My wonderfully sound sleeping baby has had two brutal nights of toddler sleep regression. Please tell me this is a bad dream!
Now, I know there are some people that may be rooting for this news from me. After all, my kiddo started sleeping through the night at 2 months and never turned back. You might be thinking "Ha! Finally!" I get it, we've been very fortunate in the sleep department. But now this.
A 5 a.m.wake up call. Seriously? Doesn't he know I am overseeing a HUGE special event this weekend and I need to sleep?
And what to do?
I'm sure we did EVERYTHING wrong in our sleepy haze. Well, we tried to provide comfort, let him settle down, and put him back in bed. After several unsuccessful attempts, we calmly told him (from outside his door) he needed to do "night nights" because it was still dark.
And then we did the unthinkable. We let him cry.
I stood outside his door as he cried, yelled, banged, pulled on the door, and whimpered, begging for us to comfort him. It felt wrong. I knew it was wrong, letting my baby cry like that. I felt like we were punishing him because he couldn't sleep. We've been such loving parents to him. He must be crushed to think we turned on him when he needed comfort. I feel HORRIBLE about this.
But I had all those obnoxious, well-meaning voices in my head saying "he's going to have to learn he has to stay in bed". I hate myself for not trusting my own instincts.
We know our baby. We've worked hard to establish a loving, trusting relationship with him. Not to mention happy, safe, relaxing sleep routines.
Naturally, I turned to the internet to see if other people have experienced this with their toddlers (he'll be two next month) and what potentially causes this. Here's what I gleaned from my "research":
Maybe he's too little to be in a bed. For his safety, we had to take one side off the crib a couple of months ago and replace it with a rail because he was trying to climb out. But some people say toddlers lack the self-control to stay put once they realize they can get out. I don't think this is the problem. At least, not yet.
Maybe he's hitting a milestone. Some sites suggest that when babies are focused on a new skill (like younger babies before they learn to crawl or walk), their sleep patterns regress. I had heard of this before and this could make sense since he's starting to talk. Maybe he's just so revved up that he can't unwind.
Maybe he's having bad dreams. Toddlers' memories get stronger so they can replay images in their heads and remember dreams. He's not in a scary environment, but then, remembering the neighbors dog jumping up on him or our cat chasing the local fox might seem pretty scary to him. This bad dream explanation would make sense since his afternoon nap is cut short and he is waking between 5-6 a.m.
Maybe he's cutting his 2-year molars. YIKES! The WHAT? Yeah, somehow I didn't get the memo on this one and wasn't smart enough to put two and two together. He's been drooling alot and I thought I saw some little bumps around his chin a few days ago. Why didn't I realize that was a rash from the drool? Then today at the store, he bit his snack and winced, then stuck his finger in his mouth. Yeah, I'm thinking this is what the problem is.
So there we were. Cliche ignorant, tired parents debating what to do and failing miserably. I feel sick to my stomach about this - him screaming and crying in pain. I should have trusted my gut to comfort him. Here are more reasons not to let your toddler "cry it out":
-You have to de-sensitize yourself to your baby's cries.
-You have to ignore your instincts as a parent. Why would we want to do that again? To follow inaccurate theories from people 50 years ago?
-You potentially overlook health issues or illness (in our case teething).
-He's got two years of great sleep habits under his belt, so this is just a temporary sleep disturbance. Figure out the cause and address it. Making him cry will not improve things if the problem is physical. In effect, you'll be punishing him for waking that is out of his control and losing sleep over it as he cries.
-He'll start to fear going to sleep because it will no longer feel like a safe, peaceful environment. (This will then impact naps and betimes.)
New game plan: Wake up as soon as he does, no matter how early. Rock, snuggle, and sing. Hope that he falls asleep in my arms and that I fall asleep, too. Hope that he forgives us.