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Three Into Four: The Sleep Challenge

06/11/2012 14:43 | Updated 22 May 2015
Three Into Four: The sleep challenge

This idyllic-looking bedtime face is only occurring because we're 'playing' at bedtime in the morning...

By and large, in the two years and three months since we first met, Diana, as far as toddlers and babies go, has been a great sleeper.

I write this with pride, because one of the things I'm most accomplished at is sleeping, so I'm convinced D has inherited this (sometimes good, sometimes disastrous) gene from me. I've defeated alarms (all manner of bedside ones, and even hotel fire alarms) and as soon as I stopped breastfeeding, I stopped hearing D's cries in the night.

Diana's Daddy, who needs to be at work at 6:30am, was less impressed with this skill than I was, but I like to think of it as me doing my part to even out the unfair distribution of labour that breastfeeding and giving birth entails for women.

Even in the third trimester of pregnancy, when many women spend their nights pacing around between trips to the loo, I sleep. Sure, I wake up with an excruciating calf cramp every morning at 5am, or occasionally need a bathroom visit in the middle of the night, but I sleepwalk back into bed and collapse into a deep slumber seconds later.

I'm still tired all the time, but I think that's just called motherhood.

Unfortunately, in the past couple of months, D has become somewhat resistant to going to sleep at night. By somewhat resistant, I mean she turns into a complete madwoman lunatic: sobbing, punching walls, flinging herself out of the cot in hysterics, almost choking from the intensity of her tears and screams and shouting 'No bed! Daddy bed! Milk! Read book! Sit DOWN!' and anything else she can think of to keep me in the room for longer.

It's devastating to watch. She gets herself so worked up that I'm actually worried for her health and need to check on her in the night to make sure she's OK, and the next morning she'll wake up looking bedraggled and red-eyed, still tired from the emotional upheaval.

I suspect the sleeping issues are partly our fault: We started a bad habit of letting her hang around in our room and snuggling her in our bed before trying to put her down in her own room, and while it's lovely to snuggle as a threesome (who am I kidding? Bolshy the bulldog is usually ensconced in the pillows for hours before we've realised he's traipsed mud all over our sheets), it's also understandable that it makes bedtime less appealing for her since D knows we're either going to stay and chat in our room or go into the living room and watch TV.

I tried to make her cot more exciting by getting her a pillow - one of her obsessions - and new Hello Kitty for Liberty printed sheets (how to do cartoons the classy way, I think!), which worked... for about a week.

She is still enthusiastic about the sheets, pillow and her bedmates - hamster ball, an overstuffed animal that takes up as much room as D does, a lamb-shaped soft toy pillow and Pip, a recent fluffy dog addition named after her godmother-in-New-York's puppy poodle, who is D's new favourite companion and has ousted the stuffed bulldog from pride of place. But when she's in a rage and refusing to sleep, those items don't last more than a few minutes before being flung out of the cot, usually aimed at my head.

According to Penelope Leach, when toddlers refuse to sleep, there are two ways to cope: leave them to their tantrum and come in every five to ten minutes to reassure them that you are still there but that it is, in fact, bedtime, or sit there with them until they fall asleep.

Judging by the last time I tried the second technique, which involved sitting silently for what felt like eons and ended with me falling asleep on the beanbag in D's room and getting pelted with soft toys as Diana - still wide awake - tried to rouse me, I think the firm-but-fleeing approach is the better option. But I crumble in the face of D's tears, so I need to send Daddy in to do the dirty work.

Now, I just need to guarantee D's sleep gets back on schedule before the new sleep disruption - aka baby - arrives early next year.

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