Sleepwars: The Tubular 3-2 (cha-cha-cha) Transition

For a girl who picks up most developmental milestones pretty quickly, she's glacially dilatory on the sleep transitions and the teething nonsense. Guess she's putting all those resources into the world-conquering mobility.



Or is/was it that Mommy wasn't pushing it enough? Does the mantra about babies almost always being awake too long... about never missing the nap window... about striking fast and hard right at the first sign of drowsiness... about waiting too long being the deathnell of a good sleep schedule... was that maybe a little absolutest? Maybe targeted at younger babies?


Turns out that during a "nap transition," babies might need to be stretched a little. That babies can actually develop a "habit" of having shorter wake times. Maybe a baby will go right out if you start to sing to her, but that doesn't mean she needed to absolutely go down that instant. Who knows. Babies are hard to figure out. Miss Chaya especially. She's never given clear "drowsy signs." She gets worked up about things and fusses randomly. She glazes over and nods off if she's so drastically underslept that it finally becomes obvious. Sometimes she gets a second or third wind that could be roses-and-sunshine-energetic or overtiredness. And it changes by the day. Chaya's sleeps are like a box of chocolate - gooey, covered in crinkly paper, and prone to melting down in warm weather.






On the first day of her 44th week (so like mid-June), Chaya was fighting her morning nap. This had become a not-so-unusual event. As I mentioned, it's often hard to tell whether fighting the nap is a symptom of overtiredness or undertiredness. Her reaction to beginning the nap routine can vary dramatically from day to day regardless of otherwise identical circumstances. Usually, if I'm doggedly patient with my lullabying, she'll fall asleep in my arms. Sometimes, like that morning, patient persistence involves stemming any reaction to her attempting to climb me and grab onto my earring and/or throat (I swear she will vulcan nerve pinch me into unconsciousness one of these days) while hooting "HUHUHUHUHU" (her, not me) about two seconds before she either (1) starts to cry, or (2) passes out in my arms.

BUT, I just was not in the mood. As I'd started to do the prior week, I decided that it wasn't the right time to force a nap. To heck with it, it was time to try a longer window of wakefulness in the morning. The books all say 2 - 2.5 hours. I'd started going up for 2.5 hours between the occasional 2 hour window when she was ill or had slept poorly. But Andrew was home. If it all blew up in my face (or worked out right), we could bring out the big guns: AN EARLY BEDTIME! (DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN)

I have detested the damned morning nap for several weeks to months now. Always a half hour. Just enough of a time suck to make the third nap painfully awkward. I've pined for a schedule that somehow sidesteps the awkward jiu jitsu involved in getting Chaya down for three naps as she gets increasingly wakeful throughout the day.

 But an early bedtime? That's a daunting thing.

Yes, I have to admit, I'd been avoiding the real push for a nap transition because I was afraid of hitting thatearly bedtime milestone. After the switch to daylight savings, we had this wonderful window in which Andrew could come home and have dinner with Chaya before putting her to bed. It removed so much stress of will-he/won't-he-get-home-in-time to put her to bed. It meant that he got to see plenty of her. I abhor being the person making a judgment call that daddy doesn't get to see Chay-chay that evening because Everett traffic sucked a bit too much. Some part of me was holding out hope that Andrew would be commissioned for his exciting secret project in El Segundo for a few weeks, so I could get down to some serious baby nap and early bedtime adjusting.

But daddy was home that day, and thus the commute was not a factor. If we had to put her down at 5:30 p.m., well so be it. If she woke up the next day at 5 a.m., then obviously she'd just have a nice three nap day.

And thus, the experiment began. I kept her up three hours. And she slept. Forty-five minutes. Not a half hour. Not an hour. That teetered on the edge of promise and disaster. So we waited for the second nap. The real test. I often have kept her up for three hours between the second two naps, so this was less unprecedented. Kept her up just shy of three hours and down she went again. This time she slept for an hour and a half. There was no longer any time for a third nap. Not by a long shot.

And so, it was time to bring out the early bedtime. And so we did. We had our entire nightly routine an hour earlier, leaving Chaya to fall asleep about four hours after she woke up.

The most amazing thing was that an early bedtime led to a longer sleep. Chaya woke up later the next day than the day before. I didn't sleep nearly at all, so fully convinced she'd be rising in a tither any second and so mentally stirred up at the possibilities and schedule oddities that may arise if the transition stuck.

The next morning (Sunday): Her first nap of the day lasted an hour and a half. Then another nap for an hour. I was starting to feel a little cocky. It was a whole revelation. All this time, Chaya just needed longer wake times! We'd space her naps out, slowly stretch her wake times so she'd be able to still have daddy-daughter time.



Nice thinking of course, but the course of true baby never did run smoothly. The next-next morning (Monday) she was up early and unhappy. Possibly writhing with baby gas. Probably not teething. Because it's only teething that one time that already happened.

The next few days were a little in upheaval. We were out on Wednesday avoiding the cleaners. Chaya slept uneasily in a foreign crib. Chaya was highly fussy on Monday and Tuesday. Friday, we were set to spend the midday in Mukilteo. And I might have wussed out a few times, opting for shorter wake times in order to have the option of a third nap. Keeping her up longer risks losing the third-nap window without necessarily leading to better naps. And we hadn't really sussed out what to do if Chaya had a two-nap day while Andrew was off working.

Thus the first three days reverted to three nap days.

Then Thursday, Chaya made the decision for us. After a middling first nap, she slept until 1:45. This was perhaps the most conceivably awkward timing on her part. There just wasn't time for a nap, but it also meant a bedtime that far pre-dated Andrew's returning. I tried twice to get her to fall asleep in her nursery. I tried to walk her to sleep for a catnap to bridge to dinner time. It didn't work. And eventually, I put her to sleep ten minutes before Andrew (who naturally had been stuck in bad traffic) got home.

In a sense, it was a relief to know that it just wasn't worth trying by that point.

On Friday, we stumbled into freakishly good BBQ-going luck. Chaya slept in (for her - this means 6:20 instead of 5:30). Then she took a looooong nap. It fit us in just perfect stead to drive down to Mukilteo (me throwing a bag's worth of baby toys over my back and onto Chaya's head every five minutes so she would momentarily be distracted from wailing before inevitably dropping the toy and recommencing a bored ten month old howl of indignation), meet some coworkers, throw the baby at THE BIG BOSS, see some projects, and head back just in time for Chaya to be ready to pass out in the car.



On Saturday of her 45th Week, she got up earlier again. I thought we were abutting that awkward boundary 'twixt 3 and 2 naps yet again. But we carried on with longer wake times. And indeed, she had a long first nap and a mid-range second. We put her to bed an hour early. And she woke up on Sunday #2 at exactly the same semi-early time. But her morning nap was short... would it be a three nap day? Another awkward twilight zone nap day and early bedtime?

Never a dull baby moment.

She lasted until 2. Early bedtime.

Monday #2, an extra fifteen minutes! All the way to 6 a.m.! (or 5 a.m. if we don't include daylight savings, which must never, never, never ever end please god). Then took a long nap. Then another one... Then... she fought bedtime like the Dickens (if Dickens were a wriggling pile of worms hopped up on Red Bull and ketamine), then woke up on Tuesday #2 at 5:10 a.m.!!! Took a short nap, then a long one... stretched her beyond her abilities so Andrew could put her to bed, which led to a massively overtired baby unable to actually fall asleep until nearly her regular bedtime... and she woke up on Wednesday #3 at 5:30 a.m.!!!






And on we merrily stumble. There is no way of knowing what comes next. Will she adjust to an earlier bedtime too, too well? Will we be able to gradually shift her schedule back so that she'll wake up later? Will Andrew ever see his daughter again? Will Chaya dig the idea of dropping a nap that she'll just rush on to the infamous 2-1 nap transition? Or will she be back to four naps in a matter of days?

Basically so far I've "learned" this:

1. Chaya acts tired after being awake for a couple of hours. She also gets bored, frustrated, angry, etc. etc. Mostly, she just needs to re-set after too much exertion or activity. That means more being held and sucking her thumb than it does immediately going down for a nap. When she is like that, she can also fall asleep without a huge fight, but it often means less sleep. Despite all the insistence that keeping your baby up longer is absolutely the wrong thing to do in order to get a baby to sleep longer... well there's always an exception to the rules.

2. She still definitely gets overtired, but it takes longer than I think. As always, yawning, looking away, and the classical drowsy signs rarely apply and crop up at random throughout any waking period. And, as always, there's no consistent rhyme or reason for why one nap is short and another long.

3. The sleep experts are actually helpful en masse, but it's usually best to mix and match to suit your baby.

4. Screw "drowsy but awake." I'm all about singing her to sleep. I know she can put herself back to sleep, and does when she wakes up at night.

5. There's no clear connection between how much Chaya fights falling asleep and how well she sleeps. There may even sometimes be a bit of a bigger nap per bigger fight, but that's also hit or miss.

6. Sleep begets sleep, but only to a point. If Chaya naps too well during they day, she naps less well at night.

7. Meanwhile, Chaya is less interested in nursing and I'm offering at less insistent frequencies. Perhaps it's her discovery of almond butter and yogurt. Perhaps it's some ephemeral "teething" discomfort as the first one slowly debouches into prominence. Perhaps, it's just that she's getting older, more active, and liking solids better. Who can say. I don't have nearly the success nursing her to sleep recently, so I'm glad she can be lullabyed. It also means our eating schedule around naps was already changing around a bit.

8. There's still no clear consensus about getting a baby onto a schedule versus going by wake time. But probably Chaya can be awake between 3-4 hours without going totally ballistically overtired. And there's some advice that if a baby is on a semi-consistent schedule, you can slowly push it back over the course of a few weeks (Like, say, when DST tragically meets its end). This remains to be seen.

9. The extra time between naps (especially with a little less nursing) is very freeing, although it also increases pressure to keep a very active baby occupied. Not only am I ready to get out and do more, but it's kind of necsesary. Mommy is terribly boring.

10. It's ridiculous that her early risings wear on me so much, since I have been getting up before Andrew recently anyways (that damned alarm is so startling that I think I'd rather just be up and out of the room). But they really do. Almost as much as those painful battles over three naps. But really more, because I just don't get any down-time to steel myself for a fussy little creature and her all day carousel of assisted stumbling around the kitchen island in between tantrums. It would be lovely if she'd get some more sleep and meet the day bright eyed and dampy diapered.
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