Let’s be real. I’m hesitant to write about improved sleep. For anyone who has struggled with a baby who won’t follow any of the textbook examples, you know what I mean. The threat of jinxing progress is a legitimate fear. And, when you haven’t slept in months, maybe even years, fear is exactly the right word.
A few weeks ago I was on the brink of losing my mind. I’m not even exaggerating for the sake of entertainment, I was truly at the edge of madness. The previous couple months had been tantamount to how I felt when my first daughter had colic. Hours of wakeful screaming every night is enough to make any parent question their sanity, regardless of whether it happens before bedtime or in the middle of the night.
And that’s exactly when my one-year-old had been painfully awake, the middle of the night. She had been up for hours multiple nights per week, often screaming for extended periods of time and I’d lost my drive to soothe her. I realize that sounds awful, but when you’ve been attempting to soothe someone in a half-wake stupor and it’s not working, you start to think maybe she just needs to learn to put herself back to sleep, and then, when that doesn’t work, you really start to lose it.
My litmus test for parental sanity has always been whether I feel angry at a baby. If the answer is yes, there’s something I need to do differently. As the anger started to creep in after weeks of unsuccessful nighttime parenting, I knew I needed to find answers. And, my pediatrician viewed these episodes as within "the range of normal," so I was going to have to look elsewhere.
Enter Huckleberry, an app for tracking baby sleep with the added bonus of customized plans based on pediatric science. When a friend at the park started telling me about it, I was skeptical. I wanted it to work, but I already felt like I’d read and tried everything. Still, it was worth a shot because, let’s face it, I was desperate. As soon as I got home, I downloaded the app and started tracking her sleep.
Now, here’s the part where I admit I had a bit of a head start because my friend shared some of the tips she’d received for her son, who had also been waking for long periods in the middle of the night. One insight, in particular, resonated for me. Limit daytime sleep. It seems so simple, but up until that point, I’d let Miriam sleep as much as she wanted during the day because I figured she needed it and those long naps were nice breaks for me to get things done.
However, after just two days of cutting back her naps (and making sure she went down at the right times according to the app), she slept her longest stretch ever— nearly nine hours. I was floored. Although I knew better than to declare a permanent victory, I was sold this app really did contain a bit of scientifically-derived sleep dust.
Even as the waking predictably returned, that one glorious night was enough to give me hope, (although in typical mom fashion I didn’t sleep because I was stuck awake in anticipation). Needless to say, I was eager to submit our first three days of data for a customized plan. They quickly responded with advice specific to Miriam and a calendar of goals to follow week-by-week to improve our sleep.
And, to my great relief, the plan didn’t just say, “Let her cry alone in her crib,” (although we still did plenty of that). Along with the data, Huckleberry asks a series of questions to determine your parenting style and I was so happy to find they were respectful of preferences like room-sharing, night-nursing, and co-sleeping. While they’ll help you end any of these habits if necessary, they’ll also support you in maintaining them, which is definitely up my alley.
But, that’s also the thing. We don’t get to pick what works for our kids, and in my case, co-sleeping had been on the decline for months and it really was time to cut it out of our routine, (despite my desire to hold my babies close F-O-R-E-V-E-R). So I eliminated that last stretch where I’d bring Miriam into our bed and it contributed to better sleep for both of us.
Our plan also included plenty of other great tips, many of which I had read before, but there was value to having them broken into manageable steps I could focus on each week and that were tailored specifically to things I’d shared in the questionnaire. Now, three weeks in, I’ve seen a definite improvement to her sleep patterns, even if she still has a rough night here and there.
And, really, that’s another part we often forget as parents. Breaking difficult cycles takes time. Developmental milestones, teeth, and growth spurts each make the process even more challenging. Huckleberry’s tracking tool and customized sleep advice have been invaluable. If I could yell from the rooftops to reach other parents struggling to get through the day and dreading the nighttime shuffle, I would. I'm convinced there’s hope, even if it comes in doses.
Now if only I could go back in time and use this when her older sister was a baby...
Note: After writing this, I took Miriam to a second pediatrician who identified health concerns that may also be affecting her sleep. If you feel your child's sleep patterns warrant another opinion, follow your gut, as there are often multiple pieces to the puzzle.