t have to worry about how tired (and cranky) my husband will be in the morning. There was also the realization that *I* have always been a “bad sleeper”. I’m 39, a very light sleeper, and have never once slept through the night. Ever. Which I don’t say to make you cry (as a parent, I want to cry when I think about that…), but to let you know that, eventually, you learn to cope. My parents weren’t sleep deprived once I got old enough to deal with it on my own (maybe by the time I was five or so?), and I can see in the way that my son is handling his sleeplessness that I won’t be sleep deprived forever, either.

    Hang on. It really *won’t* last forever…

  24. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you. Just thinking about my son’s sleepless times makes me a little ill.

  25. Trellowyn says:

    I know I couldn’t handle the sleep deprivation. I barely function with my sleep shortage and insomnia. I have to wonder if part of it might be similar to the problems that adults have. Things like electronic stimulation and too much light close to bedtime.

  26. So sorry for you. BTDT. My 7 year old boy has been a dream sleeper almost from birth. Our 9 year old girl is another matter. She slept through the night from 4 months to 8 months and it was glorious! Don’t know why it stopped, but since then it has been an ongoing issue. She’s a naturally light sleeper and is a naturally nervous/anxious child in some ways, so I guess it’s just her personality. She now sleeps ok most nights, but if there’s even the gentlest of thunder, or if she knows that there “might” be thunder, or if she watches a scary movie, etc., etc., etc., she’ll be in our room in the middle of the night. Hang in there!

  27. Bless your heart! I tell everyone that I barely remember my son’s first year of life, because I walked through it in a sleep-deprived haze. I can only imagine four years of no sleep. My only advice is to not feel at all bad about anything that lets you get a few hours of sleep. I was a single mom for the first eight years, and I didn’t think twice about teaching my five-year-old how to get a juice box and a snack and turn the tv onto Nickelodeon so that I could get an extra hour of sleep in the morning. I also taught him to bring me a diet coke in the mornings, but in retrospect, that might have been taking the child labor a bit too far :o)

  28. I just like you. Ever so much. You’re my kind of people.

    I’m a therapist. I tell all of my clients, as a therapist and mom to a high energy, super smart 3 year old who had challenging sleep habits, that we work with what we have. That’s it. We do the best we can, and then we go get a beer. You guys rocked it. Try new stuff, when it fails, move on to the next!

    Basically kids need love, food and consistency and the rest generally works itself out. Plus – the medical definition of sleeping through the night is only 5 hours and the majority of kids don’t even do that in the first year or so.

    Man. I was so sleep deprived I started hallucinating when my daughter was 7 months old. Coffee couldn’t touch that kind of exhaustion. I got nothing but respect for ya’.

    And btw – my tot’s sleeping habits got WAY better after moving onto a big girl mattress and boxspring placed strategically right on the floor. Go figure.

  29. My five-year-old still wakes up every night and comes to find me, and he’s my GOOD sleeper. My nine-year-old didn’t sleep through the night until she was SEVEN and then she started sleeping through the night every.single.night. She still has trouble falling asleep, but I’ll take it. Hang in there!

  30. We have had similar challenges and know that each family/child is different, so no advice here! Just want to say that you should be proud of all you have accomplished under such sleep deprivation!

  31. Rosemary Edgar says:

    Oh man, do I remember those days! Seems like neither of mine slept through the night before 5 (though that’s not entirely true). The older used to fall asleep while talking, almost mid sentence. The younger fell asleep fairly reliably if I laid down with him Sometimes I spent the whole night in his twin bed (some of the best sleep I ever got). I’m with the ‘whatever works for your family’ approach. Mazel tov on lots more sleep!

  32. Nicole S. says:

    Oh, I have been there! The only thing that worked for my co-sleeping kids was to just get them in their own bad gradually, as you are doing. A bit longer each night, then one day you’ll wake up feeling….refreshed! Because they were in their own bed ALL NIGHT. It’s gonna feel awesome!

  33. My oldest was not a sleeper, much like yours; my youngest – home from the hospital – slept better from birth than my oldest did at 4 years.

    One of the things I was told by a nurse who had 3 children was that her youngest – a boy – didn’t sleep until he’d cut all his teeth; he started to sleep more soundly once he had his second year molars.

    My oldest didn’t cut his first tooth until he was over a year old. He didn’t cut his 2nd year molars until he was 4.5 years old. (The dentist said he had incredibly dense jaw bones, and given xrays, would have guessed that teeth wouldn’t grow in without surgical intervention; he also said teething would be more painful.)

    But…he did start to sleep when he’d finally cut those teeth. I have no idea if this might be relevant to your situation or not – but boy, this post brought back memories.

  34. Good lord. After reading your post and all these horrible stories, I guess I can’t complain about my kid’s horrible eating habits – at least he sleeps!

    Oliver will find his way. Til then, more cocktails and coffee.

  35. Time is the only cure that has worked for me. Our 4th child is a rough sleeper and an earlier version of myself would have been combing the library and net for ‘sleep solutions’. What I know now is that all of the so-called solutions are bullshit. Read the books if you want to, it will give you something to do while your preschoolers does laps in the living room at 11:30pm.

    Kids navigate sleep on their own schedule. And coffee is the bomb.

  36. My firstborn gave me five years of sleepless hell. When he turned 5, on his birthday, before bedtime I told him that if he would not sleep in his bed all night he will become a 4 year old and would gradually start shrinking into a baby. I might have sounded very convincing – I never had to deal with his nightly antics since then. It took me two years of good night sleep to start thinking of having a second kid. My second son was a gift form heaven – started sleeping through the night after a month!

  37. For the longest time, Jack slept in 90 minute increments. He finally slept through the night on Mother’s Day (best.present.ever) because I had been in the hospital with my sister who was in labor, and my boobs had not been available for 2 nights. Something just clicked and he did better from there on out.

    The lack of sleep was horrible, and I was commuting 2.5 hours a day. I’m still shocked to this day that I never killed anyone with my car.

    We discovered late last year that he had sleep apnea which was causing the sleep issues as well as the hyper-activity. During his sleep study, he had 13 apnea incidents where he essentially stopped breathing. Tonsils came out in February, and while he still has crazy energy, it is not at the same insane level, and he is less prone to mood swings.

    I hope the big boy bed works!

  38. It’s funny, when someone says to me, “My baby slept through the night from 2 months old” or some stuff like that, I don’t even believe them. And of course, it’s not that cut and dry anyway, my now 3.5 year old went through several phases. At one point, she was 2 and waking up several times at night. My now 10 month old is waking up about once every 2 hours starting around 3am. It’s like she just can’t do that last jog yet. And I’m with you, I simply cannot do cry-it-out, it goes against every core of my being. Weekends with grandmas (they have 3) is what saved me.

  39. My now 31 year old daughter was nearly 6 years old before she slept in her own bed for a full night. She, like your son, was a gymnast from a very young age, vaulting out of the crib at about 18 months. We made a toddlers bed using the crib frame so she didn`t has far to climb.

    Eventually I used bribery. I was expecting my second child and I desperately wanted her to sleep on her own. I started small, if she slept in her own bed for a night, she got to have a cookie, if she made a week, she got to go to McDonald`s for a treat and a play in the ball pit. We did a lot of starts and stops, before she made it to a month (a My Little Pony) and eventually to 6 months (My Little Pony Castle). Do I regret any of it? No, except I wish I’d started earlier!

  40. Mothership says:

    Ha hah hah hah… Sorry!!!! My 2nd is still not sleeping thru the night- & she’s 26 now- only waking me with the occasional phone call!
    Good luck!!!
    Actually by the time she was 4 – I was able to leave momma approved breakfasts out & taught her volume control on the video machine…. & it wasn’t soooooo bad.. I got to sleep til at least 6am!
    Btw- my 1st slept 8pm- 8am EVERY. NIGHT – from 6 wks old til she got an ear infection the day after her 1st birthday! I was warned that was not normal!!!
    But theb- Neither of the 1st 2 napped- EVER- after 3 months!
    Then- My 3rd child took TWO naps religiously til he was 2- then one til he was 3.5
    - you just never know what you’ll get in kid lotto!

  41. This is an amazing community of parents. It is incredible that you have built this empathetic, honest, open, nurturing community on such an intense lack of sleep (and the intense family interactions that go with sleep deprivation). I am in awe. Thank you!

  42. my 2 five year olds take 2 hours to get to bed – putting their “finally asleep” time at somewhere around 10 pm. after 14 hours of twin 5 year old boys, i am well past overdone by 8pm when we start the bedtime routine and in complete emotional and mental shut down by 9pm… what happens after that is a blur… and is mostly handled by my awesome husband. it wasn’t easier when they were babies. i humbly and still somewhat heartbroken-ly refer to their babyhood bedtime routine as “mommy torture”: hold me/don’t hold me/don’t hold him/hold me/rock/don’t rock/sing/stop singing/put me down X 2.

    my 9 year old still wants story time *every night* and has trouble going to sleep without it. (didn’t see that comin’ when we started that (very loved and sweet and treasured) habit at 2 weeks old. he was always a dream sleeper – long stretches and lots of naps – but looking back i probably could have really used a warning on the probable persistence of the lovely “bed time story” routine or some tips on broaching that unspoken “transition phase”.

    all that being said – my kids basically sleep great and i am exhausted enough as it is. that makes me wish i had some sort of medal to give you. there isn’t enough coffee in the world for me to have been able to survive three years of less than 5 hours sleep at a time and still been a decent person. glad the new bed/fresh attempt is working for you! hope it continues!

    btw – totally love reading your posts. you are hilarious.

  43. Sarah Z says:

    First of all, I am in awe of what you accomplish in a sleep deprived state! You are amazing!

    Second, I am right there with you. I have an almost three year old who is a pretty decent sleeper (thankful for that!) and an eleven month old who is not so great, although, miracle of miracles he is asleep in his crib in our room right now. I’m sure he will be in our bed within the hour, for another night of thrashing, nursing, and waking. We are unintentional co-sleepers, and trying to change that.

    I have not had a decent night of sleep for a long time, and I am tired. The worse the night of sleep is, the less patience I have, especially with my toddler. It sucks, but I just try to remember it is temporary, and they grow up so fast. Right? That’s what they say! I cannot wait to feel rested again. I feel like the lack of sleep is negatively impacting my health. I was sick so frigging much this last winter. It was ridiculous.

    Good luck with the big boy bed. We need to make that transition with my older guy, since he’s climbing out of his crib all the time now anyway. It’s time for him to give up the binky, too, but I have been a “binky enabler” because I cannot bring myself to lost any more sleep dealing with that transition!

    I wish peaceful rest for you and your family (and me and mine!). On that note, I’d better get my ass to bed, since both of my kids are asleep right now. Night night!

  44. Claudia says:

    Our two kids are grown now and are fantastic adults but I felt that I spent at least five years and maybe it was six always being woken by a child. I could never let either of them cry for more then 20 minutes. I just couldn’t stand it. My body never got to wake up naturally because it had gotten enough sleep. I was always exhausted. The only thing that I feel is a tip that I can offer is this… at one point I explained to our son that he had gotten so big that all three of us could no longer sleep in one bed so though he was still always welcome to come into our room and sleep he would now need to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor next to our bed. Not because we didn’t love him in our bed but because he was now so grown-up that he didn’t fit. He bought that and was fine coming in in the middle of the night and sleeping in the sleeping bag. We all slept better that way. And that worked again for our daughter. To me that lack of sleep when you have pre-schoolers is the very worst part of parenting.

  45. mary sather says:

    the epic bribe turned the tide for us. at just before age 3, i bought the holy grail, a disney princess crown and put it up on a high shelf in her room and told her it was a “big girl sleep in bed” crown. she WANTED it!!! We talked about it about every 10 minutes that day, reminding her that if she slept in her bed all night, we could open it in the morning. it came in a clear box, and I let her hold it in bed that night. She woke and carried it upstairs at one or two points, but I led her back to bed without protest, reminding her of the deal. in the morning we had a big deal opening of the box and praised her all day for sleeping like a big girl. The second night I had a slightly lesser prize, and I carried the prizes out for about a week. It wasn’t a complete fix, but it went a LONG ways toward getting her to accept that her bed was the place for her, and ended the screaming about being taken back to her bed. another thing that helped was putting a comfy chair by her bed so that if she was really having a hard time, I could sit comfortably near her, and doze off myself or read with a book light and not have to be smushed into a toddler bed.

  46. Hi,
    I understand your pain (and sleep deprivation), and I hope that the big boy bed is the turning point. My son is just over 2 and has slept through the night less than 10 times total. He now typically only wakes up once a night, for anywhere from a few minutes to 1-2 hours (sigh), but we still have those nights where he’s up multiple times. Sometimes he settles easily, other times he’s up and crying/whining/rolling all over the place. Most of the time now he sleeps on his floor (his choice), although his dad or I typically end up in there with him sometime in the middle of the night.
    We also tried Cry It Out several times at varying ages without success. He just would not settle, typically ending with us cleaning vomit up off the carpet at midnight, so we gave up on that strategy.
    We try to just stay consistent with his schedule and wind-down time and hope that he’ll continue to improve. I luckily have a new job where I work about 30% less hours than I used to, but when I think back on in, I have no idea how I made it through the 60-hour plus work weeks and the on-call shifts (I’m a veterinarian).
    I just wanted to be another voice letting you know that you’re not alone, and I’m glad to here that maybe it will actually get better. Good luck!

  47. That sucks, you must be exhausted. I had two of those, both boys. I resorted to drugs, on the advice of a GP. Phenergan to be precise, an antihistamine. Would work for a couple of days,but at least it game me some respite. Hope things get better for you all.

  48. la-la-lisa says:

    OMG I can so relate. My little guy didn’t “sleep through the night” and on his own until he was closer to 3. I would lie to the ped, friends, and anyone else who asked about his sleeping. You do what you have to, right? My guy slept with us until almost 3. Around that time his molars came in, we bought him the oh so luxurious Thomas sheets and comforter and oh yeah, he slept. Finally he slept. He’s still a pain in the butt to get to sleep at night, but at the age of 8, he stays in his room….for the most part. I do notice that if he is sleep deprived, the behavior is not so good even now. Sleep. Oh sweet sleep!

  49. Thank you! I have the longest belly laugh I’ve had in a while. I had tears streaming down my face and my husband was doubled over, too. We can relate. Oh, yes, we can relate.

  50. I’m a baby sleep coach and all this nonsense is the reason why I even have a job! Not the lack of sleep, but the total lack of clear answers about what to do about it. I’m glad it’s finally working out for you!!

  51. Kathleen says:

    Hi. I am new to commenting. I left some notes on this topic in the reply box under your sleepless discussion. Did I do that wrong? Can you find it?
    Peace, Kathleen

  52. a long time ago, my son kept waking us up for the first three years of his life, and as soon as he could walk, he would find his way into our bed. We were so exhausted, we could hardly stand ourselves. We tried all of the suggestions from all of the wise people around us, to no avail. We put him to bed, we ignored him when he was awake at the wrong hours. When he started coming to us, we would consistently pick him up and blearily stagger to his room to put him back to bed, etc., etc. I’m sure you get the picture! Finally in desperation I said to my husband, “he either doesn’t like sleeping alone or he likes our bed!” So we had a bed made like ours and by the time he was four we had remembered what it was like to sleep through the night! You have to find what his problem is, then solve it! Good luck!

  53. no judging here, just commiseration! I think my youngest was close to 4 years old by the time we were able to have him consistently sleep in his own bed during the night. It’s funny how your notion of a “full night” sleep changes when you’ve got a kiddo like this. I’d never in my life considered 4-6 hours of sleep a “full night”… hah. But when he hit the 4+ hours mark I could have wept for joy, except I was so sleep-exhausted at that point it didn’t really sink in until later. Hang in there, it gets better, just do whatever seems to be working for you.

  54. Christie says:

    ugh. we’re back to teaching the 11 year old body scan and special place meditation techniques, ’cause we’ve never been able to teacher her to sleep. She’s supposed to go to camp next month and she’s worried she won’t sleep the whole time. That’s a bit of exaggeration, but it sucks to be 11 and awake someplace not home when everyone else is asleep at 2am.

    She still doesn’t sleep in her own bed all night. She goes to sleep there, then moves to the living room couch at 1am or so. Melatonin was great for a while, but it is creepy to take your sleeping pill every night before going to bed. Also, it doesn’t help keep one asleep, it just helps with the falling asleep part.

    I’d forgotten about magnesium. I’ll try that this fall when school starts.

    I hope you’re more successful than we’ve been!

  55. Boy do I hear you. I have a 26 month old. As I type, papa is giving her a bath. Bedtime is anywhere from 9-12 and beyond. I’m lucky if she sleeps past 8. And that’s only if she went to bed late. Naps? *snort* not in this house. I’m also 29 weeks pregnant with my third child. I pray she is a better sleeper than my second. When people tell me their kids sleep 12-14 hours a day I want to cry.

  56. Why is it that the bad sleepers are also the dangerous climb out of their cribers!!!Hmm, I’m into something!

  57. Momma Fed says:

    It is a shame that kids don’t come with user manuals, but i agree with everyone who is telling you to try, try and try again…something will eventually stick…my kids are now 24 and 25 and the first years were so much fun(she say’s sarcastically), the 25 year old was the kid who fell asleep breast or bottle(insert gasp) feeding and then sleep for 10 minutes and wake up refreshed and ready to go…the second baby…bless his little heart…would sleep for hours out of every day and sometimes i had to hold a mirror over his mouth to make sure he was still breathing(the whole sids scare).
    But, we survived and you will too, you seem to have a fabulous sense of humor and that helps more than any other thing…that and a rather large cup of coffee too.
    I have to tell you that i laughed till i cried reading your post because I really don’t think that life has changed all the much, despite the dearth of information coming at us at mach one speed, and so i will repeat that, you will survive and even better, you will have done an awesome job raising your children…keep up the good work.

  58. Véronique says:

    You should buy a Growclock….my two years old really loves it and understands that he has to stay in bed until the screen turns to the sun…wonderful! The trick is to set it to his actual wake up Time and then increase it gradually…positive reinforcement at its best…changed my nights!!!

  59. “The only thing more trying than having a baby with terrible sleep issues is having a big kid with terrible sleep issues. Everyone can sympathize with a new mom and dad whose infant is keeping them up. When your nearly three-year-old has never slept through the night, you’re a leper parent. Other parents feel kinda bad for you, but mostly they just don’t want to catch whatever horrible thing it is you have.”

    Oh man, Mama, you spoke right to my heart. Thanks so much for sharing!!

  60. Phil Goddard UK says:

    I came across your site by accident and have read this article with much interest. Insomnia runs in our family and has always been a standard joke. It only seems to affect the men in my Father’s side of the family.

    My Sister, after eleven years of sleepless nights with her youngest son (the eldest has insomnia which only manifested itself while at secondary school and college, same as his Uncle – that’s me) managed to get a Consultant Doctor to evaluate him.

    They asked several basic questions and diagnosed him as being Melatonin sensitive. His body does not release the hormone when it’s presented with a darkened bedroom so his body doesn’t “prepare” him for sleep.

    For years I have used sound to “prepare” myself for sleep and while not full proof it works more consistently than pills or relaxation techniques. I have taken to using a Melatonin pill when I suffer several nights where 4 hours sleep is my limit. My current sound method which allows me 6 hours sleep most nights involves tiny headphones and a media player under my pillow playing either restful music or (of all things) audio plays. This seems to work.

    I loved the idea of totally involving your Son in the choosing process and the building of the bed. It’s almost ritualistic and makes him own the space in a way that seems to help.

    You might try music or an audio book played at the same volume and at the same point at which your Son goes to his bed. I really do believe that this type of ritualism of the process helps those of us that have problems.

    I am very lucky – my Parents found that sound helped me and managed the process without resorting to Doctors or drugs. Melatonin is natural and I use if sparingly.

    I hope you find a pattern that works and thanks for such an interesting article and comments – it really is amazing how informative, supportive and helpful you all are.

    Regards

  61. Your story is very familiar. I don’t often talk about the sleep issues we’ve had – not with family or friends or the pediatrician, frankly they were all rude, judgemental and unsympathetic. I felt like a failure and a terrible parent. I wanted to burn all the sleep method books and I read them all. My son slept in 40 minute increments around the clock as a baby and toddler. We tried schedules, cranial sacral work, chiropractic, melatonin, MDs and NDs, nutritional changes…everything. I became a wreck and still don’t feel fully recovered. After a disasterous attempt at “crying it out” (that I still don’t forgive myself for) we started co-sleeping, he was almost 2 years at the time. He still co-sleeps (at 7 yrs old) and will wake up once or twice every night, looking for a warm body. He sleeps better now, but I don’t. I really appreciate your post, I didn’t know there were other parents like us out there!! I feel your pain and sleeplessness and frustration. Thank you for sharing your story. *hug*

  62. LOL! I feel your pain (or at least use to). My now 7-year-old was the lightest sleeper in the world and I don’t think he actualy slept through the night until he was about 5. I remember waking up at night wanting to beat my husband with a baseball bat when he would rustle the sheets of our bed “too loud” or, heaven forbid, cough! I knew that within 30 seconds I’d hear the pitter patter of those little feet coming from the other room. He still occasionally wakes up what I consider a little too early — you know, half an hour before you were planning on getting up, but for the most part sleeps now from 8:30pm to 7am. And he is also now in that stage (my older boy had it at this age too) where he has a bad dream 2-3 nights a week. But generally now, after 20 min or so in my bed, or if I’m feeling particularly chirpy at 4am, 20 min of me snuggling him back in his bed, he is usually back down for the rest of the “night”.

    Hang in there. It does get better!

  63. I had the same problems with my oldest son. He will be 14 on Friday and he still has difficulty with sleep but he has long since abandoned my bed. He was extremely active in constant motion as a young child and the only way to get him to sleep was to physically hold him still for about 10 minutes and sing to him. I too got him a big boy bed that he could get into and out of, in large part out of self defense so he wouldn’t hurt himself crawling out his crib, which he hated. You do what works for your children and your situation. My oldest has turned out to need a great deal of extra help in many different areas of his life and we do what we have to do for our children and our families and ourselves. Just so you know, despite all of the work we’ve had to do he is turning out to be one of my favorite people even if he is a little eccentric. I don’t expect that to be a problem for you.

    Good luck and keep trying new things.

  64. So many parents out there doing their thing. Sleep is taboo talk for us too. 10 years ago, I may have had my last night of sleep. My four children wake at regular intervals, including the soon to be three year old. I read the books too, listened to advice, tried lavender and early bedtimes. We saw sleep specialist and doctors and even saw someone for cranial therapy. Crying it out was not the way for us. As we move along sluggishly I can only hope that I can repay my sleepless nights with a few early morning sunrises to reluctant teenagers. ahh…redemption.

  65. What a supportive community you have here! I wish I had this type of support when my daughter was young. As far as I knew, NO ONES child kept them sleep deprived the way mine did. Anyone I talked to about it either told me to let my daughter cry it out or spank her, as if that were really a solution. We tried to let her cry, and hours later, night after night, confronted by the hopelessness of the situation, an older child that also needed to sleep, and our neighbors, we just simply… could … not… do… it. We had no idea there was any help out there. I think I remember talking to her pediatrician about it once, and he suggested the cry method. (shaking my head)

    Your description of a crying child that was not, in any way shape or form, about to stop screaming until the next day is so spot on. My husband and I were at each others sleep-deprived throats. One day, when my daughter was about a year old, my mom came over, took a good look at my tired, weary face and told me that sometimes parents just need to give in.

    My daughter slept with me until she was 8 years old, and then she slept in her own room for about a year. Divorce circumstances and the necessity of renting a smaller home put us back together in the same room and bed until she was a teen. But, there is hope. She is now a healthy, contributing member of society, with a compassionate heart and keen mind, and I am very very proud of her.

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