The clock on my phone reads 11:18 AM. My daughter just fell asleep for her nap, and I brewed my third cup of coffee so far today. As I sip it, I want to get real with you about toddler sleep, at least in our house. If you can relate, grab a cup of coffee and join me for a few minutes. If you’ve been here and survived it, share some encouragement in the comments for those of us in the muck right now.
Sleep transitions SUCK. And I feel like we have moved from sleep transition to sleep transition for about the past six months, never quite settling into a routine before the next transition hits. I’m exhausted.
We originally planned to have Stitch sleep in our room until about six months old, which was the recommendation from the American Association of Pediatrics when she was born. But, before she hit six months old, the recommendation changed to 12 months old. So, we changed our plan.
Then she got an ear infection.
And then there was weeks and weeks of teething.
After that, we planned to travel.
Each time we made a plan to transition her to her own room, something would happen that pushed it back. After we took our summer vacation in June, we committed to transitioning her to her room before she turned 18 months old. We had an unplanned trip in early July for the memorial service of my dear uncle. When we got home, we started the transition with naps.
That transition went relatively smoothly. I got confident and decided to transition to her room at bedtime AND night wean at the same time. We didn’t even make it through one night. Deciding flexibility and baby steps were key, we set aside night weaning.
I’d read multiple places that a transition like this takes two weeks of consistency. I could do anything for two weeks, I decided. There were a few nights where I camped out in her room with her for easy settling back to sleep, and on the tenth night she only woke once and was back asleep with in ten minutes.
“Hallelujah,” we shouted from the roof tops! The two weeks seemed to be spot on! I was thrilled.
The next night, she was up for four hours in the middle of the night. That confidence bit me again. Ever since, we’ve been on a consistent schedule–one night of horrible sleep, one night of half-decent sleep, one night of waking only once, then back to one night of horrible sleep.
I almost get functional, and the cycle starts all over.
At her 18-month well-baby visit, the very practical nurse practitioner and I had a frank talk about this sleep nightmare. Bless her for her realistic expectations. She confirmed two of my suspicions then added another. First, the 18-month sleep regression exists, and she suggested that it’s the most brutal of all the sleep regressions. This particular sleep regression is partially due to the developmental leaps that the child is making around this time, which I’d suspected after checking my Wonder Weeks app the day before.
Second, she confirmed that teeth are contributing. She saw at least four teeth working their way through the very swollen gums.
Then she threw out the third contributor, one I hadn’t considered. We’d just started physical therapy to get Stitch caught up on her gross motor skills. This is extra work and development added to the regular development a toddler makes around 18 months. We have a trifecta hitting at once.
She made a few suggestions, including taking night weaning off the table for now and maybe attempting to transition to one nap. At the time, I thought transitioning to one nap was insane. But, then later that week, she got her second nap too late in the day and was up until 11PM. The next day–the Friday of Labor Day weekend–we started yet another transition, to one nap a day.
Our nights actually went slightly more smoothly, but the absolute best part is that she’s taking a three hour nap in the middle of the day. For the first time in her life, I have a solid block of time to work that I can count on. That part? Bliss.
After we got Stitch to bed Labor Day evening, Lloyd and I celebrated a successful nap transition with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. But, yet again, we apparently celebrated prematurely. Stitch woke at 11PM and was awake on and off (more on than off) until 6AM.
At therapy yesterday, we needed to create my new three-month treatment plan. For each section of the plan, I need to provide a quote–either looking back at the last three months or a potential goal for the coming three months. For the section on reducing depressive symptoms many of the goals revolve around the subject of sleep. Sleep deprivation can shoot me into a depressive slump more quickly than any other vulnerability. I’m actually somewhat amazed that I’ve remained so stable despite the sleep deprivation of the past six weeks or so.
I gave this as my initial quote for reducing depressive symptoms: “Radically accept that you will never sleep again.”
My therapist and I both laughed, then we delved into it a bit more. She suggested I may not actually want that as my quote. While I feel that way now, I need to remember that this too shall pass, even though it seems to be lasting forever. I honestly can’t remember what I chose for my final quote (I’ll blame sleep deprivation), but it had something to do with accepting that this period is very challenging and utilizing as many self-care strategies as possible, including asking for help when I need it.
I can judge myself pretty severely for complaining about the sleep aspect. We were actually very lucky when Stitch was in our room. She and I slept fairly well, because I could address her wake-ups very quickly. But, we also reached the point where we needed to transition her out of our room. While she and I slept relatively well, Lloyd did not. And I do think she was ready.
I knew sleep deprivation was part of the parenting gig. I also knew that sleep deprivation can be detrimental for me. Somehow, we’ll find the middle ground. Judging myself for complaining about lack of sleep does me no good. I feel like if I complain it makes me seem ungrateful for this opportuinty to parent such an amazing child–especially after the loss and infertility that came before her.
But, I can hold both at the same time. This aspect of parenting is brutal, but I still wouldn’t change a thing.
So, other parents who are in the middle of horrific sleep transitions, know that I’m right here with you. Make another cup of coffee, and know you’re not alone. Each step of the way, hold on to hope that it will get better. At the same time, I validate how absolutely challenging this period is.
We’re in the muck. Enjoy the moments you can. Ask for help when you need it. Complain when you need to. And share when it gets better, so other parents know it really does end at some point.