Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ours to Protect

"Protective" is probably a good word to describe my efforts to teach Sophie good sleep habits even though (1) I have awful sleep habits myself and (2) I believe that a certain amount of protest-crying is inevitable in the course of doing so.

My personal relationship with sleep is terrible. From the onset of puberty into my mid-twenties. I frequently had "awake" states lasting for days where I was a whirlwind of simultaneous activity, writing, partying, exercising. This was then followed by an intense lethargy where my existence was entirely devoid of meaning. These swings evened out as I grew older for a variety of reasons, but for me, the key factor was a comparatively(!) more disciplined sleeping routine aided by yoga.

Insomnia is a terrible place to be, and one experience that I am anxious to protect Sophie from. This of course doesn't mean that she cannot stay up late once in a while, but it is the effect of incremental and chronic sleep deprivation which should be avoided.

The current science does back up my thinking - If you are interested take how children/infant sleep impacts both their behaviour as well as
cognitive development and you will see that there is some evidence that children linking sufficient high quality (i.e. uninterrupted and with a few REM cycles) sleep to positive behavioural traits and higher intelligence.

In Sophie's case I think at least 11 continuous hours per night and 90 mins after lunch works out pretty well. She spends a great deal of time in intense and quiet contemplation, and just when you think she is day dreaming, she will make some observation that usually surprises me.

Yes - she does "make observations" -- In terms of communication and other skills, she is currently pretty much months ahead on those pesky developmental milestones and since she started speaking in short phrases some time ago, our only concern is in encouraging approximately uniform development rates in all 3 working languages of our household.

I have friends who tell me that Sophie is an "easy" baby - au contraire! She was colicky and needed to be soothed (in arms) to sleep for the first 6 months of her life. We had to train her to sleep the entire night till she started doing it at 8 or 9 months. We used the (admittedly controversial) extinction methods, and there were those early days when she would be crying in her crib and I would be crying in the bathroom, but one year later, I have absolutely no regrets. It worked overall for us, although there were situations where we adapted it or didn't use it at all if she was genuinely uncomfortable (e.g teething and post-vaccine feverish).

I am not saying that everyone should use the extinction method to get your child to have good sleep habits.

What I am advocating is that good sleeping habits are necessary for healthy children, and it is part of parental duty to establish and protect sleep by whatever means works best for that particular child.

I've extracted an email with one with my favourite analogy between sleep and food:-

Suppose your kid wants to eat junk food ALL the time, you are going to just say NO to her no matter how much of a tantrum she throws. With-holding good nutrition by allowing excessive consumption of junk-food is tantamount to child-abuse -- Why should we treat the with-holding of high quality sleep any different?

It is far too easy to give in to requests to be cuddled and for "just one more" bedtime story. For a working parent, who doesn't want the opportunity to savour a few more minutes of snuggles with their beloved offspring? But if important parent-child time that is encroaching into healthy bed-times, then serious re-schedulings must be considered.

A healthy and normal kid who is smart enough to understand what you are saying is smart enough to be told they have to go to sleep - whether or not they agree with this view~ That is the hard part about being a parent, but (at least to me) that is what a responsible parent has to do.


Ex Night Queen said...

I think even in adults, sleep is VERY important. Maybe adults are just able to cope with its effects better. I think we grow up with a lot of bad habits like, irregular sleeping hours and missing breakfast and like you cited, eating junk food. Its good that you are doing all you can to prevent that because I know a lot of people who think, that's the way it is and things will eventually regulate. But maybe they don't!

I love my sleep.

Sprog Mamma said...

Lots of my girlfriends are now asking me what to do since their 6 month, 18 month and 21 month old kids are still waking up 1-2 times a night. I guess I am the only one in our group that has done the dreaded "extinction" method on Veronica. (I remember lending the sleep book to you about 2 years ago.) With little Lorenzo it as hard not to run to him when he cries b/c usually Veronica is asleep and we do not want her to wake up. I am counting the days until her turn 4 months old and when I can let him cry it out a bit. Now he is spoiled since we have him in our arms almost all the time. I think I will have to re-learn the lessons I used on Veronica.