“Quite the contrary; they were not in bed: not in the least.” –Beatrix Potter, The Tale of Tom Kitten
Some time ago, our two-year-old learned how to climb out of his crib, and life took on a substantial new layer of complexity. At first he began repeatedly leaving his bed and knocking on our door in the middle of the night. A long sequence of sleepless nights would have been grueling enough in its own right, but he also started getting out of bed directly after we put him down, leading to long drawn-out bedtime sessions that left us emotionally and physically exhausted.
A sustained lack of sleep can cast long shadows across every other facet of life. It’s hard to make objective evaluations and form plans in the midst of fatigue and sleep deprivation, so it took us a while to realize that a system had broken down and the status quo wasn’t working.
Since the disrupted evening schedule kept leading to chaos, we decided to implement a peaceful bedtime ritual. We started with a friend’s suggestion to rub soothing lotion on the feet of the child in question. I would massage lavender oil on his feet, and after only a few days of this, he was asking me to “rub lotion on mine feet” every night. Apparently the soothing lotion habit was an easy one to acquire; not so much the falling promptly asleep habit.
After many a frustrating evening of putting him back in bed repeatedly, I tried lying down beside him to soothe and settle him until he fell asleep. I figured that if it would take an hour for him to fall asleep, I might as well spend that hour cuddling with him and enjoying time together rather than camping out beside his door, getting frustrated every time I had to put him back in bed. And it worked—the first night. He fell fast asleep in less than ten minutes. But it was not to last; the next few nights, he happily giggled and chattered, excited at the fascinating and sociable turn of events. It wasn’t a viable option to spend 1-2 hours actively managing his falling asleep, so we moved on to other tactics.
We made up a bed for him in the basement, where the complete darkness was supposed to help him fall asleep. (It did help him sleep more soundly throughout the night and seemed to keep him from waking up at five in the morning, but didn’t really help him settle down at bedtime.) We hung blackout curtains in his room, with the same result. We tried various arrangements of older siblings sharing his room, to settle him if he woke and even lead him downstairs in the early morning to play quietly.
And still he refuses to go quietly into that good night. I actually started writing this article some time ago, with the intention to chronicle our journey and share what worked for us (because everyone needs advice about getting more sleep, right?) But to be honest, this journey toward a satisfactory sleeping schedule is proving to be longer and more meandering than we had wished. We’ll have a spell of restful nights, and I’ll dare to hope that we’re making progress; but then we’ll face another round of nocturnal vivacity, and I wonder whether much of our present challenge will simply have to resolve itself gradually as our dear sweet child just outgrows this phase.
The quest for the sleep cure is a good analogy for any schooling or parenting endeavor: we’re being generally consistent with our approach, but we’re willing to try a variety of methods, and in the end we’ll find something that works. Another time I will write about “Aha!” moments and brilliant success stories, but for now, we’re examining our routines, adapting to changing circumstances, resetting expectations, and—oh, yes!—basking in all the new sunlight. Thanks a lot, Daylight Savings Time.