Mixed Signals

Lately there have been a lot of bad nights. 

She’s been waking up almost every 2 hours and screaming at the top of her lungs for me to come and sit with her. Which is exhausting. 

Now, she definitely has slept through the night in the past, at least until 5am or so, so I know that she can do it. And there are about a million reasons why she might be waking so often. 

It could be the changes and transitions from lockdown to nursery to potty training. It could be that because she is learning bladder control she is waking herself up when she wees in her sleep (she’s too little for night training so still in a nappy at night). It could be night terrors or nightmares waking her up. It could be just that her natural sleep cycle from deep sleep to light sleep wakes her every two hours and she isn’t self-soothing. It could be because she’s been growing lately and maybe has growing pains or just finds it’s hard work making more bones and muscles and stuff. It could be because she’s too hot, too cold, hungry, thirsty, frankly, god only knows.

What I do know is that I have moved back into my bedroom upstairs, and she is much more aware of things than she used to be, so screams of “STAY HERE MUMMY” when I come in to settle her are a sign that she knows I’m going back upstairs to sleep. (I was sleeping in her room for the first few months after she moved in (and we co-slept in my bed for the first month), and then I moved into the spare room for a few months, and have only really gotten back into my lovely comfy big bed in about February. 

She is starting to figure out that she can get a leg over the side of the cot, though hasn’t yet tried to climb out fully, but very soon I’ll have to take the sides off the cot and convert it to a toddler bed, and I’m desperate to sort out this sleep problem before I do that, as it’ll be 10 times worse once she can escape from the bed any time she likes…

I’ve been reading all about sleep training and controlled crying and all sorts of toddler sleep forums and blogs and aides. There are lots of parents I know who don’t believe in controlled crying (it’s not very fashionable these days) and many of them co-sleep with their babies (and many still are – with 5 and 6 year olds in their beds every night). I know at least one mum with a 6-year old who has never slept a night in his own bed and she doesn’t know how to fix it now as she left it so long! I know adopters who will say that co-sleeping is essential to bonding and controlled crying will re-traumatise neglected children. I know people who say “Oh just let them sleep in your bed, they won’t be doing that when they’re 16”. I also know adopters with 16-year old children who still crawl into their bed regularly and are scared to be alone. 

I know that co-sleeping did help my daughter to settle in the early days and weeks when everything in her life was turned upside down, and it certainly helped us to bond quicker. I also know that I don’t sleep well when she’s in my bed, and it’s not a long-term option for us. There is only one of me, and I need to sleep in order to function and have enough patience to deal with a cranky 2 year old. Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others, they say, and sleeping is my oxygen mask. 

So I’ve been doing all this reading about sleep training, as I need to find something that will work for us, and annoyingly because it’s so out of fashion I can’t ask about it in my usual facebook groups as the response from everyone will just be “Don’t do it! It’s so traumatic!” etc. Many of my mum friends are very anti-sleep training and have encouraged me not to go down that road. So now there is stigma attached to it and I can’t ask other people how to do it without getting told off for even considering it!

Most of the books about sleep support seem to focus on bedtimes, and those kids who take hours to get into bed. Annoyingly that isn’t our problem! We are already following all the guidance about bedtime routines, and ours works great. We usually head upstairs after dinner around 6.15/6.30pm give or take, and have a bath, then drink milk, pyjamas on, brush teeth, and read stories, lights down low, night light on, and then we sit and have a cuddle and talk about our day and I try and tell her what a good girl she was and reinforce good things she has done that day. She often falls asleep in my arms or else almost as soon as I lay her down in her bed. I usually play a set of quiet lullabies as she goes to sleep though often if she’s asleep already I don’t bother. So that part works like a dream!

It’s just getting her to stay asleep that we are struggling with!

Most nights when she wakes up, I can settle her very quickly, a pat on the back or a cuddle, put her lullabies back on, maybe give her a little water and then go back out of the room and wait outside so she knows I am there. Sometimes it works and she’s back to sleep straight away, other times she stands up in her cot and screams for Mummy to STAY HERE! Sometimes I stand there reassuring her I am there for ages, sometimes I pop back in to cuddle her and then leave again, sometimes I just go upstairs and leave her to scream it out. And sometimes I just cave because it’s 4am and we’ve had too many bad nights in a row, and I need my sleep so I bring her into my bed anyway.

I had bought her a gro clock, but mostly she’s been too little to understand it, and this summer it’s light so early I haven’t bothered with it. In general, my rule is if she wakes up and it’s still dark, then she goes back to sleep in her cot (eg at 1am, 3am, etc) but if it’s already light (eg 5am) then she thinks it’s morning so I’ve been taking her up to my bed where we go back to sleep until my alarm goes off at 7am. 

However, one of the blogs I read explained that I am actually sending my daughter mixed signals. SHE doesn’t know that’s what the rule is, as I haven’t ever explained it to her, so she knows that sometimes when she screams I let her come and sleep in my bed, and sometimes I don’t, and actually she won’t have linked it to whether or not the sun is up. So it’s encouraging her to scream for me in the hopes that I will let her come into my bed.

So the new thing we are trying is to use the Gro-clock, which she is now old enough to understand anyway, so she stays in her cot until the sun comes up and the clock turns yellow, regardless of how light it is outside. The blogs and books have suggested that I shouldn’t put her lullabies back on in the night when she wakes either, as it means she’s not learning to self-soothe and go back to sleep without the music, which means she requires mummy to come and put it on everytime she wakes up. So some good advice there. 

We had a bad night last Monday when she woke up at 1am, and I got her back down quickly, then she woke at 3am and screamed until 5am no matter how often I went in to comfort her or reassured her I was there, and eventually I went upstairs to my bed and called down every 20 mins that it was time to go to sleep now. Then on Tuesday night, I was hoping she’d be so shattered she’d sleep, but instead she woke up at 9.30pm and screamed for a bit, then again at 3am, then woke up at 5am and screamed until 7am when it was finally time for the sun clock to go off! Thankfully on Wednesday, she had a much-needed nap at nursery, and then slept from 7pm all the way through til 4.45am, and she settled back to sleep again quickly and didn’t wake up again til 7am. Sadly I still didn’t sleep brilliantly as some cats were having a wailing competition outside my window, and some foxes appeared to be mating or fighting loudly, interspersed with a neighbour screaming at them to FUCK OFF!

Thursday night onwards has been ok – she’s been napping at nursery a little more so less over-tired and that is helping I think. And we’ve been sticking to the gro-clock, and in general when she wakes up she does now go back to sleep quickly and easily after a few token attempts to fight it. Sadly my neighbours, who are Somalian had a wedding celebration on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, and it’s super hot, so windows are open, music was blaring along with lots of yelling and shouting and tribal singing/yipping. Very loud – they went until 1am on Friday, 2.30am on Saturday, and on Sunday I just closed the damn window and decided to be hot instead so I have no idea when they packed it in, but am gutted the kid finally slept better and I didn’t! (Also our street has been LITTERED with trash every morning – emtpy water bottles, and hundreds of half-chewed chicken bones strewn all over – which of course will bring back the fighting cats and mating foxes… Grrrrrrr

Anyhow, the kid seems to be digging the new routine – though I never know if it’s that, or just that she’s stopped growing, or gotten used to the new potty-training routine, or who the hell knows. We are going camping in a couple of weeks, so that will no doubt throw things off even more!

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