This past week you’ve been unhappy in the middle of the night, waking up and wanting to come into our bed. You have had the “ick” but also you have been going through a bit of sleep regression. I see this as part of the process of learning how to self soothe.
You see.. You no longer nurse at night. You self weaned at 18 months when I was pregnant with your sister. You no longer wish to be rocked to sleep, and will complain if we try. The way you fall asleep now is by laying on our chests and simply being near.
When you wake up in the middle of the night we move you to our bed and you roll into our bed, find your pillow, and fall asleep on your own without nursing, without being rocked, without being held. Or sometimes you’ll try that and when the sleep doesn’t come you’ll curl yourself around one of us and put your head on the shoulder of the one you chose to snuggle with.
This is self soothing. This is not us working to soothe you. This is you finding your comfort, being okay with falling asleep in different situations.
Self soothing is like the progression towards walking. First you roll, then you sit up, then you do that funny thing where you get up on all fours and rock back and forth, then you crawl, then you pull up to stand, then you take that first teetering step and fall. The first steps towards walking don’t look like walking at all. I did not expect you to walk just after being born. I knew that it was something you had to work your way towards. So it is with sleep, and with everything that changes as you move from newborn to infant to toddler to child, to tween to teen to adult, to parent, to middle aged, to elderly.
The first steps towards self soothing don’t look like self soothing at all.
First you learned to soothe. You were tiny, just born. You learned to nurse for comfort. You learned to soothe when burped or when you passed gas. You learned to soothe with motion, with sound, with closeness. You learned that life is patient, and that there are things that feel good and peaceful, and things that feel hectic and unhappy.
Then you learned trust. You discovered that there are people in your life that are different from one another. You preferred me briefly, then your daddy briefly, then your grandma. Then it was back to daddy, and then me, and then Grandpa, then back to me again. You learned that we go away and we come back. You learned that when you have a need we respond to that need. You learned that when you cry, we comfort you. You learned that when you play, we play with you.
Then you learned routine. You learned that when night comes and it gets dark outside, daddy comes home from work and we take our baths, we brush everyone’s teeth and we read books and we fall asleep. When you were a baby this happened swaddled in my arms nursing in a rocking chair. As you grew this became nursing curled up in my arms in a rocking chair. As you weaned this became snuggling up to us in the rocking chair. As you grew this became laying down on our chests in our bed. As you continue to grow this is becoming you laying your head down on a pillow near us and falling asleep on your own.
With both you and your brother you learned to fall back to sleep on your own before you learned to fall asleep on your own.
Sometime as a toddler the “sleep regression” comes. The deeper sleeps of infancy briefly recede as your mind comes alive with imaginary fears, as you become aware of midnight peeing, and as you become more able to choose a position to sleep in.
I see sleep regression as a major step towards your learning to self soothe. It’s not self soothing if you sleep like a rock and just don’t wake up until dawn. And those sleepy middle of the night dark hours where you’re already so close to sleep are better practice time for doing it on your own than are the wound-up before bedtime hours where you’re trying to relax at the end of the day.
You have started. You’ll stir awake and complain and then bury your head against your pillow and fall back to sleep if you can. If you cannot you’ll wake daddy and he’ll rub your head and you’ll fall back to sleep in your own bed. If you can’t, you’ll come into bed with us. The “can’ts” fade away with time as you become better at it, as your sleeps become deeper, as you become more secure in your skin.
As you learn to fall back to sleep, we’ll start helping you learn to fall asleep on your own as well. You’ll learn that bedtime is time to stay in bed and you’ll be able to remember this and do it without an issue. We’ll read you your books and sit with you until you’re a little bit sleepy and then we’ll do our chores and check in on you to tell you one more I Love You and give you one more kiss.
And as your older brother has done, eventually that will fade into the distance as well and you will simply fall asleep as all of us do eventually.
No tears, no muss, no fuss, all on your own schedule. Because sleep is a natural wonderful fuzzy comfortable warm safe place to end each day, and because mommy and daddy are just down the hall and will always answer your cries, soothe your fears, and get you that water you thirst for in the middle of the night.
I’m proud of your independence which you choose on your own. I’m proud to be there as your safe snuggly spot in those nights when you’re learning to self soothe.