Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sleep is the wonder drug

This may sound a little strange, but after reading this article about the deleterious effect of crying babies and sleepless nights, I thought I'd mention some advice I give to every new father-to-be of my acquaintance:
As any parent will testify, sleepless nights caused by a crying baby can put a strain on the relationship. But research claims it is the prime reason for as many as one in three divorces or separations.... 30 per cent of those who had split up blamed sleepless nights caused by their children.  Some 11 per cent admitted pretending to be a sleep when their child woke-up so their partner would have to deal with them.
The sleep deprivation that accompanies babies for the first three months is brutal.  It's brutal for both parents, but it is particularly hard on the mothers, who are still recovering from childbirth and tend to be more sensitive to the child crying than the fathers.  So, approach it the way soldiers do: if you have even 15 minutes of downtime, sleep.  If she isn't doing anything vital, encourage her to go to bed and crash.

Adjust your schedule if you can so that you're already up to deal with the late night bottles; it's actually a lovely time to spend with your little son or daughter.  I got quite a bit of writing done during those months.

Forget things you'd like to do, forget about everything except the absolute priorities that cannot be put off for a few weeks.  Sleep comes first, her sleep in particular.  Keep in mind that a sleep-deprived new mother is about as charming and reasonable as a demon-tortured soul in Hell; she desperately needs sleep and craves it more than the average heroin addict is jonesing for the drug.  So make sure she gets it.  If it's easier on her, it will be easier on you.  This isn't about Game, this is about mutual survival.  She'll also bond better with the child if she isn't resenting him for causing her to feel like a zombie.

Also, both parents have to learn to let the baby cry himself to sleep.  Do it, and he'll be sleeping through the night months, if not years, sooner than if you let her rush in to settle him down every time he wakes up.  And worse, neither of you will learn to distinguish between the "I'm going to cry for ten minutes and conk out" cry and the various other cries, which are not a uniform symbol of distress but rather an informative mode of communication.

It's important.  It may even preserve your marriage during one of its natural stress points.

37 comments:

Bob Wallace said...

Are these crying babies sleeping the parents? There is far less crying when they do.

taterearl said...

"But research claims it is the prime reason for as many as one in three divorces or separations."

Another wonderful side effect of no-fault. Parents used to have to deal with a crying kid...now they can bolt due to their bundle of joy making them unhaaaaaaaaaaapy.

Kids cry they have to because that's their one survival mechanism...deal with it.

JDC said...

Our third was a nightmare. For 1.5 years he didn't sleep more than 1 hour at any given time. We figured out a system to handle the evenings. I had him from 5P to 9 - bottle. She from 9 to midnight, me from midnight to 5 AM. We found he would only sleep on his stomach, inclined, with someone constantly patting his back. Great advice re priorities. The laundry will get done, the house cleaned, sleep when you can!!!

SarahsDaughter said...

she desperately needs sleep and craves it more than the average heroin addict is jonesing for the drug.

Quite accurate description! I remember the mad dash for the bed to sleep fast as soon as the baby was asleep. It wasn't until our second one we learned babies can cry it out. And yes, sleep when they sleep, whenever they sleep. After learning how to do that, I still have that soldier skill of being able to fall asleep anytime of the day for a power nap.

Suzanne McCarley said...

Your point about letting a child cry himself to sleep is excellent. That is the first step in raising a child who doesn't whine, and a whiny kid is guaranteed to become a huge source of marital stress. Do it for your child, do it for your marriage.

Socially Extinct said...

I developed the worst insomnia during my son's first year. The erratic night hours triggered it. It was one of the most frustrating things I've ever experienced.

Yet...sitting with him at 2 in the morning in the silent, dark room were some of our most memorable moments.

Jabari said...

Wait... What kind of horrible sexist no-good misogynist posts something like this? *laugh*

Will Best said...

We did shifts. I took 10pm to 2am. Wife took 3am to 7am. After a week or two you can delay/time feeding so that most babies will sleep from 1ish to 4ish and then both parents can get 6 hours uninterrupted sleep plus whatever else is allowed.

Ioweenie said...

So, wait. You wrote while spending lovely "bottle time" with the babies, or while awaiting your shift?

I nursed a long time, so did all the feeding, even when I went back to work. I never was much of a sleeper before the kid, so didn't notice much difference. None the less, invaluable advice as I've only experienced sleep deprivation a few times, and it is worse than the worst hangover.

Child-rearing years very hard on a marriage when focus not on marriage. Most women get WAY touched out with the attention/energy drain of kids. Since we're not primed for sex on a regular basis anyway, once we've had as many kids as we crave, we're just about depleted until they start to go away; by then, much damage may have already been done to the marriage.

My friends and I (ladies with grown kids) scratch our heads at God's plan. He gave us the craving for babies, but there's not a lot of energy left-over while we're doing the hard time of home-making/kid-rearing.

I didn't stay in church long so maybe it's there and I don't know it, but encouragement to wives/mothers to stay marriage-focused needs to happen. Martha Peace's The Excellent Wife is a pretty good reference. I proposed it while I was at church; no one jumped on board.

Cloud William said...

My children are all grown, now, but I remember with fondness those first few months, when I was the one who got up in the middle of the night. My wife never had to actually get out of bed -- I was the one who got up, changed diapers, wrapped the blankets, brought the little one in for 2AM snack, then I was the one who burped them, changed them again, rocked in the chair, then laid them back down, and went back myself for a few more hours of sleep.

At about four months, we decided it was time to have them sleep through the night; again, it was me, not my wife, who got up, changed the diaper, cuddled, walked, rocked, and soothed the baby back to sleep. All three children were "trained" within a week to sleep through the night; they knew they were loved, but there wasn't any food coming.

As Vox said, it was a lovely time. The small amount of sleep I missed was repaid thousands of times over. I pity those men who miss this incredible opportunity so they can get "enough" rest.

Badger said...

Sleep is awesome...it restores levity, libido and sanity.

In this post badgerhut.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/marriage-is-part-of-parenting/ I riffed on an article regarding a woman who had by her own admission all but abandoned her husband in favor of being her kid's best friend.

I questioned her skills as a parent if she was modeling marital dysfunction for her child. To wit, you're not a "good mother" if you spend all your time with your kid(s) and leave your husband in the lurch.

The argument has been made by women that kids are helpless creatures and so should be give primary priority. This is backed up with female man-up snark like "why do grown men need so much attennnntion?" But the fact is that the marriage had better be your top priority, because the marriage (and the man's consent to the marriage) is what allows you to be mothering the child to begin with.

No doubt the normalization of single motherhood has hastened the decline of general respect for marriage as a framework for parenting.

Anyway, Dalrock posted an excellent comment that ties in with Vox's advice to be the captain and get your woman to sleep:

"A colleague of mine gave me some excellent advice before the birth of our first child. He said my job during the birth process was to be my wife’s advocate. She would be in a vulnerable position, and would be looking to me to protect her and take on any challenges that came up. Simple advice, but I think it helped us keep the right dynamic. In game terms, he reminded me to be the alpha for our family. Simple things came up during the birth of both of our children when the nurses or doctors weren’t listening to my wife. I stepped in and made sure they heard. "

It is very alpha to tell your first officer, as her 'advocate': "I don't care what you think you need to be doing - I'll take care of the kid, go get some sleep." A good CO keeps his charges in good health.

Another related thought: as men have gotten more and more admonished to "do more parenting," at the same time it appears to me that mothers' assuming all judgments of parenting for themselves is also on the rise. The combination of these two is that men are increasingly under pressure to be helpmeets, secondary aides, to Mommy's parenting plans. To take just one example, it has been noted to me by youth and high school football coaches that Mom is increasingly the one making decisions for the kids' activities, which leads to a much higher incidence of "no way my baby is going to play football!" than coaches saw in the Gen-X years. In earlier times, apparently, dads would assert "dear, he's turning out for football and that's that."

Philalethes said...

The first response includes the real solution, though a word is missing, which makes it a little unclear.

Human babies are basically hairless chimpanzees, and like the latter are genetically programmed to expect that if they are out of physical contact (or at least tangible proximity) with a larger human body, they are due to be some predator's lunch in short order. A human infant subjected to "cry it out" treatment is not crying because e's annoyed, or wants to be a nuisance; e's utterly terrified, certain death is imminent, and is employing the only survival "skill" at es disposal. When a mother chimpanzee hears her baby crying, she knows something's wrong and doesn't ignore em. As does a mother primate of any other species—except the human.

A trauma occurs when an organism is subjected to a life-threatening situation which is not then resolved. A human baby left to "cry it out" is being severely traumatized—and as Peter Levine has shown, once traumatized, the human psyche cannot regain homeostasis on its own.

The brain structure responsible for interpreting danger signals is the amygdala; if it is repeatedly/chronically or even once heavily over-stimulated, it can become locked in an overdrive mode, constantly transmitting danger signals to the nervous & endocrine systems, which eventually exhausts various body systems, causing all kinds of mischief. Chronic anxiety and depression, to start with, but it's now being discovered that many other maladies, such as chronic fatigue, can also be traced to an amygdala stuck in overdrive. The human body/mind system, least of all the infant's, is not designed to deal with such chronic or extreme stress.

I'm convinced that the prevalence of the "cry it out" method in recent decades is a major cause of the present (and growing) epidemic of psychological maladies and associated disorders. Certainly I know it was in my case, being one of the first of numerous traumas of my infancy and childhood that locked my nervous system permanently into "fight-or-flight" mode, with, over the decades, disastrous effects on my health (I've been virtually incapacitated for near a decade due to anxiety/depression/PTSD/chronic fatigue, etc.).

See "Is Your Baby a Good Baby?" by Heather M. Carson; some in the current generation of mothers are beginning to figure things out. Also the book "The Continuum Concept" by Jean Liedloff, for more information about how modern "civilization" has gone disastrously wrong in its treatment of infants and children.

Example: "Your point about letting a child cry himself to sleep is excellent. That is the first step in raising a child who doesn't whine, and a whiny kid is guaranteed to become a huge source of marital stress." On the contrary, while this Prussian attitude and method may seem to "work", what it creates is not a happy, healthy human being but a creature who's quiet because e's been terrified into submission—the perfect "citizen" of the modern State. Might as well just give em Ritalin in the cradle and avoid any trouble at all. A happy, nurtured child will not whine either, and will fall asleep easily when e needs to—as do all other infant primates.

Homo Sap is the only mammal I know of (and certainly the only primate) which treats its young as little reptiles: expecting them to be emotionally and somatically independent from birth. Chimp babies are in physical contact with their mothers throughout the first ~18 months of life. This is not by accident. Human babies should sleep with their parents, until they are old enough to seek their own independence. If properly nurtured, they will, and the whole process will be easier on everyone involved.

mmaier2112 said...

Jabari: that's pretty much what I was thinking, too.

I don't know that I could deal with it. I find it hard enough to deal with it as an uncle. :)

Scott6584 said...

Good post. When my firstborn child was about 4 months old, he started doing his crying thing because he wanted to be held.

I checked. He wasn't dirty. He wasn't sick. He wasn't hungry. He wasn't tired. He's already been held for hours. He just wanted to control his mother, and by responding every time he cried, she had taught him how to control her.

Believe it or not, babies at even just a few months old can learn how to manipulate their parents.

I put him in a car seat, and sat him across the room from us. He cried, then screamed, for 45 minutes straight. My wife was in tears while I physically restrained her from going to him. Then, he finally tired himself out, and fell asleep.

After that, he learned that he didn't get to have Mommy just because he wanted her. And it became much easier on my wife to take care of him. She still followed him around and hovered, and did all the things new mothers do. But she was able to set him down, and get other things done without him manipulating her by crying.

She also learned that it was ok to let him cry.

(Don't take this too far. My son was lactose intolerant, and we had to work through all of that first. I'm not advocating neglecting a child. But even a baby has to be taught that they are not the boss. Both the child and the mother become happier people once this lesson is learned.)

Scott6584 said...

Oh, by the way. My son is now 23 years old, and very well adjusted. He graduated from college, and is an officer in the Army now. He was not damaged emotionally at 4 months old when we ignored his little temper tantrum.

Matt said...

A human infant subjected to "cry it out" treatment is not crying because e's annoyed, or wants to be a nuisance; e's utterly terrified, certain death is imminent, and is employing the only survival "skill" at es disposal.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is nuts. The young of every other species shuts the hell up when danger is hear, because noise is the surest way to become lunch. Humans, having been on the top of the food chain for millenia, have the luxury of being able to squall their lungs out as infants precisely because they know they're in zero danger.

They cry because they're hungry, hurt, bored, tired, irritated, or for any number of other reasons. The cries are all different and people who're around babies a lot can tell the difference. But good lord, crying is not a sign or cause of trauma and brain damage. We'd have been extinct ten thousand years ago if it were.

Philalethes said...

@ Matt:

Since you apparently didn't read the article I linked, I'll include part of it here:

"Recently, researchers at the Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry studied long-term effects of the cry it out method. One of the researchers, Michael L. Commons reports these findings:

"'Parents should recognize that having their babies cry unnecessarily harms the baby permanently,' Commons said. 'It changes the nervous system so they're overly sensitive to future trauma.'

"Also, 'Research has shown that infants who are routinely separated from parents in a stressful way have abnormally high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as lower growth hormone levels. These imbalances inhibit the development of nerve tissue in the brain, suppress growth, and depress the immune system.'

"Letting babies cry it out harms them permanently."

Just for starters. What was "known" to be fact 50 years ago is not necessarily all there is to know.

Scott6584 said...

"They cry because they're hungry, hurt, bored, tired, irritated, or for any number of other reasons. The cries are all different and people who're around babies a lot can tell the difference."

This is exactly right. Any decent parent can tell a "hungry" cry from a "tired" cry from a "hurt" cry to a "dirty diaper" cry to an "angry" cry. Babies have more emotions than just fear and comfort.

My son was born 7 weeks early and came home after a week in the hospital weighing less than 5 lbs. Surprisingly, he was strong enough to turn himself over. Then he started gaining weight, and was no longer strong enough to flip himself - but he still tried because he remembered doing it. He his whole head would get red, and he would grunt and cry trying to flip himself.

But if you really wanted to hear him scream, then all you had to do was "help" him flip over. Then he would get really pissed off. He wanted to do it himself, and didn't appreciate the "help." Turn him back over, and he would stop screaming, and then commence to grunting and crying trying to flip himself over. This started at two weeks old.

At age 23, he is still the same way. He likes to do things himself, and resents when people try to "help" him without him asking first. His personality was coming out right away. He also didn't like to be held very much as a small child after about 9 months. He would climb out of your lap quickly. My wife complained about it.

Fortunately, she later had a daughter who liked nothing better than to be held for hours at a time. And that 18 year old daughter still likes to cuddle. Go figure - babies have personalities and don't all like to be treated the same. Whooda thunk it?

JDC said...

When one understands, as Luther contended, that there is no work in the kingdom of God more important than changing shitty diapers, one has focus. The sleeplessness passes...and the two who have become one know that their efforts are not for naught.

Will Best said...

I don't think anybody is suggesting ignoring a newborn cry. Its age and child appropriate.

Also, ones opinion as the medical profession as a whole goes downhill once you realize doctors are unwilling to question orthodoxy.

The CronoLink said...

Thank you for the advice, Vox. Will have it in mind once I have my first child.

KJ said...

Also if you'd like your newborn to sleep a little better right off the bat, consider taking them to a chiropractor in the first couple weeks. The contortions an infant goes through as it's being born are pretty intense.

szook said...

Yeah, we are just rounding out with a 2 year old who still gets up at least once or twice in the wee hours to come find mommy and daddy (He started bailing out of the crib on his own a few month ago, so very little night time crying...just early AM visits).

With regard to the sleep issue, it is important to know that on a short term basis you can get by with simply laying down and resting whether you fall asleep or not. Just stop and go down and let your body recharge. Don't worry about sleep, it will come on it's own, but your tired bones need to stop going for a while.

Anchorman said...

When my sons were born, my ex was still working third shift. After six weeks of maternity leave, she’d go back to work. I was left with the boys (about two years apart). I’d put the baby to bed in the crib and hit the sack.

In the morning, she’d come home from work and ask, “Did he sleep through the night?”

I’d shrug. “I presume he did.”

Both boys adjusted immediately, were very early walkers (average time talkers, I think) and were out of the crib by year 1 because they’d climb out and we didn’t want to risk them falling.

Matt said...

Since you apparently didn't read the article I linked, I'll include part of it here:

You linked to a Lew Rockwell article which cites a press release about a review article. Conspicuously absent: any actual data.

Philalethes said...

Matt said...

Since you apparently didn't read the article I linked, I'll include part of it here:

You linked to a Lew Rockwell article which cites a press release about a review article. Conspicuously absent: any actual data.


Wasn't thinking of this in terms of an in-depth "scientific" discussion. Nor was the linked article; it was simply one sensitive, intelligent woman's learning experience, which she wished to share with any who may be interested. I applaud both her willingness to learn and her impulse to share what she's learned. I don't need any "data" on the subject myself, because I'm living it, to my great sorrow.

Of course, 100 years ago these same "scientists" had definite proof that masturbation was the cause of tuberculosis and a host of other diseases, both personal and social, thus the intense promotion of infant male circumcision as a "solution".

And these same "scientists" and other "experts" (such as those who advised my poor, well-meaning mother) were confidently recommending the "cry it out" method of infant "care", having, I'm sure, plenty of "data" to back them up. I happen to agree with them this time, though I didn't before, but in neither case do I regard them as Gods.

Of course, you don't have to learn anything new if you don't want to.

Loki of Asgard said...

Considering how many people receive similar treatment in infancy and yet do not daily struggle with panic attacks and PTSD, let us apply Occam's Razor:

Perhaps you are just a flighty, rabbity hypochondriac.

JRL said...

Another pro tip - babies like to be wrapped up tightly in a blanket, kinda swaddled up like a burrito. Gently firm, so that their arms can't move. This really helps settle them down.

Crusader Corim said...

My wife and I had both my sons sleep with us the first year. You'll sleep a bit less, she'll sleep a bit more, the baby will sleep a lot more, and everyone will be happier (even you, because despite less sleep, you have a happy wife and son).

OCS said...

Fox News Alert: Award-winning Cruelty Artist makes practical, encouraging, and heart-filled blog post; clothes children in rabbit hide!

dannyfrom504 said...

and THIS is why i don't have/want kids.

Anonymous said...

Philalethes, go get .5mg of clonazepam (specifically) and start by taking a half. It and booze contain the same GABA inhibitor and will effectively "reset" bloodflow back to the neocortex from the Miggy in full hijack.

Also try restimulating your neocortex by solving logic puzzles (tetris on your cell phone, calculate pi in your head, etc) when you get anxiety or you can feel a panic attack setting in.

Stop drinking. It helps quiet the electrical overactivity that is causing your miggy burn while you are drinking, but the next day you are left with less control.

You can overcome anxiety, panic disorders, and the like using medication and self experimentation. A problem of the mind can be solved by the mind.

Anonymous said...

are you talking about a woman working at the same time or something?

Wendy said...

Great advice from Vox.

As for the recovery, it not like it takes a day or two to physically recover from the delivery. It takes weeks and getting as much sleep as possible really helps.

Peggy said...

There is more than one workable solution to this problem: Breastfeeding plus co-sleeping helps to synchronize mom's and baby's sleep patterns, and the night feedings can get done without -anyone- having to get out of bed or even wake up completely. The hormonal effects of breastfeeding can really help the mother mellow out and cope with things.

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