Noah has fought sleep since the day that he was born. I thought newborn babies slept all day for the first few weeks of their lives. How very wrong I was about that. I used to call him Cat Nap No: his usual daytime nap was a mere 20 minutes. All the rest of the time he was wide awake, looking around, taking it all in. Nothing much has changed.
Sometimes (occasionally) Noah sleeps for 12 hours. Days when I wake up before Noah are so rare that, when they do occur, I find myself hovering outside his room to see whether I can hear his breathing through the wall. As Noah starts his bedtime routine, a little bit of dread always settles in my heart. The only thing my husband and I can predict about the experience that lays ahead of us every night, is that it will be unpredictable. It wasn’t long ago that I wrote The Endless Adventure of Bedtime. Things have changed since then…
Noah’s sleep regularly involves one of the following adventures:
- Waking up at 5am. He sometimes does this for weeks at a time. Then he stops. There’s nothing we can do but wait for this torture to pass.
- Waking up in the night for two to three hours. And he is wide awake. If we are in Vienna when he does this, we ignore him. It wakes us up, of course, because Noah is never one to not make his presence felt, but if he gets no response, these night time interludes usually pass within a few days. When we are in England it is a different matter because I am in the room with him. There is no escape.
- Even though he is tired out of his little life, he refuses to go to sleep.
All of last week while we were staying in England, Noah opted for adventure number 2. The first night, I was angry at him because I knew he would be like it for the whole time we were at home and I felt exhausted at the prospect of it. “Go back to sleep! If you don’t go back to sleep, you’re not watching television ALL WEEK!” I bellowed at 4am, after he had been awake for two hours. “Stop waking me up, then!” he shouted back.
Adventure 2 is hard, but it is adventure 3 that really, really gets me. It is the worst thing. When Noah refuses to go to sleep, I feel bubbles of anger rising from my stomach to my chest. These experiences have made me fully understand where the phrases “blood boiling” and “steam coming out of my ears” come from. I feel like a kettle.
After the first awful night last week where Noah and I woke everyone up by screaming at each other, my Mum told me about the White Noise app she recently discovered. It plays sounds like waves, white noise, a hair dryer, wind, a heartbeat, all sounds that are allegedly supposed to make it easier to sleep. Seeing as I have tried everything to tackle Noah’s sleep, I thought I may as well give this a try too. I believe in miracles, after all. I opted for the ocean waves. I put it on when Noah got out of the bath so it played whilst he got his pyjamas on and read his books. To my astonishment, amazement and disbelief, Noah fell asleep while we were reading books, at 6.30 with all the lights blazing! It must be the white noise app, I thought. It’s wonderful! But six days later, this dreamy bedtime experience came to an abrupt end.
On Saturday, my husband (who arrived in the UK in the early hours of the morning) took Noah out for the day whilst I had my hair cut and went out for a birthday brunch with my friends. They arrived home at bedtime and my husband then had to disappear off to work. Noah was hungry. A boiled egg was produced. He had some toys from my husband’s family which he wanted to show everyone. The bedtime routine was delayed by half an hour. As Noah was getting out of the bath, he demanded his doggy, a Dalmatian toy which he had taken to for the previous few days. I called down to my husband, just as he was walking out of the door. Then he dropped the bomb shell: the dog had been left behind at my husband’s parent’s house…
Noah went berserk. He was beside himself, doing that awful crying that children do where they stop breathing properly. I put the screaming child into my bed, gave him Becky (a rabbit I have had since I was Noah’s age – he’s usually not allowed to touch her) and started reading a book. He calmed down, stripped Becky of her new outfit which my Mum bought her at the village fete, and snuggled under my arm.
We read three books. That’s the rule. That’s always the rule. Noah’s books are getting more sophisticated and it takes a good fifteen minutes for me to read three books. But when I told him no more books and turned the lights off, Noah howled like a wounded beast. I tried cuddling him. I tried singing to him. I tried rocking him like a baby. Nothing would appease him. I thought he would cry it out, eventually tiring himself so much he would pass out. I was wrong.
Forty-five minutes later, he was still crying. I gave up. I took him downstairs. No matter how awful the bedtime routine has been, I have only ever given up on it once in the past three years, and that was when Noah was 8 months old and I had eaten an entire box of chocolates in a day. My breast milk was evidently full of sugar and Noah was bouncing off the walls.
It’s a one off, I told myself as Noah got his cars out and lined them up in a traffic jam all around the conservatory whilst watching The Hobbit, an entirely inappropriate film for a susceptible three year old to be exposed to.
But the next night, although he wasn’t crying, Noah was equally as determined not to go to sleep. Two fingers up to the white noise app. Once he was in bed, he talked to himself, sung nursery rhymes, flung over from his back to his front and back again, lay upside down on the bed with his feet dangling over the headboard, constantly bashed his beaker on the side of the bed and did many more things that were so traumatic to remember, I have probably blocked them from my memory. I didn’t want him to get into the state he was in the night before, so I spent time trying to settle him. But when he took his pyjamas off and refused to let me put them back on, I stormed out of the room. I couldn’t carry on for
He cried and called me. I left him for 20 minutes before going back in. We were both calmer. He let me put his night clothes back on and held my hand while he went to sleep. That’ll teach him, I thought with relief. He knows I’m not going to stay with him if he’s being naughty.
And then he did it all again tonight…
I have heard from other parents of sleep demons/insomniacs that their children started sleeping properly as soon as they went to school. Only another year and three months to go then. My Noah, perhaps school will do what the white noise app, the sleeping bunny light, the baby behaviour expert couldn’t do. Until then, we live in hope from day to day that tonight’s gonna be a good night…