Who Needs Sleep?

“Who needs sleep?
Well, you’re never going to get it
Who needs sleep?
Tell me what that’s for
Who needs sleep?
Be happy with what you’re getting
There’s a guy whose been awake since the Second World War.”
– Barenaked Ladies, Who Needs Sleep?

I used to think my baby was a good sleeper. Now? I take back anything I ever said to that extent – I was clearly jinxing myself.

Sprout has never slept much during the day. Even in his first month, he slept no more than 12 or 13 hours daily, when the average baby sleeps at least 16 hours. Although I was nervous, our pediatrician reassured us that some kids just need less sleep than others. Nothing to worry about, especially because he’s a particularly chill kid.

Unfortunately, when he did sleep during the day, it tended only to be on my lap. When I tried to put him in his crib, he would open his eyes just before his head touched the mattress. I ended up stuck on the couch in “baby jail” quite a bit.

But things started getting better in month three, when I returned to work. Sprout was waking up only once during the night and rousing for the day around 7 AM. My husband, Chris, who is a stay-at-home-dad even figured out how to put him down for naps twice a day.

At month four, we decided to start a gentle form of “sleep training.” First, I would start rocking Sprout to sleep during bedtime rather than nursing him to sleep, so we had multiple options for sleep inducement. Then, rocking him to sleep, I would slowly decrease the amount of time between when he closed his eyes and when I put him in his crib. By stretching this period out over months, it would in theory teach him to fall asleep on his own without resorting to “cry it out” methods. Despite getting off-course when he caught his first cold and having one night of cranky annoyance, I was able to rock him to sleep in less than 10 minutes by the end of last week.

Then this weekend came and went in a blurry disaster. For three days straight, he has woken up every two hours for no apparent reason. I want to start moaning “braaainssss.” Potentially, this might be a brief phase. After all, this post from Pregnant Chicken points out “babies are constantly changing” and this other post from Sweet Madeline says, “There is no rhyme or reason or explanation!” But there’s also the fact that my mom recently informed me that I woke up every night every two hours for the first two years of my life. Even considering that possibility nearly brings me to a Darth Vader-type despair.

But my sleep-addled mind has come to two conclusions.

First, that you cannot treat a baby like a project. Babies refuse to follow Gantt charts or timetables. This is logically obvious – I know my son is a little person with his own little personality – but very difficult to accept, especially at 3 AM. I’m a planner by nature; I love crossing things off my to-do lists. But Sprout does and will continue to do things on his own time and I have to respect that. While establishing schedules is good, I have to make space and not rush the natural unpredictability of childhood.

Perhaps more importantly, I’m already learning that I can’t protect him from everything, even now. Although being sleepless myself is terrible, watching him toss and turn is even worse. Much of the time, he’s crying in his sleep, which then causes him to wake up. Watching him strikes fear into my own heart because I personally suffer from terrible, vivid nightmares. Although I don’t remember them consciously, I had night terrors as a toddler. I think I sometimes unconsciously deprive myself of sleep so that I don’t remember my dreams. Even though I have no idea what’s going on in his head, I worry that his imagination is causing pain rather than joy. And if it is, now or in the future, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. All I can do is hold him and tell him how much I love him, and accept that it’s enough.