She hasn't been looking like that much recently. More like a squirmy, whiney, wide-awake and exhausted toddler.
We have been weathering the dreaded 18-month sleep regression.
"Sleep regression" is the term generally applied when your normally well-rested baby suddenly refuses to nap, fights bedtime, regularly wakes up too early, or wakes up repeatedly all night for no apparent reason. The experts say they come at expected intervals - 4 months, 9 months, 13 months, 18 months and 24 months (give or take a month) - and last between 2-6 weeks.
Bean's 18-month regression hit early, right around 16 months. Which also happened to be when she started walking in earnest.
Naps were still mostly OK, but she started fighting me at bedtime. Wanting to nurse but squirming constantly, wanting to play and just taking forever to fall asleep. Some nights it was a two or three hour ordeal. Then she'd wake at midnight, at 3, at 5, at 6. We were both wiped out every day and I just coudn't seem to pull out of the downward spiral that is an overtired baby. And then my own exhaustion hit me like a brick wall.
That was about three weeks ago. I went into survival mode for a while but now that we have had a couple of nights of improved sleep I wanted to offer up what worked to get us through. If nothing else, so I can come back and read this post when she's in the next regression!
Do Whatever Works
I have a friend whose newborn only slept 20 minutes at at time for many months. She tried lots of things to change his sleep patterns, but eventually she just went with it and did whatever she could to keep him and herself as rested as possible. Eventually, thankfully, he grew out of it.
I think of her on our worst days, when none of the things that worked to soothe Bean last week are working at all. Think outside of your normal repoirtoire and pull in techniques for drastic situations. Here are some of the things that worked for us:
- Long car rides on days when naps were elusive. For some reason she sleeps longer in the car than anywhere else, so I also resorted to this trick when she became way overtired.
- Letting her play in her crib in the dark long past bedtime while I sat nearby and read a book on my phone. Eventually she would settle, even if it sometimes took hours. At least I got some reading time.
- Bringing her into our bed when she woke in the wee hours and holding her firmly in my arms until she fell back asleep (after crying, but never for as long as I feared).
- An solid bedtime routine. On really difficult days, a warm bath and then right into pajamas in a dim room helped her settle a little faster.
- On days when she wasn't to tired to manage dinner, feeding her a meal with a mix of protein and carbs helped her sleep more soundly for the first part of the night, even if she still woke up early in the morning.
- Trading off responsibilities with the partner. Bedtime had been my domain since the beginning, but I just couldn't handle it every night any more. Ask for help if you need it!
- Drive through coffee for mommy while she slept in the backseat.
Protect Your Own Rest
I got into a really bad cycle of staying up too late on nights bedtime took extra long because I was so desperate for "adult time." Early morning waking and crying spells after those late nights were pure torture. I had to institute a strict bedtime for myself, even if it meant I was leaving my to-do list unfinished.
I also gave myself permission to do no housework during her nap. If she napped in the car I read a book. If she napped at home I got myself a cold drink and caught up on Facebook or blogs. We ran out of clean underwear a couple of times, but it kept me mostly sane.
Make sure to keep up on your exercise, your vitamins and eating a balanced diet. I slipped on all three of these and ended up sick in addtion to exhausted.
Don't throw in the towel
It is easy to let the routines go when you are just trying to keep it together every day. But I routines are important, even if you can't completely maintain them. I tried to keep naptime at about the same time every day, make dinner at the same time every night, and then move into the regular bedtime routine.
Just be willing adjust if that particular day the routine is not going to cut it. If she was too tired to manage her regular dinner I'd offer a yogurt squeeze pouch instead. Nap boycott today? Into the car we go. But tomorrow we will be back in the rocking chair at noon to try again.
Don't Doubt Yourself
At the beginning of this regression I tried really hard to figure out what was wrong so I could fix it. Was she teething? Was the room too light? Was she hungry? Did she need more activity during the day? Less? What did she need that I wasn't giving her?
It took a handful of days to realize this was just going to have to be endured. I wasn't doing anything wrong. But until then I gave myself a lot of grief about what a bad mom I was.
Don't do that. You're doing great. This is normal. It sucks, but it is normal.
Remember This Too Shall Pass
The biggest lesson I have learned about raising a child thus far it that everything changes.
That really cute way she would get so excited that she'd shake before a bath? She doesn't do it any more. That annoying way she'd try to bite me when she was frustrated? Doesn't do it any more.
Sleep regressions are like that, too. Hang in there. It will end. The baby will sleep again soon, and so will you.