If you're a parent who hasn't experienced the joys of co-sleeping, you're in for a real treat (insert sarcasm here). One of our two managed to hijack our bedroom for around four years, and the side effects were not pleasant.
Now, to be fair, and in all honesty, my poor excuse for a dysfunctional sleeping gene is not entirely my children's fault, but it certainly didn't support a comfy night's rest nonetheless. Couple 2.5 years of polyphasic sleep in amongst night shift, no air conditioning, sun beaming through your bedroom window and a child's foot pressing into your kidney on the odd occasion you managed to get a "normal" nighttime sleep, you may as well put a stick of TNT in your ear and hope for the best.
Our story kind of went like this...
From the age of around 1, our firstborn slept in our bed. Prior to this, sleep was not an issue ― he slept like, well, a baby. Then we moved house and broke the pattern! The first night, like anything, was a "just this once" kind of discussion between my wife and I. You know the kind. The one that involves you both naively, with all great intentions letting something happen as a single occurrence, not realizing you just stole honey from a beehive without wearing gloves.
From here, we spent the next two years divided like the crack between the arctic shelf, glancing over the little person that slept horizontally across what now felt like a single bed. At one point we just had enough, and I set up camp on the floor in the form of a camping stretcher, eventually negotiating my sons temporary relocation to his new residence – the camo-colored canvas contraption that sat six inches off the ground on my side of the bed. Our intentions here were temporary, with the plan to transition him from the bed, to the stretcher, to his room. Twelve months later, I was still stubbing toes on that thing each morning.
Now, you'd think if he was out of our bed, we'd at least have an OK sleep for a while, but no. On the eight day God invented this little phenomenon called night terrors ― you may have heard of them? It's when your child wakes up (while still sleeping) and cries, inconsolably from anywhere between one to 10 minutes at a time while still dreaming, and repeats this process about four times a night, often three days or more in a row. You might even be lucky enough to have an episode of sleepwalking in there, too!
Now before someone steps in and says this was terrible for our child... believe me, I know. We altered diets. Changed lighting in the house, had relaxation time, story time, sleepy-time beverages and restful teas, you name it. We were very conscious of the need to move him into his own room. We even had a pediatrician admit to us that he himself co-sleeps and we shouldn't worry about it, that our son will just "grow out of it." The only thing that was growing was the tension in the tendons that strung across my shoulders each night.
One sunny Sunday we took a trip to a furniture store. $1000 later, I had a receipt in my hand for a double bed due for delivery in six weeks. Best decision ever. Our plan was too make the official transition of the sleeping habit out of our room and into his own. We figured with a double bed one of us could sleep with him if he woke in the night so at least we'd still get some rest and all the while he became comfortable with the idea of sleeping in his own room.
Fast forward a few months, and our bed has never felt so spacious, and I no longer do shift work. It took a while to make this shift permanent, but it worked. If only we had tried it a bit earlier. These days we have our daughter sneak in our room once a week, but for the most part she sleeps quite calmly and all the way through the night – and we've learned lessons.
The take-home message here is not about buying a double bed and shazam, problem solved. The message here is about the safe transition from one space to another and building a familiarity with the environment. And for the liberation of being able to shut down the snooty parent that drops the "when I had my kids I just closed the door and they all slept fine" line... yeah well, that's good for you, now eat a brick!
All parenting styles are different and equally all kids are different. My daughter sleeps well, and for our fantastic little boy, it took a little longer, but it's all starting to come together now.
The benefits on our own sleep patterns have been a lot better as well. There are less aches and pains in the back, neck and shoulders. We actually get a number of cycles of sleep in a night now, often uninterrupted. Besides being an inherently dysfunctional sleeper myself in general, overall it's improved quite a bit. As a married couple this is important for may reasons, some reasons I'm sure you can appreciate more than others. And for our children, sleep plays an important role in brain development, physical growth and childhood learning and retention, in my unscientifically validated opinion. So all in all our little family unit has taken one small step forward for man kind.
Now, about that delayed sleep phase disorder thing I think I have...
This article originally appeared on my personal blog ivansiladji.com.
Are you a parent that co-sleeps with your kids? Or have you managed to break the pattern? Share your story with me on Twitter.