The 10-month sleep regression and crying in the car
The gaps between posts have been getting longer and longer, but that's not for lack of enthusiasm or things to write about: the last couple of weeks or so have been tough, and, I think, for the first time, we have found looking after the Troll a genuine challenge. The 10-month sleep regression has hit hard, and any free time or energy I used to have for writing, looking up LOTR gifs, or even thinking through ideas, have now been taken up just trying to get the little fella to sleep.
So far, it has been mostly, almost literally, just shits and giggles, and that’s been reflected in the nature of most of my posts. It’s been lots of positive, trivial and whimsical stuff, and even when I have written about feelings, I’ve turned into a game. But now it’s time for some hashtag real talk: last Saturday, I sat in the car, having just done the weekly food shop, and, overcome with tiredness and emotion, and the fallout out from one of those trivial little squabbles with the wife (that are nothing to with anything but being exhausted and needing to vent), I had a good, long cathartic cry. These are the first tears I have shed since the day he was born, and the time before that might have been a quick cry during a particularly strong bout of homesickness in around May 2012. This is not me being all I'M A MAN AND MEN DON'T CRY, there are just very few things that make me shed tears.
For the longest time, we have used to the Troll passing out straight after his evening boobing at around 19:30 and sleeping until maybe 05:30, waking up only a couple of times because he needed his dummy back in, or a quick reassuring stroke of the back after a nightmare. Even after 05:30, a bit of milk put him straight back to sleep for maybe another hour or so. Suddenly, he just started raging as soon as we laid him down for a nap and it was now taking two to three hours of really angry tears before he finally wore himself out each evening, and even then he’d wake up if one of us blinked too loudly.
There was a period two weeks ago where I calculated that I had spent around 10 hours of 48 trying to get him to calm down out of a rage spiral. I think the toughest thing was that he was so obviously desperately tired and needed to sleep, but just couldn’t calm down long enough for it to happen. I don't mind admitting that after two hours of hearing him rage I was pretty sad, worn down and, occasionally, had to take a few deep breaths to stop my self getting frustrated, remind myself that it it would pass, and that he was having a much worse time of it than I was.
It wasn’t just that he was taking a long time to fall asleep, but it was very broken sleep, too, so neither of us slept well - hence the increased frustration that my wife and I felt that couldn't be vented anywhere but at each other.
At first, we weren’t really sure what was going on. I wondered whether it was because we had friends visiting and our trip to the cabin had messed with his routines, or if it was teeth coming through, as we went through something similar (though not half as bad) whilst we were in England visiting my parents as a prelude to this two bottom teeth coming through. Neither of these fit, though, as his sleep-hate continued well after our friends left, and we’re still stuck at two (admittedly very cute) teeth.
After a bit of reading up and a chat with our healthcare worker, we now know that the Troll has been going through the 10-month sleep regression phase, which is the result of several huge cognitive and physical changes all going into overdrive at the same time and piling on top of each other:
- More teeth coming through
- Cognitive development. He has started recognizing that a mirror reflects the thing in front of it (which is very exciting and will also be the topic of another post), being more vocal and varied with the sounds he makes, and having proto-conversations (back-and-forth call and response gruntings). His sense of object permanence is also really starting to kick in, which starts leading to separation anxiety - hence the anger right before bed as he begins to realise that sleep means being away from us.
- Growth spurt (in the run up to this phase, the Troll had grown around 30 mm in a month).
- Developmental breakthroughs in motor skills. Since this sleep-hating phase started, the Troll has suddenly abandoned the commando crawl for proper crawling (and now can't crawl far enough fast enough), starting standing and moving along furniture, and started practicing proto-walking using a box for support. All the gymnastics in the bed are because his brain is unable to stop practicing all the new skills he's mastering even when it's supposed to be winding down.
- Going from needing three naps down to two naps. In the run-up to the regression, we were having a harder and harder time getting him to take his usual third nap, so we just started skipping it – in good conscience we thought, as kids his age are supposed to start taking only napping twice a day. What we know now from the health worker is that he still needs that nap, even if it is just a very short one. He was basically getting so over-tired that he was having real difficulty both falling and staying asleep, exacerbating the effects of all the other things disrupting his sleep.
Stumbling across these two charts (and the accompanying post) helped put things into perspective a little. I was certainly guilty of expecting things to just get better over time when it came to sleeping, despite having a decent grasp of just how turbulent a time he is having in his head and body. Constantly reminding myself that he is not a robot, and that I myself take time to process my thoughts and fall asleep helps me put the regression into perspective and context.
The health worker gave us three bits of advice to help us get through this tricky period:
- Keep the third nap for now, so long as it doesn’t happen after around 4PM, and then slowly stretch the gap between his two morning naps, which at the moment are from around 08:00 to 09:00 and 11:30 to 12:30.
- Start putting in place a proper bedtime routine at a fixed time of day. This is what has helped us the most, I think. Now we start the evening bath and bedtime routine at roughly 6:30 each evening. Before, we’d wait until he started looking tired, but we have learned now that that is too late as by the time we’ve gone through the evening routine he’s already on his way out of the sleep cycle and then we’re just fighting a losing battle until the next cycle comes around.
- Sit with him until he falls asleep as it’s the separation anxiety that has him on high alert. This has been the toughest bit of advice to follow as in the earliest stages of this regression phase it basically meant 2-3 hours of sitting in the dark listening to him whinge-cry. My wife and I take 30 minute shifts instead of one person taking the whole thing, as that, as evidenced by the crying in the car, was taking it's toll. Whilst sitting with him (but not communicating or fussing over him) is supposed to help him overcome his anxiety and make him feel safe, and then ultimately more independent, it can also lead to dependency, so that he comes to rely us being their all the time in order to fall asleep. A proper case of being damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
An obvious sign that these interventions are working is that I had the time and energy to write this blog post. He hasn't raged before bedtime for nearly a week now, although it can still take more than an hour before he calms down and finally falls asleep. Weirdly, the tail end of what looks like being a comparatively short regression period (at least until we start properly phasing out that third nap) has led to something positive: he now sleeps all the way through to around 07:00 and hasn’t woken at 05:30 in need of boob for a few days now!
Still. I won’t get ahead of myself just yet; it’s the hope that kills you. And if that graph has taught me anything, it’s that there few more ups and downs to come.