Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Four people, two cats and 736 square feet: the Sleep Edition

Last night I followed my usual solo night-time routine, what I do the three nights each week that Andrew is away at work. It involves reading, checking email and catching up on work, maybe some television on the internet, sometimes writing blogs or papers and definitely more time on facebook than is warranted. I also do the stuff that Andrew does on the nights he is here - load and start the dishwasher, check to make sure there is formula made up for the night, feed and water the cats, that sort of thing. The thing that made last night special wasn't what I did, but rather the ambiance. I got to do it with the lights on, because my little S slept in the bedroom with J. This is extremely exciting for me.

Hands down one of the big advantages of the way our condo is arranged is the way it maximizes liveable space. It's basically two giant rooms, so it doesn't feel small or cramped despite its size. None of the square footage is wasted on features like hallways and mudrooms which, while nice, aren't places people spend a lot of time living. As we've grown into the space we have decluttered repeatedly and moved toward maximizing open floor space, so much so that someone who came to visit during Christmas exclaimed "it looks bigger!"   However, as we've attempted to manage sleep with an infant, a toddler, and one of the adults working nights this openness has worked against us.

Once we got J sleeping on her own (covered here), we decided she slept better in a completely different space from us so she had the "bedroom" and we installed a murphy bed in the living room. This has been the situation for about a year and a half. Jubilee has been a really great sleeper since she moved in to her own crib/bed, and she usually logs between 12 and 13 hours of sleep each night. This setup worked great for us, too. We would say goodnight to J, shut the door and have the living room(our sleeping space)/kitchen/full bath to ourselves all night. We loved it.

bed, toilet, sink - everything the day sleeper needs!
Then two things happened at once: S came along and Andrew got a permanent job (yay!) working nights(meh). We knew that he would work nights in the beginning, everyone does. So the challenge then became where he would sleep during the day - if he was in the bedroom then that meant he would be disturbed whenever a baby needed to nap. We decided to get creative with the odd long, skinny half bathroom off the bedroom and built him what we affectionately call the "sleep cave" by hacking an IKEA bunk bed.

At the same time, while we were toying with the sleep cave idea, we got the call about baby S. We built the cave while we waited to hear if she would be ours, and Andrew slept there for the first time after we got back from our trip to get her. So we went from our cozy and stable sleep arrangement of J in her room us in ours after 7pm, with Andrew and I going to bed and waking up at the same time every day to the madness of juggling an infant who was seriously opposed to sleeping anywhere but in our bed/my arms and Andrew either at work or asleep 21 hours a day 3-4 days a week. I reviewed the book on baby sleep that we love and decided that we would have S in the bed with us to start. With the murphy bed a co-sleeper wasn't practical and I had a feeling she wouldn't tolerate it anyhow. So J retained sole proprietorship of the bedroom/family room and when S started going to sleep at 7pm when she was six weeks old I just adjusted. She would sleep on the bed and I would hold her until she fell asleep and then put her on the bed, sitting in the dark reading on my Kindle or working by the light of the computer. When Andrew was home he was usually all wonky from nightshift and the darkness made him tired so he went to bed at 7pm too, waking up at 4 or 5 and spending the early morning hours either reading, computing, or working out.

It all worked out okay but quite honestly I found the hours between 7 and 11pm pretty dark and lonely, with everyone asleep but me. I also found it hard to imagine how we were ever going to get both girls in the same room for sleeping - J was so used to her peaceful and solitary sleep time that she would start awake anytime someone opened the door. I looked on the internet but didn't find much aside from vague assurances that "the older one will learn to sleep right through it." Andrew seemed to think this would be the arrangement until S was old enough to be sleep trained and make it all night.

But that's not what happened. S had a couple rough nights in our bed, waking every 1-2 hours and wanting just 1-2 ounces of formula before dropping off again. So we decided to see if she'd changed her mind about sleeping on her own. She had! You could hardly call it sleep training - while she did fuss a bit it was nothing like what we experienced with J, who was much older when she learned to put herself to sleep.  We're talking five minutes of low level protest before sacking out and staying asleep for 6-8 hour stretches. After two days she had it totally under control. It was amazing. I was still sitting in the dark at night, but she was sound asleep in the pack n play.

So last night I took the leap and put them down together. And they did it! It took about 45 minutes to get them down, mostly because J kept popping up to check on the baby who was completely asleep within about two minutes. J didn't sleep through the baby's night wakings, but she handled them well. The first one she barely woke for and the second she did get up and turn on her nightlight and want water and a lullaby but she was easily resettled. I bet within a week she doesn't wake at all. Tonight I had class and Andrew was on deck and apparently things weren't quite as smooth  (at one point J very clearly requested "baby out!")but they did it and when I arrived home there were two slumbering heads on the video monitor. And the lights on in the living room/our room. And my husband still awake, because of the whole lights being on thing.

And suddenly it feels like our space works again. I don't imagine it will be smooth sailing forever or even that we won't have a few rough ones the next few nights as our girls get used to each other's night sounds and wakings but at the moment I'm feeling pretty optimistic, imagining the years ahead and those two heads whispering secrets to each other after lights-out, and how they will never be able to remember a time when they didn't go to sleep and wake up together.

I never would have imagined that S would be sleeping on her own this early, this easily, and in the same room as her big sister. It feels pretty darn good.


  1. Growing up my 2 sisters and I all shared the same room, crib in the modified closet (closet doors removed) and bunk beds on the wall. I'm sure it may have annoyed me at times, but overall I think it helped. I can still pretty much sleep through anything. In fact when I was around 11 or so I stayed with my aunt after her baby was born and I slept in the same room as the newborn, my aunt was amazed that I wouldn't wake up when the baby was screaming its lungs out!

  2. That is amazing, congratulations to you all. I have presumed it's a transition I need to spend ages reading and psyching myself up for, maybe it is worth just giving it a try! Inspiring indeed.x

  3. Kudos to you on getting your space to work! I'm super envious of a baby who sleeps (as we're currently hugely struggling in that arena right now). I wish we could get our little one to stay asleep in her own space or in our bed.

  4. Wow - I'm way impressed about this arangement! Baby E is 15 mon old and still up several times a night. I can't imagine getting him and the kid to sleep in the same room. You lucky mama, you!!!

  5. I sort of can't believe it myself! I think we may have accidentally chosen the perfect time to do it. J isn't old enough to feel possessive of the room (and given how we live probably doesn't think of it as "hers" anyway) and S is small enough to be adaptable. But part of it is just that I've got a couple of good sleepers, and I realize this is a gift!

  6. I don't think you ever ended up blogging about J's sleep training.
    What is the book that ended up being helpful for you?

  7. The book we really loved was Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth. I liked it because it is based on solid scientific research done on baby and child sleep needs and habits AND because he doesn't put forward one specific plan but rather puts out some options for different ways of putting kids to sleep. For example he talks about how to do co-sleeping and family bed in ways that support healthy sleep as well as doing what we have now done with both our girls, some sort of letting the baby learn to go to sleep on his or her own. There is a link in this post to what I did write about sleep training J! :)