Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Sanctity of Sleep & Scheduling

This blog posting (ahem, novel) was inspired by my friend Sara and her beautiful son, Imri ... born on October 14, 2005 ... a year to the day, after our trio made their debut. Kinneret, this is for you ... and for all other Mother's (including JJNY) who are having a hard time getting their little bundle of joy(s) to GO TO SLEEP!


After the excitement of learning we were expecting triplets, Charlie and I were both filled with a sense of dread. We had a few fears, of course. Among them were:

  • Will I be able to carry three babies?
  • Will their health be OK?
  • Will my health be OK?
  • How will I nurse three babies? Especially since I only have the *equipment* to nurse two!
  • What is this going to do to my body?
  • How many diapers will we go through, in a day?
  • How much baby equipment will we need?
But the number one fear on our list, and that which threw us in to a tailspin was ....

How will this affect our sleep?

See, the thing is ... we love to sleep. Both of us. Some people can exist off of 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. We aren't those kind of people. Not by a loooong shot. As we're rapidly approaching 12-years of marital bliss, I'm starting to get asked more and more ... what is the secret to our happy marriage? My response is simple: We communicate well and we fully understand the importance of a good night sleep. The world is a happy and bright place to be, when you're well rested.

Not only do we love to sleep ... we are both extremely good at it. Infact, my uncanny ability to sleep has often had me concerned that I might be suffering from an undiagnosed case of narcolepsy. As a kid growing up, I spent a lot of time with my father on his boat, which should have been named the SS Minnow. I have memories of summoning the Coast Guard during these outings, and have heard of a few rescues that I was not privy to experiencing first-hand. It was a long running joke that as soon as the boat left the dock, Jenny would konk out. When Charlie splurged on an ocean kayak adventure, complete with our own tour guides, everyone was amazed that I fell asleep, in a two-person boat, as we were being tossed around in 8-foot seas with a whale breeching 40 feet off our bow. Maybe it's a defense mechanism for me ... when I get the slightest bit scared or overwhelmed, I fall to sleep. It's as if the very air I breathe is laden with tryptophan.

Not only do I fall to sleep easily ... I stay asleep. Anyone that has spent any time at our house knows that Charlie is a very loud snorer. When we were in college studying Geology, we would frequently have field trips in remote locations. The class would wait to see where Charlie set up his tent, before hiking 200-yards in the opposite direction to set up their camp. No kidding. Yet, his snoring doesn't affect me in the least. The funny thing is - he often wakes himself up - but not me. I can sleep through pretty much anything .... a kayak being tossed on the open ocean ... a plane bouncing around the sky at 38,000 feet while air masks dangle from oxygen lines ... my dear husband sawing logs 12-inches from my head.

Early in my pregnancy, as we were settling in to bed one night, Charlie looked at me and asked "Do you hear that?" I was alarmed. "Hear what?! Is someone trying to break in to the house?! I don't hear anything!!" He smiled and said "Exactly. It's quiet. Beautifully, heavenly quiet. A few months from now, we aren't going to be able to close our eyes, go to sleep, and slumber undisturbed until 7:00 the following morning. We need to bank our sleep, right now."

Charlie got to bank his sleep, all right. He slept like Rip Van Winkle during my entire pregnancy. I, on the other hand, did not. The latter half of my pregnancy was spent on the couch in an upright position, with a supersized bottle of Tums in one hand - a remote control in the other. It's no big surprise that I didn't sleep too well during the period of incubation, but I'll save that story for another day.

I've read that the discomforts a woman feels during pregnancy and her inability to sleep soundly, is just one more way of nature *preparing* the mother to be up during the night once her baby is born. I actually believed this. While Charlie was banking his sleep, I was banking on the notion that my defense mechanism for managing stress didn't kick in. I feverishly prayed that instead of slipping in to a deep slumber - I'd be be able to stay awake at night when our house was full of needy newborns.

When all three of our babies were finally home from the hospital ... I was a nut job. I was so afraid that something was going to happen to them - that they'd stop breathing in the middle of the night, or get wedged in a corner of the crib. No, they weren't yet mobile - but that didn't stop me from placing a baby monitor in the crib, and waking up every 10-minutes to run in and check on them. At one point, I was such a stress case, that I loaded the babies in to clothes baskets and brought them in the room with us. That didn't help matters any, because we might as well had a litter of puppies next to our bed. Even though they were asleep, the squeaking they made had me on pins and needles ... all night. There was only so much of being AWAKE that I could handle, before I started to cRaCk.

By the third night, out of pure exhaustion, I turned the baby monitor off and figured that if they needed us ... either me, Charlie or my mom (who was in town lending a helping hand), would hear them. Before our babies were sleeping through the night, there would be a few times that one of the babies would be fussy, and we would be so dead tired, that we'd pull them in to bed and try to console them. Inevitably, we would all fall to sleep. Now, I've heard some women say that they always knew, on some subconscious level, that their child was co-sleeping and they'd never roll on top of them. Unfortunately, I lack that maternal instinct - in all of it's entirety. Especially during those early days when I was so completely sleep deprived. A baby in our bed may as well have been a throw pillow.

On more than one occasion, when our babies were tiny newborns, Charlie or I would wake up in an absolute panic because we had dreamt that a baby, who had been sleeping with us, was inadvertently kicked to the foot of the bed and was buried beneath the sheets and comforter. Nothing makes your heart skip a beat like waking up to your spouse jump out of a sound sleep, pull the covers off the bed and in a frenzy yell "Oh my GOD, where's the baby?!?! ... Where's the baby?!?! ... OH MY GOD!!!" Never once did we find the baby at the foot of the bed. After frantically searching the bed, one of us would run in to the nursery and realize that all three babies were actually asleep in their crib. But these dreams were so unbelievably real. We vowed that we would never fall to sleep with a baby in our bed because we were scared to death of what could happen.

Sometimes, I would nurse them in bed, but we never slept together ... I would always bring them back to their crib. Yes, it would be nice to stay and "cuddle" but even during those times when I tried to *lightly doze* I couldn't get comfortable, for fear I'd roll on top of them. As the babies got older - there was this baby in bed that would roll on top of me. Suffice to say, co-sleeping wasn't an option for us.

Our babies came home from the hospital on a 3 to 4-hour feeding schedule. The routine was pretty simple. They'd sleep, they'd eat, they'd poop. Then the routine started all over again. We would keep the babies up in the family room or bright living space, during the day time (in bouncy chairs, swings, under their Gymini, or holding them) - but we always put them in their cribs for sleeping.

This simple routine has evolved over time, but is essentially the same today, as it was 16.5-months ago. When the babies were 14 weeks old (corrected age 5 weeks), they slept through the night for the first time. (I know this because I just went back and looked at an e-mail I sent out to everyone I know ... shouting from the rooftops "THEY SLEPT ALL NIGHT!!!") When I say they "slept through the night" I mean we fed them at 8:00, "dream fed" them at 11:00 (they didn't wake up), and we woke them up the following morning at 7:30 AM.

During this time, on of the things that I figured out, is that our babies slept better on their tummies. Yes, I know that "Now-A-Days" everyone knows that babies must sleep on their backs because of the increased SIDS risk with tummy sleeping ... but our kids slept so much better on their stomachs. I think that belly sleeping helps to get gas up and they are more comfortable, all around. The Cardinal Rule of caring for a newborn in the 21st century ... I never abided by. I put our babies on their tummies from the time they were 4 weeks old and that was that.

When I was pregnant, I was devouring anything that didn't more. I had a huge appetite for food AND for learning what to expect as a new mother. I read both "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" and "BabyWise". I thought that they had some good information ... but I particularly liked what Dr. Weissbluth had to say about the amount of time babies a certain age, should be awake. It was like a lightbulb went off. Babies really can't be awake for longer than a few hours (even less when they are younger), before they need to sleep. People that would come to visit us were surprised that after our babies being awake for 2.5 hours, I'd put them down for a nap. "But didn't they just wake up?" Yes ... it seems they did. But during that time, they've eaten, they've pooped, they've had stories read to them, they've been held and talked to ... and those activities take a lot of energy when you're 4, 5, 6 ... etc. months old. By getting good sleep - babies will be more able to, eat well, poop well, play well ... and surprisingly, SLEEP well, too. The old adage couldn't be truer. Sleep begets sleep.

It wasn't easy getting our kids on a sleep schedule. But, our sanity - and more importantly, our survival depended on it. Like I said, they were on a 3- to 4-hour feeding schedule, round-the-clock. As an example, we'd feed them at 7 PM, and then we'd feed them again at 11 PM, 3 AM and 7 AM (+/- an hour here and there). As they got a little bigger, I tried to eliminate that 3 AM feeding ... so I'd feed them at 11 PM, put them to bed ... and not wake up until THEY woke up hungry. And when one up hungry - we'd wake everyone up and feed them, in an effort to keep everybody on the schedule. Otherwise, as soon as we'd put one down - another one would wake up and chaos would ensue.

Slowly but surely, we were able to eliminate that middle of the night feeding. Elizabeth was our hold out. She has always been the smallest, and would sometimes wake up for a feeding in the middle of the night. But, even then, I'd nurse her, and put her right back in her crib - - where she would continue to sleep until everyone woke up in the morning. Once that middle of the night feeding was eliminated, we started working to back our 11 PM feeding down to an earlier hour. Gradually, this feeding was 10:30 PM, then 10:00 PM, then 9:30 PM. Then, it just merged with the 7:00 PM feeding. So instead of feeding the babies 6 times a day ... we were feeding them 4 times a day.

  • 7 AM
  • 11 AM
  • 3 PM
  • 7 PM

Following the 7 PM feeding, they'd go to bed. Sometimes, there was crying. We would go in and check on them ... rub their backs, maybe pick them up and hold them for a few minutes ... but then, we'd put them back in their cribs. And - there might still be some crying. Like I said, it wasn't easy. But ... we stuck with it. We'd check on them after 5 minutes ... 10 minutes ... 15 minutes. The thing is/was - we knew that they'd been fed. They'd been burped. They had a clean diaper. They were dry ... not too hot and not too cold. Continuing to go in and pick them up, rock them, hold them, cuddle them was delaying the inevitable. They needed to go to sleep. The more we fiddled with them, the more overstimulated they would get. That reminder was a golden nugget to prevent me (or Charlie) from running in and scooping them up every time they peeped.

I'll add in that every now and again, Elizabeth will wake up in the middle of the night (interestingly enough, William and Carolyn never do). If I know that she's got a clean diaper, isn't hungry, has her lovey bunny, and not running a fever ... I let her cry-it-out. Sometimes, I've gone so far as to close our bedroom door to muffle the cries. Yes, it sounds awful. But here's the thing. There was a time when she was waking up, whether hungry or not, to come in to our bed at 3 AM because I would nurse her. It was almost as if she was programmed to wake up at that time - because she did it EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. We had to nip it in the bud. And the only way we could do that ... was to let her know that we weren't going to come and get her at 3 AM so she could come in to bed with us. It was very hard. One night, she cried on and off for 30 minutes. That's an eternity in the middle of the night. But ... after a couple nights - she stopped waking up. And so did we.

Once we got the babies sleeping through the night, we started working on their daytime nap schedules. They'd wake up between 6 and 7 AM and we'd feed them. We'd bring them out in to our family room - and we'd read to them ... sing to them ... dance with them ... play with them on the floor. At around 8:30 or 9 - we'd put them down for a nap, in their crib. There might be some crying, and we would check on them ... but we *required* 45-minutes, at a minimum, of sleep time before we said "Nap time is over." If necessary, we'd put them in their baby swings to relax them ... but as soon as they started to doze off - - in the crib they'd go.

I feel it's important to write all of this out for a few reasons.

First: sleep is critical to a person's well being. The better the quality of sleep you get ... the better you are going to be able to function in every aspect of your life ... children and adults, alike. When Charlie and I start to get flustered with one another ... 9 out of 10 times, it's because we are overtired and "cranky." Drink some water and take a nap. That's our motto.

Second: It is possible to have a baby sleep well, in their own crib. I've got 3-18 month olds sleeping peacefully in the other room as proof of that. They've been consistently sleeping 12 hours a night from the time they've been (adjusted age), 2 months old. In addition to that, they take solid naps during the day - that have ranged from 45 minutes to 3 hours, for a total of 15-16 hours of sleep - every day.

Third: I've never seen a baby embrace a crib the way our triplets do. It's not just at home, either. We've traveled with them extensively their first year of life - and they would sleep just as well in their playpens, as they do at home. I'm convinced it's because we have been extremely consistent about putting them in their cribs to sleep (with their loveys and a familiar lullaby playing in the background) from the very beginning. This ability to get our babies to sleep, is my proudest parenthood accomplishment, to date.

Sleep patterns are very dynamic with children. As soon as we think we've got it figured out, it always changes. Currently, we're dealing with the transition from 2 naps to 1 ... and it's not going too great. We've got babies waking up at odd hours during the night - and I'm blaming it on them not getting enough sleep during the day (no, I don't think it's teething!). I've realized that insufficient sleep during the day, can wreak havoc on their nightime sleep, too.

To be perfectly honest - I don't know if we would be as successful getting one baby on the sleep schedule that we have established with our three. There are a lot of things I might do differently with a singleton, that just aren't an option with triplets. But I'll forever maintain that there is nothing better for your body, spirit and soul ... than a good night's sleep.


  1. I love sleep. I'm the same way you are about falling asleep in boats, only I do it in cars. Any ride longer than 10 minutes and I am out: head flopping and mouth doing the Q sign. When it comes to getting my babies to sleep, I'm a wuss. I'm also lazy and don't follow schedules, either sleeping or feeding, except for bedtime. I just made sure my latest baby didn't always fall asleep at the breast and laid her down drowzy in her crib. She just now at 15 months is sleeping through the night. (We didthe habitual one feeding in the middle of the night for months. She was back asleep in just 10 min. so I didn't mind). I'm sure with 3, I would have to do things differently! (BTW, I tagged you. Check my blog for details.)

  2. Jen, I just found you. I love reading about your triplets. You are an amazing woman!

    My babies all slept on their bellies too. I guess that I am a failure as a parent...they survived. Go figure.

    Maybe Elizabeth woke up in the middle of the night because that was when she had you all to herself. That is what I chalk it up to when my two-year old comes into our bed at 2:30 in the morning. The rest of the day she has to share us with her sister.

  3. Just can't get out of my head your comment about the "plane bouncing around the sky at 38,000 feet while air masks dangle from oxygen lines." And you slept????? To say you are a sound sleeper is an understatement.

  4. Michelle in OR5/11/06, 2:53 PM

    Oh, how I love and need my sleep. I wholeheartedly agree with every word you said. I am a VERY happy mommy (of only one, though!), and I attribute it to getting a good night's sleep every night. I swear, most of my crabby/stressed/overwhelmed mommy moments come as a direct result of fatigue. My son slept through the night at 9 weeks. I started from day one getting him on a schedule and boy has it paid off! I've wanted to shout my tips from the rooftop, but I figured that *maybe* I got lucky with my one. But, you did everything just like I did and it sounds like you've had magical success with three! Yeah for you!

  5. Thank you for this, Jen. Although I said I would never do CIO, I would do a modified version - although my showing up and then leaving does seem to piss Imri off even more.

    However, DH will not let him cry. At all. And hence he is coming with me to the pediatrician for Imri's check-up so the pedi can tell him "let him cry". Oy.

    Wish me luck.

  6. you should write a book!

  7. Jen!
    Thanks so much for putting this out here. I will probably read and re-read it many times. You absolutely amaze me! In teh psat 3 days I have made the small changes that you have noted here and in other posts and I cannot tell you: THEY ARE SLEEPING!! AT NIGHT AND DAY! It really is amazing me. Of course when they get a little bigger...I will probably need more help!
    I can't thank you enough!

  8. Oh, and I forgot to say, I love all the cute sleeping shots. Your babies are too sweet!

  9. I think you inherited your need for sleep from your Mom. I remember one time, Janet came into the bedroom and said "I am going to throw up---I am a little kid and nobody hears me". I did hear that, but most times, A fire engine could come in our room and I would not hear it.
    Happy Mothers Day---I am proud of you.

  10. I just found your blog today. I agree with everything you said on sleep. We did many of the same things with our son. Sleep totally begets sleep and I am a big believer in following a schedule that promotes sleep. I'm definitely going to have to check out your blog more - and give it to my cousin who is expecting triplets this summer!