Sleep deprivation is torture. Search the internet and you’ll find endless articles about how important sleep is for not only adults, but for children, too. If only my 3-year-old could read.
She was always quite a good sleeper at night. Sure, she had her first year of nursing through the night, but once she started sleeping in long stretches, she rarely ever woke up in the middle of the night. A few months ago, she saw that her little friend, Lucy, who is just 10 days younger than she is, had her very own big girl bed.
Cora told me that day that she, too, would like a big girl bed. She had been sleeping in a toddler bed that had been converted from her crib and I was excited to convert it further to the queen sized bed and rearrange her room a bit. A fun project! We went to Target and she picked out new bedsheets- one set of ice cream cone sheets and one set of sheets with diamonds & gems all over it (a girl after my own heart!).
I will save the long story about how I promised my husband that it was a full sized bed and he went out and bought a full mattress only to return home, convert the bed and realize that it was a queen. Oh, and we were missing pieces to the conversion kit that had since been discontinued so he had to come up with his own way of securing the structure. (Sorry again, babe!)
That night, Cora was so excited to sleep in this enormous bed. She snuggled up with her favorite baby doll, Coco, and off to dreamland she went. The next day she wanted to call her grandparents to tell them about her new big girl bed. She invited the neighbors over to show them. She played on her bed with her brother. For the next two nights she slept peacefully in her queen sized, big girl bed.
And then the fourth night came. All of a sudden, she was terrified of her bedroom. She woke up screaming in the middle of the night that she wanted out. I laid with her to get her back to sleep, but she was up within the hour. The next night came and it was the same thing. And then the next. And then the next. Cora then continued to wake up an average of eight times each night for the following three months. Go ahead and read that sentence again. It was a literal nightmare.
We couldn’t figure out the problem. She didn’t say it was her bed. She didn’t say it was anything. “I just don’t want to go to bed” was recited and screamed over and over. Because she couldn’t give an actual reason, we were quick to get frustrated and angry. And also, sleep deprivation assaults the deep biological functions of your physical and mental health, leaving you with little rationalization skills.
For a few nights, we threatened punishments if she continued to refuse sleep. That did not work. Then, we tried offering rewards if she did sleep. That did not work. Poor, screaming Cora would wake up loud and angry all night long.
I finally thought that maybe upgrading her small toddler bed to a large, queen sized bed was too much of a shift for her and that she needed to go back to her toddler bed. My sweet, loving husband dismantled the queen bed and reconstructed the toddler bed. Absolutely no change. She continued to wake up screaming her head off in the middle of the night. She was terrified of her bedroom. New pillows. New sheets. New comfort toys. Nope. She wouldn’t even walk into her bedroom alone during the day anymore. I picked the mattress off the toddler bed frame and put it on the floor and then put a teepee fort over it. That seemed to help in that instead of eight times a night, the wakings were reduced to 4-5 times a night. Improvement.
A friend of mine suggested a consistent routine of calm, quiet encouragement no matter what her reaction. I spent weeks saying, “It is time to sleep. Everyone is in their bed. You need to sleep in your bed” over and over as she cried like a banshee in the night. Day by day passed and both her and my circles under our eyes grew darker and darker.
My husband and I had a hard line drawn when it came to co-sleeping. We did not want to open that door, as we felt it would be very difficult to close. Finally, one night in the middle of the night I suggested she sleep on the couch. She gladly accepted this offer. Once on the couch, she did not wake again. For weeks she would wake up 1-2 times before I couched her and then she slept through the night. Several times, she got up herself and went out into the family room to sleep on the couch.
One night I woke up to realize she hadn’t gotten me up, so of course I had to go check on her. I couldn’t find her in her bed. She was not on the couch. I started to freak out and that’s when I saw her tiny toes peeking out from behind the Christmas tree. In my 4 a.m. stupor, I raced for my phone to take a picture of how cute it was. When did this turn into something cute? I’m pretty sure I was just threatening her a few weeks ago…
She slept mostly on the couch for weeks. A few times, I’d find her on the top bunk of her brother’s bed, but at least she wasn’t screaming anymore. She would wake up, quietly walk into my room and wait for my direction to go on the couch. I didn’t have to get up anymore. I was totally OK with it.
Then she stopped. She stopped waking up. She started sleeping through the night. I did nothing to get to this point. It was all her. She was no longer scared of her room. She played in it during the day and slept in it all night long. She still sleeps on the mattress on the floor. She does not want it back up on the toddler bed frame that is simply collecting dust in her room. Two weeks ago she asked to remove the teepee.
Once again, in this parenting game I am finding that I am simply an observer to the growth and progress of my children. While I am responsible for presenting them with many opportunities, it is their own volition that drives what they do and when they do it, at least when it comes to sleeping and going potty.
I hope you weren’t looking for an answer in this post, because I don’t have it. The only thing I did was wait and it changed. Can’t wait for the next phase to start…