The Best Sleep Advice Nobody Will Give You

This week I came across the nine dumbest words to ever be strung together in the history of written language. Shockingly the source wasn’t the latest bout of verbal diarrhea from Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, nor was it anything to do with bacon causing cancer. Instead the offending ennead (crossword puzzles, for the win!) came from an article about babies and sleep making the social media rounds. Upon reading the offending nine words, my first reaction was to laugh, which I did heartily. But then the reality set in: Those nine words are toxic, and as funny as they are to me now, had I read them in the midst of my own sleep issues with Baby 1.0, they would have sent me into a tailspin of dread and despair. And what nine words could possibly have that kind of power?

“Every baby is capable of sleeping through the night.” 

Yeah, those seemingly innocuous, itty-bitty little words pack a surprising punch in the I’m-So-Tired-I’m-Dying crowd. If you, like I once was, read them while looking for answers because you are desperate, deliriously tired, and at a loss for how to survive another sleepless night, they tell you there is a way. They say, “You can control this if you just do it right.” They lead you down a path lined with promises and patient testimony, where your hope quickly turns to hopelessness when your baby doesn’t respond.

To be fair, the author of the article means no harm, and her advice could make a difference for babies who fit the mold of potential good sleepers. She is far from alone in thinking all babies can be taught to sleep, as there is a whole market of books, websites and sleep services touting that very same message. Even our pediatrician assured us with the right routine, we too could get our baby to sleep through the night. But let me assure you, even if Jesus himself had shown up crib-side and commanded our little to sleep, she would have screamed in his face. And I know we aren’t alone.

crying baby

And on the seventh day, he commanded “rest!” and the baby just laughed and laughed and then resumed screaming.

Some babies, no matter what you do, or how many sleep books you read, or how much lavender you sprinkle around their perfectly dimmed, calm, temperature appropriate room- sometimes it just doesn’t matter. Sometimes all your little one needs to learn how to sleep through the night is time.

Now I know I’m not a pediatrician or a sleep expert, and I’m not suggesting we ignore everything they say. But I am a parent who went to them for help, and after following all the advice, reading the books, trying out every suggestion available and coming thiseffingclose to dying from sleep deprivation, all to no avail, I feel like a different missive needs to be offered. Give them time. Perhaps some will feel even more hopeless upon reading this, but ideally others will understand it’s intended meaning: You aren’t doing anything wrong. Your baby isn’t broken. You both will figure it out. Do what you need to do to survive.

The problem with the books and websites is they tend to oversimplify the issue. They have an if A then B type approach, where if you don’t get the results you were promised, you are left to wonder, who is to blame? Did you not try hard enough? Is there something wrong with your baby? If you go in to soothe them, are you causing harm or, to quote the article again, inflicting “sleep sabotage”?

But here’s the thing about babies, and hold onto your butts, because this is a real brain buster: Babies are tiny people. Yep, they look like aliens, and the books would make you think they are as programmable as a tamagotchi pet, but they aren’t, and even when science and medicine and Oprah tell you how they should act, they have the ability to put their adorable little thumb up to their tiny little nose and say “poo-poo” to you.

tamagotchi

Feed me! Clean up my cyber poo!

So how do you handle a kid that won’t sleep?

  • First and foremost, burn your books. Unsubscribe from the websites. Get rid of Google. Stop telling your grandma the truth because Lord knows you’ve heard enough of her “solutions” (i.e. Whiskey).
  • Find someone who knows what you are going through. Hardcore sleep deprivation is torture, literally. Getting close with someone who has been through it can provide support because instead of advice, they will give you tissues and coffee.
  • Ask for help, and even more importantly, accept it. You are not yourself when you haven’t slept through the night for a fortnight (or twenty fortnights). Let people come over and do things for you, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  • Cut yourself some slack. Your baby’s shitty sleep situation isn’t your fault, nor is it theirs. It just is, and it will get better eventually. I promise.

Now I know that some of you will read this and think, “Well I followed Dr. Sleep Good’s advice and little Timmy slept through the night the very next day!” and to you I say congratulations. Little Timmy was ready, and you could have read a Danielle Steele novel and still had the same outcome. But to those of you who are walking in our footsteps, let me just say, dude, I feel your pain. And it is pain. It’s burning eyes, achey-brained, nauseous, slurred speech, short tempered, emotionally unstable shitty, shitty pain. But you can do this. You will do this. Hang in there.

Image credits: Cover image, tamagotchi pet, crying baby,

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13 comments

  1. Oh yes! Baby’s gonna do what baby’s gonna do… The more upset you get, the worse it is and EVERYONE knows what you should/shouldn’t do.
    About the whiskey: my mother tried that on me in desperation (I didn’t sleep through the night until she went into hospital to have my brother – two and a half years later) and I spent the night walking around my cot singing…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The whiskey bit is hilarious! I remember getting a spoon of whiskey here and there as a child, but I think it was a cough remedy of which I’m equally dubious about it’s efficacy. Two and a half years is an incredible haul to survive, AND decide to reproduce again in the middle of it all 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I never lived it down. My mother always predicted (hoped) that I’d have a non-sleeper like me. I got lucky and didn’t! 😉 Although I will admit I could get by with four hours of sleep if I took a nap when baby did…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey, babies not sleeping is “sometimes normal”, but most times our fault.

    I’ll give these advice…

    My mum will warm(hot)-bath the baby after feeding early enough to allow for time to pass…

    Your baby needs a lot of breastfeeding late at night.. Cos they get hungry and that gives them sleepless night.

    And lastly…

    You could use good baby powders to keep them cool as heat is another factor that prevents babies from sleeping…

    The rest is simply natural, or they are sick and needs medical attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aaah, and here, my friend, I suppose is where we agree to disagree. While I’m sure there are any number of cases where fault can be placed on the parent, there are many many more where it shouldn’t be, and wrongly is. It took years for me to let go of the guilt and worry I felt because I couldn’t crack the baby sleep code, and eventually she matured enough to sleep through the night, code entirely intact. Having gone through it, I think it’s important to remind desperate parents that sometimes, despite their best efforts, their baby won’t sleep through the night until they are good and ready. Just like you can’t force a baby to walk or potty train before they are ready, you can’t force them to sleep either. I very much appreciate your readership, and your comment at well. Thank you for your point of view!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Bravo! Having lived through twelve months of epic sleep deprivation with #1, I know how devastating it is to read those words and understand that either a) Your baby is broken, or b) You’re just an inadequate parent who is doing it wrong, because otherwise your kid would be sleeping through the night by now.

    Turns out it’s utter nonsense. Anyone who claims that ‘every baby’ is capable of XYZ gets a big ‘nope!’ from me, because obviously they have forgotten that babies are people ie. little individuals with different needs, wants and surroundings. Don’t even get me started on the idea of ‘sleep sabotage’ and shaming parents for giving their babies comfort at night. Ugh.

    Like

    1. I, um, I think I love you. Um, I mean… That came out weird, but it’s true. So many of us have been through the same thing, and you have articulated it better than I ever could. Time to stop shaming and lying to parents in need of some zzzz’s!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just stumbled across your blog and have bee reading all your archives and yep, this. Is. So. True. Momma to four babies, and the babiest of the babies-at 22 months -still wakes up and screams bloody murder until he’s rocked back to sleep once a night. This is a miracle, because roughly six weeks ago it was always 2-3 times a night.
    I had two flawless, perfect self soothing through the night sleepers, one who was pretty decent at 9 months on. And then this baby. He better be glad he’s cute. Sleep deprivation is no joke, and some babies just. Don’t. Sleep.
    I hope you get a nap in!

    Like

    1. Wow, thanks!! FOUR BABIES?! I bow to you. Sleep deprivation is SO brutal. Fingers crossed for you this little one of yours figures it out soon so you can FINALLY start catching up on some much needed zzz’s. 🙂

      Like

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